Should Microsoft create more mainstream hardware?


It seems apparent, at this point, that Microsoft is interested not only in creating premium hardware, but creating specialist hardware at that: The Surface Studio is not only eye-wateringly expensive, but a device that can only justify its existence if you really need that pen input. If you’re an artist, video editor, or have some other job where you’re going to lay it flat and write on it, great, but it’s hard for me to imagine anyone else stretching to that price.

To a slightly less extreme degree, Surface Pro and Surface Book are the same: they’re devices that a prosumer might stretch to just because they wanted them, but for the most part they only really make sense if you have that specialized use case. Do you need the pen. Do you need that device type, or would you be better off with a traditional laptop?

But Microsoft doesn’t make that. They don’t make a cheaper, mainstream all in one. They don’t make a mainstream laptop. The OEMs have that covered to a degree, but they’re still loading them down with crapware for the most part, and Signature is still going nowhere, even though its wide adoption might obviate the need for Microsoft to make more mainstream computers. Should they bite the bullet and make a “normal” laptop? A “normal” desktop? Or just stick with the specialized items they’ve produced thusfar?

Comments (8)

8 responses to “Should Microsoft create more mainstream hardware?”

  1. 6062

    I also believe their current strategy in the consumer space with hardware makes sense.  By creating so-called aspirational devices, they are slowly changing the narrative that MSFT is just the stodgy old company of Gates and Ballmer into the narrative that they are a company that can innovate.  It won't happen overnight and they won't get the halo effect that Apple gets when it comes to hardware, but it will gradually help consumers, the tech press, and most importantly, developers look at MSFT differently.

    This strategy makes a lot more sense than trying to force people into thinking you are cool by paying huge money to the NFL or the silly commercials (seriously, MSFT needs a new ad agency).  Changing perception has to happen organically, it can't be forced.

    I have no real use for or interest in the Surface Studio, but damn it looks cool and I'm sure when I see it in person I will have tech envy.  Love my Surface Book and keeping my fingers crossed that there is a light at the end of the Windows Phone tunnel.

  2. 6852

    I think their current strategy is spot-on. Leave plenty of room for partners to make other devices while showing the way with new device types and functionality. Keep prices up and margins high so they don't lose money doing so. Competing with Lenovo and Dell is a fool's errand for MS. But what they have successfully done to some degree, and are continuing now with Studio, is change the perception around PCs and Windows. Lots of people won't shell out for a Surface Book, but if it's sexy and gets them Googling Windows laptops, then maybe they end up with a Spectre or XPS 13 where it would have been a MacBook Air before.

    I say that as someone who is basically priced out of the Surface Pro/Book/Studio lines.

  3. 907

    MS really can't directly compete with Lenovo, HP, Dell etc in the mid to low range desktop/laptop area or they risk losing them as partners. MS only built Mobile Phones because no other OEM would. MS are doing all they can do. They build high quality aspirational devices as an example for the OEM's to follow.

  4. 5767

    I think the reason they don't make more mainstream hardware is not to offend their OEM relationships with Dell, HP, Asus, Lenovo, Acer. I mean look at all the enterprise partnerships they have with these companies. HP & Dell especially. HP is making the only premium Windows Phone right now. So the last thing MS wants to do is make a mid-range Surface AIO that destroys HP sales.

  5. 1377

    If you believe MSFT doesn't need OEMs, then MSFT should consider doing what you propose. OTOH, if MSFT does need the OEMs, if for no other reason than OEMs could take the blame for disappointing cheap PCs, then MSFT needs to stay away from their markets or MSFT risks pushing OEMs further away from Windows. Do you believe the advent of the Surface line and the rise of Chromebooks/Chromeboxes are unrelated?

    Signature is going nowhere in part because MSFT brick & mortar stores for the most part don't generate many sales but also because MOST CUSTOMERS don't demand Signature/clean PCs and are either unwilling or unable to perform fresh installs of Windows. Most PC buyers are willing to accept the crapware in exchange for lower prices. Microeconomics working as it should.

    Finally, does MSFT want to have a business unit with a best case profit margin under 2% of revenues?

    • 6852

      In reply to hrlngrv:

      What? I was describing their current strategy, not what they should do. You say "MSFT needs to stay away from their markets or MSFT risks pushing OEMs further away from Windows." That's exactly what they are doing.

      My point though was that the Surface line has vastly improved perception (and indeed, quality) of Windows PCs. MS intentionally keeps them as more expensive, premium machines that do not address the mass market, leaving that for their OEMs. But producing those machines has raised expectations in a very beneficial way. The advent of the Surface line and the rise of machines like the HP Spectre, Dell XPS 13, and Lenovo Yoga are related, too.

      • 1377

        In reply to ecumenical:

        I'll be clearer. No, MSFT should not make normal laptops or desktops.

        Prior to Surface tablets OEMs were making high-end machines, but no one was buying them. Dell's Precision line and Lenovo's ThinkPad/ThinkCentre/ThinkStation lines predate Surface. From my perspective, Surface 3, Surface Pro # and Surface Book are as irrelevant to the broad consumer PC market as have been the OEM's high-end offerings.

  6. 187

    I still think there is a case for a smaller Surface (around 11 inch). As someone who is on the road a lot, I want something that I can work on and is really portable at that sort of size. The Pro 3/4 is just a tad too large for me on an aircraft.