Surface is special and a huge success, Paul is wrong

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I do appreciate Paul’s more realistic take on most things but he’s wrong about Surface. Google effectively pulling out of the laptop/tablet hardware game is just more proof that Surface is indeed special and successful. The amount of people that have switched from ThinkPads or even MacBooks to Surface is really surprising. There’s something else that should be considered: Intel has been shipping 14nm chips on the same Skylake architecture since 2015! 2015!! This 14nm Skylake platform is seriously outdated at this point and it’s really harming Surface (because they’re being compared to iPads). This is not Microsoft’s fault, it’s Intel’s fault. When Intel finally starts making 10nm chips (and on a new architecture) and Microsoft includes USB-C ports on the Surface Pro, we could see Surface make serious inroads on Apple and ThinkPads marketshare. The Surface team aren’t lucky, they know what they’re doing and that’s why the products are successful in such a difficult and competitive market space. Even with all the money in the world and a beloved brand, Google couldn’t compete in this high-end hardware space, but Surface can. That says a lot…

Surface is a top 5 PC maker in the US, I see a Surface Pro almost every day…

All things considered (and now with even Google throwing in the towel on laptops/tablets) we need to start giving Surface the respect it deserves.

Comments (31)

31 responses to “Surface is special and a huge success, Paul is wrong”

  1. willr

    what did paul say?

  2. Tony Barrett

    I don't think Surface makes much money - if any - for MS, as they only quote revenue. It serves a purpose, but it's a relatively small player globally. MS established the brand at the premium end of the market, but they had many false starts, bad software, poor firmware, hardware issues and many, many warranty replacements. I still wouldn't buy one - they're tacky and gimmicky, with questionable build quality and are still riddled with bugs, and if you don't like Win10, your stuffed.

  3. pecosbob04

    While I understand your (Paul) position regarding the inappropriateness of bringing premium content into the open forum, I wonder if as a non-premium member I read a premium article with one of my three free looks am I able to comment in the premium forum? I would test this but I don't decide which premium articles to read until the end of the month. I seem to recall that I cannot comment but I may be wrong about that.


    ETA: Beginning to think that I can comment in that situation so ... Never mind.


  4. james_b

    Opinion: whereas I agree that the Surface brand is not considered in the top 5, I love it. My wife has a Surface Pro 5 and I have a Surface Pro 3. Last week we bought two Surface Go devices for travel and for taking to coffee shops and just sitting in front of the fire at home. We absolutely love them. I understand that the Go is aimed at a certain niche and my wife and I fit into that niche nicely.... retired, only needing to check email, read the news, do some shopping and checking social platforms and NO gaming. The Go is a perfect fit for us and the Pro does some heavier lifting (i.e. digital photography programs). We do NOT want Apple products in our home (the iPads are being removed). We do NOT want any Chrome books in our home nor any Google devices. We're Microsoft users all the way (of course having a son who has worked at MS since 1991 does color our views... lol).

  5. Kudupa

    Sorry but I agree with Paul. Surface is just a small business and of all the devices in Surface portfolio, only Pro has become somewhat of a success. Is it profitable to a certain extent yes, but to call it out right success? thats a big stretch.

    • lvthunder

      In reply to Kudupa:

      Like I said below. It all depends on how you define a success. I don't think Microsoft set out to make Surface the #1 PC maker in the industry. I think it was set out to come up with new designs and to think outside the normal thinking of what these devices can be. By that definition they are a success. Lots of companies have made designs similar and some have even made their own unique designs. That wasn't happening before Surface came along.

  6. Paul Thurrott

    You are mixing up a lot here, most obviously facts and emotions.


    First, this type of thing should be posted as a comment to the article in question. Taking this discussion outside the Premium system is not OK, and I would normally just delete this post as a result. But I feel like this is a topic worth discussing with the broader reader base because. You obviously care about Surface on some emotional level, and I get that. But as with many enthusiasts, that emotion is also coloring your views.


    I needed to state that up front: This end-run around our Premium business is not OK. But the biggest issue I really have here is the weird personalization thing, where it's clear you believe that my comments about Surface are somehow directed at undercutting what you see as its success. I see this kind of thing a lot. You were actually hurt by this comparison. Like, personally.


    And I'm sorry for that. In communicating what I believe to be an accurate accounting of the Surface business, I was in no way criticizing those who like Surface or prefer it over other PC brands. Instead, I was simply comparing Google's experience with PCs with Microsoft's because of the obvious parallels. And because I had, in the past, written about the Alan Kay thing about software makers needing to make their own hardware, and of my belief that Google AND Microsoft, because of their partner-based business models (in contrast to Apple's) should not compete with their partners but should instead make their special hardware components available to those partners (at some licensing fee, similar to how they license their operating systems). This wasn't a smear job, as your post here suggests. It was simply a rational comparison. At least an attempt at one.


    Your argument that Surface is "special" or deserving respect is an opinion, and I'm sure it's one many here share (myself included). But it's also an opinion that has absolutely nothing to do with Surface being (or not being) successful. Brad and I often talk about how there is a special something about Surface PCs, and this is true despite their relative lack of success in the market and their curious technical deficiencies, which are well documented.(And please. Read my reviews of these products. Please.) But ... successful? That one is tough: Surface has had some success in that it has formalized a 2-in-1 tablet form factor that all PC makers have copied, including by the way both Google (Pixel Slate) and Apple (iPad Pro). That said, it has not emerged as a viable competitor to the world's biggest PC makers, as I wrote. It is now, as I also noted, a billion dollar business by revenue. But Microsoft never talks about the business being profitable because it is not: Hardware has razor-thin margins, and that's true of much bigger PC makers that can get much better component pricing than does Microsoft. Surface loses money.


    "The amount of people that have switched from ThinkPads or even MacBooks to Surface is really surprising." This is not a fact. I'm curious why you would believe this. I don't recall any credible analyst, or Microsoft, ever suggesting that there is a wave of switchers moving to Surface from other premium PC brands.


    Your point that Intel is somehow to blame for Surface's lack of success is ... whatever, but it is a condition that exists for all PC makers. For example, Lenovo was able to sell far more PCs last year than it did in 2017, and it regained the top spot among PC makers. It did so using the same Intel CPU choices as everyone else. That "we could see Surface make serious inroads on Apple and ThinkPads marketshare" is another opinion, and a hopeful one. But given how infrequently Microsoft updates its PCs and how few models it sells, however, especially compared to Lenovo (the maker of ThinkPads), it doing so is highly unlikely. Hell, Apple ships MacBooks with flat, no travel keyboards and that business is approximately 7 times as big as Surface by revenue, using data from the last quarter in which Apple provided Mac unit sales.


    That "Surface is a top 5 PC maker in the US" was only reported in one quarter by one of the top two analyst firms, and not by the other. Put more accurately, Surface is not in fact a top 5 PC maker, and it doesn't even register in the charts worldwide. But even if it was, again, it's still not a profitable business.


    Look, we all have opinions. Like you, I love Surface PCs, especially Surface Laptop and Surface Book. And it is a fact that Microsoft's most successful design, for Surface Pro, is absolutely a trend-setter, much like Apple's second-gen MacBook Air was. But I'm also clear-headed and honest about how well the business is doing. Stating that doesn't make me a hater. And I guess in my own emotional way, I don't appreciate the insinuation.


    Paul



    • Bdsrev

      In reply to paul-thurrott:

      Paul I apologize for breaking my comment out into the forums instead of just leaving it in your article. Can't you just put all this over into the comments of your premium article? I wasn't sure if it was to leave such a long and pretty much unrelated comment under your article, that's why I posted it in the forums instead. (I've actually gotten banned from another website for "comment-jacking", so I didn't want to comment-jack your article about Google hardware and make it a debate about Surface success)


    • ryguy

      In reply to paul-thurrott:


      Paul,


      I had an interesting experience that got me thinking about this a few weeks ago. Obviously this is totally anecdotal, but I wonder if this is where some of the emotion towards Surface is coming from:


      I went to college in the early 2000's, and at the time budget Dell/HP laptops were the norm. The summer before college I worked a construction job, saved up all my money, and bought a 12" Apple Powerbook - to this day one of my favorite pieces of tech ever. It was definitely outside the norm, but while I was in school Apple switched to Intel, released the plastic Macbooks, and shortly after came out with the MacBook Air. When I graduated, 80+% of my classes had Apple laptops, and they had already started to become the hot trend (pre-iPhone). I think a lot of Apple's later success was in some way helped by the "cool" factor that college kids felt toward the MacBook.


      I haven't visited campus in over a decade, but in February I was nearby on a work trip and stopped by. I was pretty shocked to see the number of Surface Pros and Surface Laptops around. Again, totally anecdotal, but walking around both the engineering building and "north campus" (liberal arts departments), I saw the same thing. Tons of Surfaces, in tons of different types of students' hands. And when I went to the computer store in the student union, what used to feel like a mini-Apple Store actually had a bigger section for Surfaces (including Surface Studios, believe it or not.)


      Anyway, I have a theory that by going directly after Apple in the creator/student markets, Microsoft is gaining the sort of brand cache/recognition that used to be Apple's bread and butter. And, even if the Surface business isn't profitable, it may be helping improve the "coolness" of the brand and leading to indirect profits elsewhere in the company (e.g. more students using O365).


      Thoughts?

    • yaddamaster

      In reply to paul-thurrott: Wait, these are the types of conversations I'd get by upgrading to premium?Hmmmm


  7. matsan

    And in the AdDuplex stats that Paul loves to throw around, top two Surface models (together around 40% of the usage) are Surface Pro 4 and Surface Pro 2017 (both . Add third place and you have Surface Pro 3 just shy of 15%. Together +50% are pretty old machines. (https://reports.adduplex.com/#/r/2019-02)


    The good thing is that when these old machines are retired, the usage numbers of the new machines will surge... The beauty of using relative % instead of actual numbers.

  8. lvthunder

    It all depends on how you define success.

  9. Bats

    LOL...this makes no sense whatsoever. LOL.....Surface is special? It's not even the #1 computer in the market. Last I read, Microsoft's hardware only occupies 3% marketshare. How is that special? That means 97% of PC owners chose anything but a Surface computer. I believe that's 4th quarter 2018.....which is even a DROP of a percentage point from 3Q 2018. How is that special? That's not even in the top 5 of PC Manufacturers. Even if they ARE in the top 5 , it means nothing. LOL....reminds me of the time when (lol) Thurrott kept calling Windows Phone #3 smartphone in the world, when they had 2% marketshare while Android had over 80% and Apple had 10%.


    Being a TOP PC Maker is nothing really. All they do is make PCs. Heck, I can do that if I really wanted to. SO could you. What really matters is how many people in the world are actually buying the computer and using it.


    Bottomline, Surface computers are NOT POPULAR. They are just not.


    Second point I would like to make is, and it's quite obvious, the lesson of the 1980's was not learned here in this post. Hardware is not where the game is played. If it were, we would be in the midst of an Apple Dynasty. The game is in content creation. That is where Microsoft won in the 80's and Google in this decade. It's not in the hardware. It's in the "software" or the "code." It has always been there.


    Every spec that you mentioned in this post, believe no one cares. Go flag a person from the street and ask him what his/her opinion on 14nm chips. They are either going to laugh, run away, or pull out their smartphone and take a selfie with you. One thing is for sure, they are not going to pull out a Surface computer at all, from their person.



    • cayo

      In reply to Bats:


      Actually, it is what you say that has no sense whatsoever. Most people buy inexpensive computers. This is all they can afford...and Microsoft does not complete in that category.


      In 2018, both Mercedes and BMW had market share of only 2.06 in the USA, while GM was at 17.02%. Really, how are the Mercedes and BMW special when 96% of car owners choose anything but these cars?


      Bottom line, Mercedes and BMW are NOT POPULAR. They are just not. LOL.

    • gregoryp

      What percentage of the market does Tesla enjoy? As of Dec. 20018, it was a little over 2%. Having a commanding lead in market share does NOT translate into being special and conversely having a small market share does not mean your product is less than special. I love all of my Surface devices and would not change them for anything.


  10. provision l-3

    "Google effectively pulling out of the laptop/tablet hardware game is just more proof that Surface is indeed special and successful"


    I'd love to see the argument that ties Google dropping hardware to specifically to Surface.


    "The amount of people that have switched from ThinkPads or even MacBooks to Surface is really surprising."


    Can you post the numbers and the source?



    FWIW, I think the Surface has been a success but fine your hyperbole to be a bit much.

  11. rob_segal

    Every PC maker (including Apple) faces the same challenge with Intel as Microsoft does. When Intel releases 10 nm chips on mass scale, all the PC makers will share the same benefit. Including USB-C ports on Surface devices will simply catch Microsoft up with the rest of the PC industry.


    Success can be relative, a measurement against expectations. Google's hardware efforts in the laptop and especially the tablet seem like experiments. If it takes off, great! If it doesn't, oh well, it can go in the scrap heap with Allo and Google Reader. One big mistake was pricing their products too high. The Pixel phones are priced too high. The same can be said for Surface, but thanks to the Surface Pro form-factor, they built an audience. The other Surface devices lag behind. Microsoft had a small hit with Surface Pro 3. Google wasn't able to score a similar hit and they ran out of patience. With smaller tablet and laptop marketshare, they didn't find a differentiator large enough to convince themselves it's worth it.


    According to statistics I found, Microsoft is not a top 5 global PC maker. They still trail Asus and Acer, as well as HP, Lenovo, Dell, and Apple. Before they overtake ThinkPads (not a fair comparison because one is geared towards enterprises and the other can be bought at any electronics store) and MacBooks, they have to climb out of the "other" category.


    Looking at broad sales charts for PC's, Surface is not a huge success. Lenovo is a huge success. HP is a huge success. Dell and Apple, too. However, when measured against Microsoft's expectations, it's enough of a success and that will be good enough to keep Surface alive and that's the measurement that really counts.

    • Bdsrev

      In reply to rob_segal:

      Surface is basically the Surface Pro (and now the Surface Go, which is just a smaller less powerful version of the Surface Pro), the Surface Book, Surface Laptop and Surface Studio don't sell well. People compare the Surface Pro to the iPad Pro and the iPad Pro has serious advantages in weight, battery life and even performance in some areas because Intel hasn't been able to ship its truly new chips for several years now. When they finally do ship those 10nm chips, the Surface Pro will be significantly closer to the iPad Pro in weight and battery life, and far more attractive to consumers

      • rob_segal

        In reply to Bdsrev:


        The iPad has the advantage in ecosystem, apps, and tablet user experience. Evening out weight and battery life will not outweigh those more important factors. Lighter and better battery life will not make these devices more appealing to average consumers when the apps and services they use are better on an iPad tablet.

        • Bdsrev

          In reply to rob_segal:

          Oh please, of course weight, battery life and thinness matter to consumers. The Surface Pro 6 is heavy and thick compared to the newest iPad Pro's, it's not ideal. 10nm doesn't mean the Surface Pro will completely close the gap to the iPad Pro but it's going to be a significant improvement

          • crp0908

            In reply to Bdsrev:

            I agree with Rob_Segal. It is best not to become emotionally attached to a device or a vendor but rather try to see the big picture or at least both sides of the argument. Battery life and thinness might be two criteria to consider for a device, but they're not the only reasons why someone might choose a device.

            • wright_is

              In reply to crp0908:

              Agreed, for me it is the ability to run tablet apps and full desktop software that sways my buying decision. For others, thinness and store apps might be the winning factor.

              We should all just be happy that we have a choice.

          • rob_segal

            In reply to Bdsrev:


            Shaving off a milimeter, .2 pounds, and 45 minutes of additional battery life will be greatly outweighed by a huge ecosystem, tablet app, and tablet user experience advantage iPad has. In the case of iPad vs Surface Pro, software wins and Apple has the huge advantage here.

  12. derylmccarty

    Truth in advertising: I am a Surface nutcase. I bought (on the first day in each case) direct from MSFT with no "deal" each of their top end offerings at the time. SP 1,2,3, SB and SB2. Plus Dock, BT KB, headphones and mouse. And I remain very high on all those products. OTOH I could have EASILY criticized the Surface Dock (and did) until they finally figured out a driver that actually worked. However I am annoyed to be pulled back into the 1990s and 2000s Apple versus PC (Intel/AMD and Windows) flame wars. I grew up (computer-wise) before Paul was a twinkle in his dad's eyes, so am used to Paul's ( like Computer

    shopper and PC Magazine - ETC. - John C. Dvorak's) blunt, honest approach to telling us about tech. But rather than saying that Paul is anti-Surface or even anti-MSFT because he criticizes an MSFT product, I think I have figured out that Paul is mostly enamored of MSFT products but way less so of its ability to communicate the whys and wherefores of a product line or business strategy. And he and Brad are intolerant of folks who make the same marketing or tech mistake twice. (nags on updating, for example).

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