The irony here is that Microsoft’s Surface effort has been flummoxed by Apple envy. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer admitted as much in an interview with CRN earlier this year when he asserted that Microsoft would leave no “stone unturned” in its innovation battle with Apple. At the same time, Ballmer told CRN that if Microsoft partners want to buy Surface, they can buy it from Microsoft.com.
It’s a classic case of a copy-cat CEO and a company in the midst of an identity crisis. Microsoft is not Apple. I know Apple, Mr. Ballmer, and Microsoft is no Apple. Instead of leading with Microsoft’s top-down advantage in the business market, its monopoly position and huge installed base in the business-productivity software market with Office and Windows, Ballmer decided to take a bottom-up approach, battling Apple on its own high ground -- the consumer market. First off, get real.
No one -- and I do mean no one -- is a better consumer product and marketing company than Apple. The iPad is unassailable in the consumer market. Surface is like a 50-year-old dad trying to be cool with a comb-over hairdo. And, remember, Microsoft is two-and-a-half years late getting into the tablet game. Surface is simply the classic case of a product that needs to be sold. That’s right, it needs someone to sell it. What a concept! Apple stores fulfill demand for a consumer product. Surface is a product that is begging to be sold into the business market where IT professionals are dying to put the lid on the BYOD (bring your own device) to work phenomenon with a business-approved tablet that has all the security of a laptop or a desktop. The ultimate irony: Microsoft has a robust, fully baked channel acting as trusted advisers to millions of businesses who are anxious for a secure business tablet.
Given the right strategy, Surface would have been a monster hit for Microsoft. Instead, Microsoft’s Apple envy is sinking Surface faster than a two-ton anchor. Detwiler Fenton & Co., a Boston-based brokerage, surveyed the damage earlier this month reporting that Microsoft sold just 500,000 to 600,000 Surface tablets in the current quarter. Compare that to Apple, which is expected to ship 24 million to 26 million iPads in the current quarter. “Regarding (Surface) RT, lack of distribution is killing the product,” said the Detwiler Fenton advisory.
Microsoft admitted as much by announcing last week that it was expanding retail distribution for the Surface RT, adding outlets like Staples. My bet is that the beleaguered computer giant will be forced to let partners sell Windows 8-based Surface Pro to make up for its subpar direct-sales performance.
Microsoft needs to be Microsoft and get its partners to bring Surface into businesses. Instead, Microsoft wants to be Apple. That’s why Microsoft’s decision not to sell Surface through its trusted partners is the biggest channel blunder of 2012.
BACKTALK: What are your thoughts on Microsoft and its Surface initiative? Contact Steve Burke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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