Is Microsoft making a dent in public perception?

Sometimes I see a headline akin to “Microsoft is cool again” and wonder if that could really be true.  Then I think about how Windows 8/Windows Phone 8/Surface advertising has replaced campaign ads as the reason I need to fast forward my DVR.  (Though I like the ads, I get bored after seeing any one ad a couple of times.)  But I’m always wondering, is this for real?  Are the ads and other promotion activities (and yes, courting bloggers and reporters is a promotion activity) reaching the general public?  Yesterday I had another experience that made me believe Microsoft is breaking through.

My wife and I were having lunch when the teenage waiter came by and (noticing our phones and tablets) said “How cute, she is all Apple and you are all Microsoft”.  Now the fact that he even knew what my phone (Nokia Lumia 900) was and, likely having caught a glimpse of the Start screen, knew I had a Windows 8 tablet of some kind, is a huge victory for Microsoft.  And Nokia by the way, since their iconic Lumia look must be sinking in.  Of course it gets better.

The next thing out of his mouth was “Is that the new Surface?” followed by “How do you like it?”.  Now as any early adopter of the Kindle or iPad knows, that very question is how the steam rollers that became those product families began.  We early adopters told people how we loved the devices, and they went from interested to the next generation of buyers.  And this kid is aware of and interested in the Surface.  Another point to Microsoft.

I was using the Surface in full-on tablet mode, the Touch Cover folded behind the device.   Seeing his interest I flipped the cover around and opened the stand so he could see the Surface in its most unique glory.  He looked like he was going to wet himself.  Give Microsoft another point.

Having a teenager recognize and be interested in their products is an amazing step forward for Microsoft.  The demographic cliff they face is that the under 30 crowd is distinctly Apple-centric.  Not only are they buying consumer products from Apple, but as they enter the workforce and then become its leaders they are bringing their technology preferences with them.  This is a key reason Microsoft can’t simply follow the advice of many pundits and drop its attempts to court consumers in favor of focusing exclusively on enterprise customers.

But for me the best was yet to come.  You see, I was in for quite a shock.

My iPad-loving wife pointed at my Surface, then at her iPad, and said “That is more useful than this“.

I was in shock because I’ve made minimal effort to interest my wife in the Surface.  Of course I rubbed the Touch Cover and built-in hinge in when I first got the Surface.  But otherwise I see no point, since she’s one of those people who hates to buy new technology before her current technology is obsolete.  That iPad is probably with us at least another year, unless she decides to test the Gorilla Glass by handing it to an actual Gorilla.

My wife’s comment about the Surface is simply the result of observing me using it.  Of seeing me easily complete tasks with the Surface that she finds tedious on her iPad.  She apparently hasn’t noticed that most of the apps on the Surface are less mature than the versions she uses on the iPad.  Or if she has, she expects (as I do) that it is a situation that will correct itself in reasonably short order.  What her observation suggests is that Microsoft’s design center for the Surface (and of course Windows 8) resonates with the public, even the iPad loving public.  Give Microsoft another point.

Sure this evidence is of the limited anecdotal variety, though it builds on and supports my earlier experiences.  It doesn’t mean that Windows 8 tablets, or the Surface specifically, are going to succeed.  It just suggests that Microsoft is getting through to consumers and striking a nerve with its new product offerings.  And that is something they absolutely had to do to have a chance of succeeding.

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19 Responses to Is Microsoft making a dent in public perception?

  1. My iPad3 has been setting biting the dust since I got the surface. Most used app on the surface, IE10. Its great to know these real life stories of consumers (not nitpicky tech bloggers, generally apple favoring journalists).

    • dafowler says:

      I think the majority of tech bloggers and reviewers see the backwards compatibility as the main reason to look at a Windows tablet; it’s surprising in some ways because many have insisted Microsoft get rid of the desktop for tablets. The other thing I see is tech writers and users of the Surface will see the device differently. Tech bloggers think of the “No compromise” early statements and most buyers will look at the Surface in the same way they do an iPad

  2. dafowler says:

    I’m starting to think that there’s a disconnect between the tech press/reviewers and regular consumers on what the Surface is supposed to deliver. To clarify I think most regular consumers have a slightly more realistic view of the device than tech writers. Most who try and buy the Surface won’t be looking at the device replacing their PC but as something along the lines of the iPad with the added benefit of Microsoft’s Office products.

  3. Joe Wood says:

    That’s funny. My wife is an iPad/iPhone user too and has asked for a Surface for Christmas. The funny thing is she has a Logitech keyboard – so she can complete the same functions on her iPad. But the having a Touch Cover as the (almost) default configuration rather than an add-on is definitely resonating, especially with students and other content producers.

    Al that’s needed is more content producing applications to justify this interest.

  4. JimmyFal says:

    I setup lots of new computers, and I have been updating a few older ones. Every single “kid” that sees Win 8 is all done. There is no comparison to the reaction they have to Win8 from the reaction to the old Windows desktop. Game over. Winning over the kids is a very important step in this whole process. Loved this article makes it a lot easier to handle some of those glitches we early adopters are faced with.

  5. My two 15 year olds saw my Surface and had to have one. They were both big time Apple users and still have their iPhones. They’ve been using them for school – and I mean actually creating homework and reports. And they’ve been playing games, surfing the Internet and really getting a lot of use out of them.

    My wife just sold her iPad on Craig’s List and is using that money towards a Surface for herself – although she is waiting for the Pro version as a replacement for her main laptop (9 year old Dell Latitude that has more than earned it’s retirement).

    My questions is whether it’s the Surface hardware or Windows 8 that they really like. I think it’s a little but of both, but I’d really like to see another MS OEM come out with a compelling hardware option. I’d much rather there be 10 different tablet OEMS/form factors each selling 1/2 to 1 million devices than Microsoft selling 10 millions Surfaces (which would be a wild success) and nothing else going on.

    • halberenson says:

      There are other interesting devices out there, and some will be very successful. I expect both ASUS and Samsung to make major dents in the consumer market and HP, Dell, and Lenovo to have hits in the business market. But nothing right now looks like it will challenge the iconic status that the Surface is building.

  6. Richard says:

    There’s a recognition growing that Apple may once have been the cool, hip underdog, but that it’s now the behemoth super corporation. Apple products still work well, but are they providing value for money? There’s also the simple fact that people get bored with stuff after a while. The iphone UI looked clean and simple for a while, but it’s now become pretty dull. It’s akin to fashion. Maybe there’s a feeling that Apple has become somewhat “last season”.

  7. Bryan says:

    Well I’m in my early 20s, and I have a couple friends that now own Windows Phones, one that has bought a Surface, and some more that plan to this holiday season, and others waiting for the Surface Pro (need some old applications to run for school work)

  8. Tim says:

    I’ve been taking my Surface to the multitude of requirements meetings at work the past few weeks and setting it up on the table with the kick stand and touch cover out in front of everyone else. Of course, it generates a lot of conversation as people ask me how I like it. After a series of conversations and having seen me use it for a number of days, one co-worker is now off to buy one for each of his two teenage sons, while another is considering it as a Christmas gift for her parents.

    It has been fun to be in those meetings with the people who carry their iPads with them but generally leave them sitting on the table unused, while I can access all of my meeting documents and be as productive as needed. (The only thing I have yet to get working is VPN to my company network, so that I can then RDP to my desktop to open Visual Studio. Our network/security guys say the built-in VPN options that are included in Windows aren’t the most secure options available. Perhaps they’ll find some alternative that will satisfy their requirements.)

  9. Pingback: Boot up: Windows 8 up or down, Wii U launches, Samsung chases HTC/Apple and more | BlackLivingToday

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  11. N1ck0der says:

    Not to p*ss on anyone parade over here, comrades (have 64GB Surface with TypeCover and Nokia 920 on the desk next to me)…

    But how would you comment on a Paul Thurott’s recent article about Windows 8 sales being well below Microsoft internal projections? Hey, Paul’s now covering Android for god’s sake! And what to make of Jean-Louiss Gassee’s Monday Note describing Windows 8 as an unmitigated disaster that’s really a reason behind Sinofsky’s fall, playing straight into Apple’s hands effectively giving them a clear path to the enterprise?

    I like my KoolAid in the mornings too, gently mixed with freshly brewed Turkish coffee, but I’m having some serious second thoughts about whether all the innovations in Surface and Windows Phone 8 will be able to overcome a seemingly set narrative about Microsoft sliding into oblivion and digging its own grave with a split-personality OS, the Office suit that still doesn’t feel at home on the tablet, Windows Phone too late to the game to be relevant, and yet another reboot of development tools story (WinRT, I’m looking at you!). Who’s really addressing this narrative?

    • halberenson says:

      It’s really rather unclear how to interpret what Paul has heard. Were Microsoft’s internal projections too rosy? How much of the problem is the lack of compelling systems (besides Surface) in the channel? My experience is that the tablets and convertibles where Windows 8 shines are by and large not present in the retail channel. If Microsoft’s forecast assumed that the Dell XPS 12, HP Envy x2, and the myriad of Samsung tablets and convertibles would be widely available by the start of November then no wonder Windows 8 is below projections. The only information I’ve seen that just isn’t regurgitating Paul’s comments is from NPD, and they put the blame squarely on the need to clear out the Windows 7 PC backlog.

      Most of the negative commentary is coming from people who have an axe to grind, either because they are power users who were explicitly not targeted by the new UI/App Model or because they represent “the other side” in some fashion. That anyone ever associated with Apple would say negative things about a Microsoft offering is to be expected. The shock is if they say something nice (ala Wozniak).

      The thing is, the users in scenarios targeted by Windows 8 et al seem to be having a very different reaction from that of the pundits. Another case in point, a hedge fund manager was given a Surface as a gift by a friend. The friend recently queried her to see what she thought, expecting her to just be hating it. Just the opposite, she loves it and is having to fend off her husband who wants to take it. How long until there is a second Surface in the family? These are influential people at the top of the financial industry pyramid. No offense to pundits, myself included, but their (non-public) stamp of approval on the technology likely will have more impact on actual adoption than anything we are spewing to the public.

      • N1ck0der says:

        I appreciate your reply. Still let me give a Surface counter-example, just to keep things in balance.

        I consult for a big it-which-shall-not-be-named firm, with a sizable population of Microsoft developers. We have a fella who recently managed to get himself into BUILD, the very BUILD which was sold out to mere mortals in a matter of hours. Not sure what strings he pulled, but not only got he in, he persuaded Microsoft to cover his air fare and hotel stay. Then at the end, the dude was awarded with a shiny new Surface and a peta-band Lumia 920. Sweet! Great outreach to developers you’d say! There is a catch though: the guy is an ardent Apple fan, and not of the most rational variety.

        Here’s how our conversation went when I stopped by his desk to check out Lumia 920:
        “So, how do you like your new Nokia?”
        “Oh, it’s really bad. The app situation… It’s abysmal!”
        “Really, what apps are you using on iPhone you haven’t found?”
        “Amazon app”
        “Which one? It has both Mobile shopping and Kindle!”
        “I mean Surface RT”
        (Hm, I thought we’re talking phone, but I’d bite)
        “RT has Kindle which works just fine. Why would you need a dedicated shopping app? You have a full browser!”
        “IE is such a POS… It crashed on me three times already. I have a shortcut, and it just crashes.”
        (Really? And Safari never crashed on you, ever?)

        Now, the only reason I’m bringing this up is to get back at my original post: narratives matter. Mindset matters. If people making living off Microsoft technologies are not supporters and evangelists, what to expect from everybody else? And while a lot of people are indeed impressed with Surface and a new crop of Windows phones, even more people will simply hear the ‘buzz’ and reach for iPad, Fire, or Nexus.

        • Tim says:

          Time (and numbers) will tell…but even if “more people” do opt for another solution, it is likely that it will be for a mix of iPad, Fire, Nexus, etc….as you said. In other words, they’ll be split across competing devices/platforms. Microsoft will gain a much larger share of this market than they have ever had before.

        • halberenson says:

          I agree this is a headwind that Microsoft has to overcome. Of course they will never overcome it with the Apple fanboys, but they do have to overcome it within their own base.

  12. I am pretty much a MS fan–most simply because have used it for years and really liked of all things, Visual Basic and Access. It allowed me to create some pretty powerful programs that were useful to me. And it was simple enough that I could actually get something that did what I wanted it to do. I thought that was cool but really had no desire (or time) to become a “real programmer”. I am also a LEGO fan most simply because I came up with the idea of personalizing LEGO bricks and created a pretty unique niche market. Still a part time business but an interesting one. I am a terrible LEGO builder just as I would probably be a terrible C++ programmer. But I have met thousands of incredible LEGO builders and in their midst some of the most talented computer people in the world-as well as all kinds of other very intelligent people. Most unfortunately are Apple fans or Linux. And I have often wondered why that is true. It is not that MS does not have some great engineers that have come up with some really incredible advances.

    But I am not so sure that they have great designers. Or rather a corporate structure that allows those great new ideas to get implemented into real world products. Windows Phone is the first thing MS has come up with that has tickled my fancy as a consumer in a long while. And this is where I think that MS could learn a great deal from LEGO, which only a few years ago was on the brink of bankruptcy and pretty much written off as not relevant in the world of toys with all kinds of other very aggressive competitors. But as much as I hate to use the term, they essentially “reimagined” themselves and in a few short years became the most profitable and fastest growing toy creator in the world.

    Every MS manager from Balmer on down, I think could benefit from this video. I cannot believe that it has only been viewed 85 times. They ought to hire Dr. Robertson to go to Redmond and infuse them with some good old Wharton School of Business sense. Lots and lots of parallels and analogies and metaphors for MS in my opinion.

    Disclaimer–Professor Robertson is one of my favourite customers as you can see at at 31:34 of the presentation my little innovation in the world of business cards. Lol

    Like I said, I might not be the smartest guy in the world by a long shot (I still like VB and Access), but I do have some mighty smart customers. (including MS, Google, and Apple)

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