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Microsoft Surface: A Study in Erroneous Product Definition

Stocks in this article: MSFT NVDA INTC AAPL GOOG

In other words, even if the Surface were 12, 13, 14 inches in size, the fundamental idea of a limp hinge just isn't going to cut it as a laptop. Game over.

The basic laptop form factor hasn't evolved a bit in 25 years. In Microsoft's view, that apparently made it suspicious and needed to be changed. However, it didn't evolve for the basic reason that the human ergonomics hasn't evolved.

Even Apple's (AAPL) and Google's (GOOG) laptops make no attempt at changing the basic laptop formula. The advancements have come in terms of software, services, cloud infrastructure around the laptop, better battery life, getting rid of hard disks in favor of solid-state storage and most recently also the emergence of fanless laptops thanks to power-efficient chips. But not the basic form factor.

Microsoft saw a round wheel on cars and said "A round wheel has been around forever. Let's change it!" It was change for change's sake. A wheel that isn't round isn't an improvement upon a round wheel.

OK, most people clearly have no interest in the Surface as a laptop. But what about as a tablet?

Crickets, crickets . . .

People tend to buy tablets for two reasons:

1. They are cheap.

There are many Google/Android tablets for sale in the $100 to $300 range. When something of that size sells -- without a contract -- for that kind of price, you have a very economical way to read books, magazines, perhaps watch some videos -- movies, TV shows, podcasts, etc.

The new Surface starts at $449. You want the Intel-based one? That'll be $899 and up. Keyboard not included. Clearly, Microsoft doesn't win the price argument. Not yet anyway.

2. They have lots of interesting apps.

If you want apps, the answers are Android and iOS -- not Surface. Yes, it's true: Surface has lots of apps. Over 100,000 of them. The problem there is: Apple and Google have 1 million of them.

The argument that 100,000 apps -- or 200,000 or 400,000 -- is enough, is simply not a good argument. You may only use 10 apps, but if six of them are among the 600,000 or more that you don't offer, it's game over.

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