Is Microsoft Mismanaging the Rollout of the Surface and Surface Pro?

Will the Surface Rollout Succeed?

The last week has not been kind to Microsoft. Steve Ballmer’s description of “modest” sales of the Surface and the no-show of the Surface Pro has me wondering if the Surface line of business is being bungled.

Add to that the firing of Windows Evangelist, Steve Sinofsky and rumors of a lukewarm reception of Windows 8 by businesses and you might wonder if Redmond thinks this is a mini-crisis.

First, the “modest sales” statement. Ballmer was responding to a French magazine, Le Parisien and his response was allegedly mistranslated.

Microsoft later told Bloomberg that Ballmer was talking about a modest approach to supply and distribution, not sales of the Surface.

“When asked about Surface, Steve’s use of the term ‘modest’ was in relation to the company’s approach in ramping up supply and distribution of Surface with Windows RT, which has only been available via our online store and Microsoft retail and holiday stores in the U.S. and Canada,” Microsoft said in the statement.

“While our approach has been modest, Steve notes the reception to the device has been ‘fantastic’ which is why he also stated that ‘soon, it will be available in more countries and in more stores.’”

All well and good. But there are some major issues here. The first is that Microsoft has taken up two bad habits lately.

The first is thinking that life remains static and waits for Microsoft to catch up. The reality is that it does not. Arriving late to one party after another means that the best food is gone before Redmond comes in (un)fashionably late.

Late to the Internet, late to smartphones, late to search marketing, late to the tablet party. Microsoft’s alarm clock seems to be broken

The second is that sloppy execution typically leads to failure. Bing frankly, speaking is a failure, at the very least, based on the initial expectations Microsoft had. Search marketing is another area where Microsoft is underperforming.

After Google and Apple created a hard-to-crack smartphone OS duopoly, in came Microsoft with Windows Phone 7 and now 8. Wanna bet the house that Windows Phone 8 will garner 20% or even 10% of the market anytime soon? I don’t think so.

As nice as WP8 is on the new raft of smartphones, let’s be real. This is a tall, tall mountain to climb.

OK back to the Surface. Here’s what I find troubling. First, the Surface RT is NOT a “Windows” tablet, with its ARM processor.

Sure, it will run custom versions of Office, but since it does not run native Windows applications, it cannot be called a Windows tablet.

Second, there is simply very little widespread availability of the Surface RT. Yes, you can order it online from the Microsoft Store, or purcase it if you live in the 5 US cities (I exaggerate) where Microsoft has stores. However forget about Walmart, BJs, Best Buy or any other outlets.

Remembering that customers will want to play around with the tablet, Microsoft’s 29 US-based stores (plus one each in Canada and Puerto Rico) compares poorly with Apple’s 394 stores globally (with over 200 in the United States).

Granted, Microsoft has its OEMs and doesn’t have to carry the entire retail load alone. That brings me to my next issue. If you cannot execute properly, why execute at all? Why not just stay in your comfort zone and let the OEMs sell hardware?

I would rather Microsoft had a viable smartphone and tablet OS two years ago than having a Surface today.

Yes Google also has its Nexus, but not at the cost of Android or search marketing, both of which markets they continue to dominate.

I’ll move on to the Surface Pro, which is a perplexing issue. The Surface Pro is significant because it has an Intel processor and will natively run Windows apps.

Where are the Surface Pros? 70 days out, according to Microsoft executives. If we are lucky. 70 days is a lot of time, and crucially, a timeframe that misses the Christmas shopping season.

Yes, competing with your OEMs is not exactly verboten, although some disagree. But competing sloppily, building up the hype and delivering no products – that’s a problem.

For Microsoft’s sake, here’s hoping that the Surface line does not become another failed experiment.

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