Twice Microsoft has told the public it should want a tablet-PC hybrid. Twice the public has disagreed. Now comes the Surface Pro 3, the tablet-PC hybrid taken to the Nth degree, still running both a mobile and a desktop version of Windows, still trying to tell the public what it should want. If and when it doesn’t work, it’ll be time for Microsoft to admit that its dream of keeping its PC era dominance alive by grafting the PC onto the tablet is dead – and it’ll be time for the company to try to find its place in a post-Windows future.
The Surface Pro 3 will sell some units, just as the first two Surface generations did. But even as the rising tablet tide has lifted all boats, competitors have been boosted by miles even as Microsoft’s tablet progress continues to be measured in inches. The first mistake was failing to offer an answer to the iPad to begin with, under the false belief that ignoring tablets would make them go away and allow the PC era to continue unabated. The second mistake was trying to belatedly convince the public that what they really wanted was a tablet that was every bit as cumbersome and complex as a PC, as if focusing in on the features consumers want most was somehow a bad thing.
What Microsoft never grasped about its own dominance of the PC era is that the public never really much liked Windows, but rather tolerated it. Buy any computer under a thousand dollars, and it was going to be running Windows. It was a passive de facto standard, never an embraced one. And when Apple came along with its straightforward mobile devices and made the public realize that computing didn’t have to be as obtuse after all, Microsoft’s answer was essentially “But here’s a way to keep things obtuse.”
The failure of the original Surface Pro merely told Microsoft to keep pushing harder in the same direction. The failure of the Surface Pro 2, which most consumers don’t know or care that it exists, also failed to serve as a wake up call. There may be no one outside of Microsoft’s Redmond campus who believes the Surface Pro 3 will be any more successful, because it’s still based on the same principles of its two failed predecessors, and the public isn’t about to change its collective mind about suddenly wanting the complexity of Windows stuffed into a tablet. In fact Windows, as we know it, is over.
Microsoft has a chance to start over with Windows 9 by delivering a mobile version that’s free of the usual Windows geekiness, free from the fading stench of the PC era, and instead focused on giving consumers a straightforward mobile interface that they can embrace. But in the mean time the company is going to try one more time to convince us that we were all wrong all along about why we fell in love with non-Microsoft mobile devices by offering us a Surface Pro 3 that none of us ever asked for to begin with.