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Geoffrey James writes the “Sales Source” column on Inc.com, the world’s most-visited sales-oriented blog, which features the best ideas from dozens of sales experts and executives, along with James’ unique take on the business world.
Most sales managers have surely heard about Microsoft’s announcement of the Surface, a Microsoft-branded, Windows-based tablet intended to compete with the Apple iPad. Some may even be wondering whether to hold off purchasing tablets for their sales team until the dust settles.
That would be a dumb move because the Microsoft Surface is doomed.
I’ll explain why in a second, but before going any further, I want to make something perfectly clear: I’m no Apple fan boy. I haven’t used a Macintosh in 20 years. I also know a lot about Microsoft because I covered the firm for about a decade as an analyst at Technology Business Research, and have interviewed numerous Microsoft executives, including Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer.
As announced by Microsoft, there are two primary advantages to the Surface: it’s based on Windows and is a Microsoft product, both of which are intended to make the device more flexible and powerful than an iPad. Microsoft’s press-release says: “Surface is designed to seamlessly transition between consumption and creation, without compromise.”
Unfortunately, both of these advantages are actually reasons why the Surface is destined to be a flop.
Windows is the Wrong Design
The point of a tablet–as epitomized in the iPad–is that it’s easy to use, thus allowing the user to focus on the result they’re trying to obtain rather than the mechanism by which the result happens.
While Microsoft’s product, like the iPad, seems reasonably easy to use on the surface (pun intended), lying beneath is an insanely complex computing environment that requires constant tweaking. The simple truth is that the Windows environment–which was never simple –has become increasingly Byzantine and unstable with each new release.
Windows was designed to run multiple users in a data center, not to host a single-user tablet. That’s why, in order to make Windows work, users end up viewing the kind of multiple-page fix-it instructions that only programmers can understand.
Furthermore, Windows is inherently unstable because applications, including browsers, are permitted to modify the operating system. This not only guarantees the propagation of viruses, but also a gradual “rot” of the software on any given Windows machine.
By contrast, the iPad has a highly stable operating environment designed specifically to run single-user handheld devices.
More importantly, the iPad does not allow applications to modify the operating system, which means that it’s relatively impervious to viruses and is always restored to pristine state when shut down and restarted.
Finally, the iPad has perfectly acceptable document, spreadsheet and presentation tools on the iPad, many of which fortunately do not yet suffer from the “feature creep” that’s turned many Windows apps into a pig’s breakfast of options and menu picks.
This is meaningful to sales managers because you want your sales team to be focusing on the customer, not spending hours learning how to be junior programmers and to support a data center.
Microsoft is the Wrong Company
It’s been said that “those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it,” an aphorism should probably include “and pay for the mistake.”
The simple truth is that companies who have bet on Microsoft’s ability to launch a viable phone, handheld, or small form factor device have been clobbered by the reality, which is that Microsoft simply doesn’t “get” the basic concept.
Over the years, Microsoft has spent billions of dollars spend on research and development only to create a string of flops, many of which were financial disasters for the companies who drank the Kool-aid.
Microsoft’s sordid history of abject failure goes back to 1996, when they launched “Windows CE,” an operating system intended for what were then called “handheld PCs.” Windows CE flopped and has now become a barely-supported backwater.
Microsoft was also responsible for the Zune, an iPod competitor that barely got on the market share radar and the Kin, an iPhone competitor that was pulled from the market only forty-eight days after reportedly selling only 500 units, despite a massive spending on advertising and promotion.
Since 2001, Microsoft has tried to market the concept of Window-based tablet computers, but these devices, despite being manufactured by established PC companies like Dell and Hewlett-Packard, have gone nowhere.
For years, Microsoft hyped “Windows Mobile,” an operating system for phones, which it then scrapped in favor of the incompatible “Windows Phone.”
This pattern of repeated failures strongly suggests that the handheld/tablet/phone market simply isn’t part of Microsoft’s DNA
As a result, it’s reasonable to conclude the Surface will, like every other product Microsoft has launched in this space, end up as an orphan. And that would be seriously bad news for any sales team that adopts the Surface as a standard.sn’t part of Microsoft’s DNA.
By contrast, there’s not the slightest chance whatsoever that the iPad is a dead-end, because it’s already established itself as a market leader.
Moreover, there are dozens of sales-oriented applications available for the iPad, most of which are far easier to use then the Windows-based counterparts because they’re designed to work on a tablet, rather than on a PC trying to pretend it’s one.
Because of this, sales managers who want their teams to remain competitive would be well advised to base their technology strategy on the iPad rather than the train wreck that the Surface will almost definitely turn out to be.
To get column updates from Geoffrey, sign up for his weekly “insider” newsletter or follow his @Sales_SourceTwitter feed. His newly published book is Business to Business Selling: Power Words and Strategies From the World’s Top Sales Experts.
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