Friday, October 28

Overnight success.

I used to be a Mac fan. Many years ago, they made better machines with a better operating system than the competition. As they became more popular, they started making overpriced crap. And their influence forced Microsoft to up their game in the OS stakes.

I've had a Surface Pro for a couple of years. It is a really really damn nice machine. It's the sort of thing Apple would have made once upon a time but don't any more. They've just launched a new phone and laptop, and, due to the incompatibility of the connectors, you can't charge the phone from the laptop. They've famously got rid of the headphone jack from their phones: they claim that their new connector provides better audio. Their new laptop still has the old headphone jack — i.e., according to their own hype, inferior sound. I think it's fair to say that Steve Jobs wouldn't have stood for this sort of sloppiness.

Meanwhile, Microsoft's new Surface Studio looks amazing. A square aim at Apple's core market, there. And a bloody good aim, too. The Dial is bloody cool. I'd be amazed if half the developers on the planey haven't already started thinking of ways to integrate it into new things. Could be a really interesting gaming controller, for a start, and perfect for music-making software.

The interesting thing about the Surface was the way it was derided as a flop when it first launched. Apple have built so much of their reputation around the business plan of launching a product and selling a bazillion inside a week that the entire tech industry has decided that that's the only way to do things. Microsoft took a completely different approach: launch something quite cool, watch it to see how it does, listen to feedback, tweak, repeat. They were quite open about not caring whether the Surface made a profit in its first couple of years, while tech journalists derided the "flop" and insisted the Surface was a failed project that would have to be abandoned. They didn't care when they had to write down a load of inventory. They didn't abandon the project. Just kept tweaking. And now the Surface is considered a cool and desirable machine, just like a Mac. I find it has wow factor, too: when geeks see me using one, they ask to have a look.

I'm glad Microsoft succeeded in this way — not just because I like my Surface, but because, even if I didn't, I think it's healthy for the industry to be reminded that a successful gadget doesn't have to go from nothing to everywhere overnight. Good things can be built slowly.

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