Like most of the Macbook’s, mine was up for an upgrade. It had served me loyally without a glitch since 2009 and in the time I had it with me, my Facebook relationship status from relationship to engagement to married to dad. Like many, I eagerly waited for what in the retrospect turned out to be an underwhelming release. On the other hand, Microsoft did something unthinkable. This got me thinking and for the first time, I entered a Microsoft Store. I never thought I would actually dare to look for a Microsoft device. I grew up on Microsoft, it actually was and is part of my livelihood but somewhere Apple was able to convert me as its customer. In a long time, there was something good about Microsoft. After looking through the products, I ended up with Apple again (this time a bit begrudgingly).
#1. Detaching is clunky
The Surface Book is elegant but the detach capability is very clunky. First there is this detach button that locks/unlocks the monitor and the base. The hook that holds the monitor and the base is old school mechanical engineering that my perception is would probably cause trouble in the long run. Actually, the way the device is setup to attach/detach, the buttons would probably lead to wear and tear. Voluntary disclosure, I haven’t used it myself but the number of times I tried to attach/detach in the store, the clunkiness was evident.
#2. What is the point of a creator release?
As I was playing around in the store, I had opened Adobe Photoshop started drawing things on the screen and unconsciously tried to detach the base from the monitor and it wouldn’t. I called upon the store associate for help and he told me that the GPU was on the performance base and the app I was using relied on the performance base. Okay – wasn’t the release a creator one? Wasn’t a lot of show on ability to draw using the Pencil? May be I was totally confused? How would a regular user know which apps can detach vs. which cannot? I dare not test it with games which I presume may rely on GPU. The use case wasn’t clear nor well defined. If I got this totally wrong, then may be I am misinformed.
#3. The Ultimate Trump Question?
As I was beginning to compare specs and still convince myself about the “value for money”, I get a laptop that doubles up as a tablet, and the ability to swivel the Surface Book also brings the hybrid capability, and all the positives along with everything else, my wife asked the store associate a simple question. I am in school, I would want to use my Surface Book in a tablet mode, take a picture of what is on the board, and then annotate it. What followed was unbelievable. The answer is you have to launch the camera app, take a picture, save it, launch OneNote, insert image from the camera and then take notes. If you are in a class or a meeting and were following your professor and had to do all that – forget it. Another store associate spoke to us about doing that via our SmartPhones (I mean a OneNote App on iPhone). The device was adaptive but the software wasn’t. It didn’t stop there. We weren’t still sure of what was the point of pencil here. Then the store associates told us the ability to click the Pen and send the image to OneNote (it is just that no one was able to demonstrate it successfully). Let’s talk about the buyer experience.
#4. Buyer experience was truly underwhelming
First the associates just told us where the device was and weren’t there to help. The store itself was empty. When we had questions, they would answer and then disappear. So we would start over with another associate. They had no answers to a lot of different questions and the way the store was set up didn’t actually help them do a good job. For example, all the devices are loaded with a lite version of PowerPoint, Word, Excel. Intuitively, it meant I was going to be buying something that I wasn’t going to be able to experience in its fullest form in Microsoft’s own store. This is a simple fix. Next, each Pen was paired with a computer and the customers had switched them around so the associates couldn’t simply demo the Pen to us. They first had to go around the computer to find the right one and when they didn’t, had to start over the pairing again. It intuitively felt like they were trying to fix a non-working computer. Then in the OneNote example, as they were trying to show the use case, they had to configure the app to open when you press on the Pen. All this gave us a feeling of extreme complexity. It was just too much. I still tried to look past it by showing empathy towards the associates.
#5. Does bash come preinstalled – No idea
I told the associate that I like to write code and build apps and if it came with bash preinstalled. I told him I had read about Microsoft opening it up and how would it work. I got a totally unrelated answer around web server or something. At that point, I just gave up.
I left with an impression that the product was almost there to bring me to the store but not there enough to convert me to a buyer. I would love to have one device that can be both a tablet and a computer. I think it is a genius master stroke from Microsoft however it is not all the way there. Companies have to work hard to earn their customer and especially when you are coming from behind, have surprised the world, the last mile has to be flawless. The store experience gave us a perception of more complexity than what it was. In the absence of it, it came across gimmicky.
We walked up the Apple Store and didn’t find the computer that day. About a few weeks later, I walked up to the Apple Store, played around the magic bar was underwhelmed. It was expensive, full of #donglelife, and not full value for money however it seemed like a logical choice until the entire industry figures it out. Is Microsoft’s choice of hybrid market going to be the ultimate winner or will Apple come from behind to wow everyone in a few years? They both are hedging different bets and I can see them both work. I will cover that in a different post. For now, I am writing this via my MacBook Pro still wanting a device like Microsoft Surface Book.