You Get What You Charge For

From Nick Heer at PixelEnvy:

Ads used to be beautiful because they had to be beautiful — if you’re a business paying thousands or tens of thousands of dollars for a full colour back-page ad, you’re going to want to make it the most memorable and compelling visual it can be.

A few years ago, a friend of mine who runs his own business significantly raised his rates. I asked him if it led to more demanding clients. He told me no, because the most demanding clients were often the ones who valued price over the work. Because the work was secondary, these clients were much more likely to not think things through, then come back with more demands, at which point they’d further waste everyones time trying to keep the price low. His higher prices not only increased his income, but they also freed him to take on more professional clients who valued professional work.

Funny how business economics works.

A Deal With the Devil

After yesterday’s post questioning Google’s commitment to open source Android, I found this piece Ars Technica published by J.M. Porup about yet another startup focusing on making Android more secure:

Copperhead OS, a two-man team based in Toronto, ships a hardened version of Android that aims to integrate Grsecurity and PaX into their distribution. Their OS also includes numerous security enhancements

I’ve been wondering – as Google keeps moving their support to proprietary alternatives while others in the open source community develop potentially competing solutions as part of the Open Android Source Project, at what point does the OS that ships with Google Play cease being “Android”? My assumption was that an OS that ran mostly on Google’s proprietary code couldn’t legitimately be called “Android”. Then I read this (emphasis mine):

Google’s power over OEMs—such as Samsung or Motorola, who manufacture and sell Android handsets—consists solely of the Android license and access to the Google Play Store.

Sure enough, I had forgotten that Google owns the Android name just as much as they own Google Play. From the AOSP Brand Guidelines:

The “Android” name, the Android logo, the “Google Play” brand, and other trademarks are property of Google Inc. and not part of the assets available through the Android Open Source Project.

“Sure you can use this for non-Google products, but good luck communicating an otherwise nameless project. Oh, and if your little not-Android-thing encroaches on our business in any way, we’ll walk and do our own proprietary thing, and that proprietary thing will still be called ‘Android’.”

Android isn’t a choice. It’s an ultimatum.

Lastly, I want to point out this bit of sentiment from the Ars piece, which Porup credits to Chris Soghoian of the ACLU:

Google did a deal with the devil for market share, says Soghoian, who has described the current parlous state of Android security as a human rights issue. By giving Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and wireless carriers control over the end-user experience, Google allowed handset manufacturers to find ways to differentiate their products, and wireless carriers to disable features they thought would threaten their business model.

Did Google do the deal with the devil or is it the other way around?

Embrace, Extend, and Extinguish

When news came that Amazon would start selling Android phones subsidized with ads on the lock screen, I quipped on Twitter by asking how long it would take Google to wrest control of the lock screen by making it part of the closed source Google Play. Now less than a month later, Ars Technica is reporting that Google will not only take control of the Android lock screen, but the whole System UI:

In Android, the System UI is a huge deal since it’s responsible for much of the base operating system. It handles the bottom navigation bar, the top status bar, the notification panel, Quick Settings, Recent Apps, the lock screen, the volume controls, and the power button long-press menu. The new Nexus devices are apparently going to replace the open source System UI with a proprietary APK called the “Google System UI.”

Carriers and handset makers’ inability and unwillingness to push updates of any sort, including those vital to their customers’ security, gives Google a very good reason to shift as much of Android to their control by any means possible, but migrating functionality to Play also effectively replaces open source Android with Google proprietary code. While it’s certainly reasonable to expect that Google’s applications and services like YouTube or GMail would remain proprietary, it seems open source Android functionality is increasingly being migrated to closed source for the sole strategic benefit of Google. Additionally, as functionality is added to Play, any open source counterpart in Android languishes without Google’s vast resources. Shouldn’t there be some push or expectation to keep generic functionality like the System Webview or UI as open source even after they transition to Google Play? Where is the blowback? This is the company that in 2010 said:

“If you believe in openness, if you believe in choice, if you believe in innovation from everyone, then welcome to Android”.

The lack of any significant protest even as large swaths of Android are increasingly replaced with Google’s own proprietary code suggests to me that a vast majority of Android users don’t see and never saw the value of open source. Google’s lack of interest to open source anything on Play further cements the idea that Android was never about openness and choice, but rather about adoption and marketshare.

“Not too many things like that.”

From Playing The Long Game Inside Tim Cook’s Apple by Rick Tetzeli, writing for Fast Company:

It’s entirely possible that Apple will never introduce a product as universally desired as the iPhone. That doesn’t mean it won’t continue to be a great company. “The iPhone entered a market that was the biggest on earth for electronic devices,” Cooks tells me, as we’re wrapping up our interview. “Why is that? It’s because eventually, everyone in the world will have one. There are not too many things like that.”

I’d argue it’s more likely than not that Apple, or any company, will never introduce a product as universally desired as the iPhone. I’ll go even farther and add that using the success of smartphones as any sort of bar to measure success is folly.

Digital Advertising verses Digital Ads

As some readers already know, I make my living working in ad tech. For those unfamiliar, ad tech is shorthand for the internet advertising industry. I suspect most outside the industry think internet advertising as strictly banner ads, but ad tech actually encompasses all advertising that is delivered via software over the internet. So for example, while NBC running a commercial on your local station does not typically involve ad tech, them running that same commercial on one of their websites or apps does. Given this example, a better term commonly used to frame the this industry is simply “digital advertising”. This is as opposed to the “traditional advertising” industries of print and broadcast. That said with traditional advertising shrinking, at some point any remaining print and broadcast activity will get relegated to the “other” category of an “Advertising” industry that will be synonymous with digital.

Outside of massive traffic when compared to traditional media, the benefits of digital advertising are many — better tools, better reach, better analytics, better inventory. Unfortunately these benefits have been tainted with fraud, ignorance, and a widespread lack of taste. The problems go all the way back to the start of digital advertising and one of its most basic concepts — the click-through.

Why Digital Advertising is Great

Imagine it’s the late 1990s and that you are a marketer working in the entertainment industry trying to create buzz around some new Rob Schneider movie. Obviously you have previews in theaters, print ads in magazines and newspapers, and commercials on television. You think you have all your bases covered, but then some asshole from the internet shows up and says you are missing out. Why? Because in all of those other places, the people exposed have only one outcome that inevitably leads them away from Rob Schneider. Previews and commercials end, and printed pages can only be turned. If you’re lucky, some will actually remember your otherwise forgettable movie exists just long enough to go see it. Now you’re told that advertising on the internet is different, that instead of moving on, people who are interested in your film can simply click on Rob Schneider’s face and be immediately brought to even more movie marketing material.

I would keep going with this little exercise, but it’d all be moot as your late 1990s marketer brain just exploded.

Never mind digital advertising is better. Never mind that all advertising will be digital. The idea that anyone can instantaneously get more information about something of interest is great regardless of whether that something of interest is an ad.

Why Digital Ads Suck

Not long after the idea of the click-through came the idea of tricking people into clicking ads via Punch the Monkey-esque1 scams. From there a long history of other scams and fraud have been pervasive in digital advertising. In my opinion though, Punch the Monkey is really just an outcome created by other factors in the industry. Let’s assume fraudsters gonna fraud wherever fraudulent gains can be had, so what makes digital advertising so ripe for defrauding?

Digital Ads Are Cheap

If you were a traditional big media company or publisher encountering the internet in 1997, your complete lack of understanding of what it was ultimately left you picking from a bento box of likely outcomes:

The internet is a(n)… …and we should respond by…
…hobby… …outsourcing to the same unknown company as our competitors.
…fad… …do as close to nothing as possible.
…enemy… …lawyer up
…free… …selling ad inventory at a discount.

Because a majority of those who would have had the most to gain failed to identify the internet as a huge and disruptive opportunity, inventory for digital advertising was immediately relegated as the “cheap” alternative rather than be taken as a serious part of the business.

Digital advertising being synonymous with cheap has had many consequences, but I would like to focus on just two:

  1. Because digital inventory has little-to-no value, the status quo is to show a bad ad before showing no ad. Always showing an ad means cheapening content to the level of the ads available instead of elevating ad inventory to the level of the content. This means even reputable publishers and media companies now try to make up revenue on volume via clickbait and listicles. Once you’re a site doing clickbait and listicles, it becomes much harder to call yourself reputable let alone command a higher price based on content.
  2. Lack of strategic investment means publishers have largely outsourced the technology to manage their ad inventory with minimal oversight. Most ads served actually have access to the page, meaning they can literally do anything the publisher can. Imagine if McDonalds let franchisees do whatever they wanted with only a lowest common denominator of requirements. Say what you will about Big Macs, but at least people in a pinch can rightfully trust McDonalds to be consistent and not give them food poisoning in way they can’t trust publishers to not infect their PC with some virus laced ad.

While scammy ads permeate all forms of media, they’re mostly harmless and usually relegated to less desirable inventory. Cheap digital ads means Punch the Monkey isn’t quarantined off to some dark corner of the internet, but instead can afford to land a spot on your favorite major publisher. And thanks to a general lack of oversight, it can also pop up a nice little survey asking you how great Punch the Monkey is, just like those actual brands advertising on that same page. This takes me to my next point.

Digital Ads Favor Data Over Taste

While click-throughs may be the greatest thing since sliced bread, measuring them has had some adverse affects. Don’t get me wrong. Data is perhaps the biggest benefit to digital advertising. Advertisers can optimize their campaigns from an assortment of metrics not available anywhere else that include click-throughs, interactions, video playback, reach, conversion and attribution, viewability… the list goes on and on. The problem isn’t data, but the emphasis on data at the exclusion of taste.

For example, consider those video ads that appear between paragraphs in an article. It’s a good bet that not a single person outside of the industry would have anything nice to say about these video ads. They disrupt the reader twice (on both expand and collapse) to deliver a message they didn’t ask for in a format incongruous to the content2. Most people in the industry I talk to don’t like them either, yet these video ads are thriving. Why? Three reasons:

  1. They’re cheap to make because they simply repurpose existing video made for broadcast.
  2. Video ads are more lucrative for publishers.
  3. They force engagement.

You may be thinking “how do these ads force engagement?” While different companies have different implementations of this type of ad, I strongly suspect some happily round up any event to an engagement. So in this case, the video expanding after the user scrolls could be considered a “user engagement”, the video auto-playing is considered a “video engagement”, and even the user closing the video could be considered another “user engagement”.3 So this ad that no one really likes is considered a top performer in the eyes of advertisers, who blinded by data inadvertently encourage publishers to further inflate their statistics with disruptive ads while sacrificing the remaining goodwill of their readership.

Just like Punch the Monkey.

Finally many data metrics, such as attribution and our friend, the click-through, primarily benefit direct advertising. Direct advertising refers to ads that want you to perform a specific action, like buy a movie ticket. This is as opposed to brand advertisers whose main goal is to generate awareness of a specific product, brand, or company. For example, Frito-Lay’s Superbowl ad isn’t to get you to run out and buy more Doritos in the middle of the big game, but rather to keep them top of mine so that you think “Doritos” the next time you’re feeling noshy. So while knowing which ads and media are driving more click-throughs and conversions is critical in direct advertising, these metrics shouldn’t really be a factor in brand advertising. More often than not though, they are, because we can measure these metrics just as easily for brand advertisers as we do for direct advertisers. So what’s the harm? In my opinion, this is a good example of when data has adverse affects. Now brand advertisers, spurred on by an industry touting the importance of data, are supplementing brand metrics such as reach and lift with clicks and attribution. But because branded ads aren’t designed to drive conversions, they don’t perform according to the data. I suspect this is just one reason why a vast majority of digital ads are direct4.

What’s Next

As I said at the top of this post, digital advertising is not only great, but the future. While this industry is full of smart people who are trying to make digital ads better, I am increasingly having a hard time seeing improvement happening without some turmoil. Whether change comes through evolution or revolution, better digital ads will require publishers beyond search companies and social companies to take more of an active role with their ads. Additionally, while data is a tentpole of digital advertising, more people in the industry need to look past data to start thinking about the types of digital ads that they themselves might actually click on and maybe even the types of digital ads that don’t need to be clicked at all.

  1. I am referring to a type of animated banner ad that poses as a mini-game that promises a reward (like 20 dollars) if the reader can click on(or “punch”) some moving target (like a monkey). The earliest reference to “Punch the Monkey” I could find was from 2000, but I am certain earlier versions exist. ↩︎

  2. I’d further wager that people are less effective at processing information that doesn’t match its surroundings. ↩︎

  3. There’s probably also another engagement for those who intended to close the ad, but mistakenly click through. ↩︎

  4. Another is that there are more cheap direct ads… lose belly fat… get low mortgage rates… punch the monkey. ↩︎

Ars Technica Reviews HP’s EliteBook Folio G1

The review is titled “HP’s EliteBook Folio G1 is the MacBook as it could’ve been“.

That’s not true of the 4K version of the laptop, which loses more than three hours of battery life in our test exclusively because of the screen (almost all the other components, including the CPU, were identical across models). It’s a very pretty display, but it might also be the difference between having a laptop that lasts all day on a cross-country flight and one that dies before you can get to the hotel.

Thin and light, fewer compromises

In some ways, the EliteBook Folio G1 feels like the MacBook that could’ve been, had Apple’s priorities been shuffled around just a little bit. It’s almost as small, almost as thin, and almost as light, but it’s got a keyboard that most of you will already be used to and a second USB Type-C port for added versatility. Those USB Type-C ports also provide Thunderbolt 3 support, so you have more bandwidth for external accessories if you want it. Apple’s laptop is better designed (and if you prefer OS X to Windows, it’s all moot anyway), but HP’s is perhaps more attuned to what current buyers (especially power users) want and need.

Neglecting to include battery life and screen quality alongside the other compromises is disingenuous.

Both HP and Apple are making sacrifices in order to be as thin and light as possible, and while their differing priorities are interesting, the results aren’t surprising. The HP has more/better ports while sacrificing either screen quality or battery life. The MacBook infamously only has one port, but offers a great screen and long battery life.

Hardware-wise, HP is selling you a thinner and lighter PC with the compromises and benefits of a PC, and Apple is selling you a Mac with the compromises and benefits of an iPad.

I have never been so onboard with the MacBook as I am after reading this review.

Snippets, TextExpander, and Subscription Pricing

I’ve been going through somewhat of a snippet renaissance lately. Snippets are text abbreviations that get automatically replaced with commonly used content. For example, typing “;screenshare” inserts the phone number and link I use for online conferencing. The value may seem trivial, but the alternative requires me to:

  1. Remember which application has the information.
  2. Switch away from the document to that application.
  3. Find and copy the information. (This is surprisingly difficult in some conferencing apps.)
  4. Switch back to my document and paste.

Multiply those steps by the hundred or so times a year I send out an online conference and the convenience and time saved with my “;screenshare” snippet is obvious, but there is also an even bigger, less noticeable, benefit — flow. Not only does my snippet reduce steps, performing those steps takes me out of the task at hand, both mentally and in process. My snippet turns an ancillary and discrete task that requires special attention to just another noun in my document.

As someone who already loved using technology to enable laziness without consequence, snippets came surprisingly late to my arsenal of scripts, automations, and shortcuts. When I inevitably did decide to take the plunge a little under a year ago, there were a number of snippet tools to choose from. For me however, the choice was always obvious. Smile’s TextExpander was already by far the most popular snippet utility in the Mac-centric circles I tend to follow. I was so confident in my purchase, I even got the $60 family pack rather than the $45 single license, just incase my wife took interest. That may sound ridiculous in this culture of $.99 or free, but the Mac community has a long track record of reasonably priced great software with even more reasonably priced upgrades. Take for example someone who purchased TextExpander 4 when it was released in 2012 at a price of $35 and then upgraded in 2015 for $20. While the total $55 may seem cost prohibitive, the annualized cost is just under $15 – very reasonable.

In fact, TextExpander has been a great example of the value people get when paying for software… until last week when Smile announced that TextExpander 6 would be moving to a subscription model where individuals can pay just $3.96 per month. Some have criticized the model, but in my mind subscriptions are just codifying the status quo wherein developers release paid updates every year or so and good Mac citizens pay it because we like supporting great software. Subscriptions aren’t the problem, it’s the cost – plain and simple. Our example someone who was paying an average of under $15 a year is now on the hook for close to $48. Switching to a subscription model is fine, but using it to obfuscate what amounts to a 3X rate hike is borderline insulting.

If there is one hesitation I have regarding subscriptions is that they demand trust. Paid updates put the onus on the developer to release compelling updates and have faith that consumers will pay. Subscriptions are the opposite. They effectively ask customers to pay upfront and give developers the benefit of the doubt that updates will come. This is what makes converting from licensing to subscriptions so difficult. What to me is most perplexing about Smile’s strategy is that they already enjoyed a ton a goodwill, so while any subscription might have been met with some grumbles, I suspect a rate comparable to previous upgrades would have been largely accepted as a sound business move. By charging so much, they’ve effectively poisoned that well of goodwill. This not only jeopardized what I think would have been easily the type of steady revenue most developers only dream about, it also alienated their core customers who, at this price, can’t even make the once an no-brainer recommendation even if they wanted to. I don’t see how $48 price point a year grows the TextExpander community.

Smile has offered discounts to the those using previous versions of TextExpander, but the discount seems to be limited to one year. This was mentioned in their damage control blog post alongside explanations of how the new pricing will bring TextExpander into the future and the various great things to come. Unfortunately, it’s hard to trust a company that just tripled your rate.

I understand Smile is seeking a sustainable business model and I think subscriptions are the way to go. Without knowing anything about their business, here’s my suggestion from the peanut gallery – $2 monthly or $20 a year. Roughly the same price of an upgrade, but with predictable consistency. I would gladly pay it and I am sure many other customers would to.

Update: Great minds think alike. There are still some other concerns with the new TextExpander, but good on them for addressing the pricing.

Goku Goes to the Dealership

I love these Dragon Ball Z Ford ads not because they are clearly pandering to one of my interests and also not because I appreciate the subtext of using a well known Japanese anime to sell American cars. I love these ads because they bring some much needed levity to car advertising as a whole.

As someone who watches a good amount of American football, I have seen my share of car ads. When they aren’t hawking the latest deal, most are busy inflating the importance of the product. But trying to elevate what most people know they need and that many already find appealing is a bit tricky. Remember those Star Wars1 special editions Lucas put out in the 90s? With not a whole lot to improve upon, the result was something less than the original.

Artificially injecting gravitas can make a seemingly nice luxury sedan look just as ridiculous as that added scene between Han and Jabba the Hut. These Dragon Ball Z ads are the opposite. The ads are ridiculous while the car they’re selling just gets to exist.

  1. The Director of SEO Marketing here told me to mention Star Wars at least once this year or he’d fire me. 

The Opposite Side of the Same Problem

Commenting on my argument that Microsoft’s Surface line is in-part to provide the PC’s need for better hardware design, Nick Heer astutely added:

…by choosing to license their operating system in a loose way, Microsoft places the reputation of their software1 in their licensee’s hands.

Nick2 then followed up to some related comments texted by Jonas Wisser, which I would like to also address. First was Wisser’s comment regarding Mac clones:

Kinda surprised you didn’t make the connection between licensing killing a quality OS problem and Old Apple.

Macintosh clones are indeed a very good connection and like Nick I am also surprised they didn’t come to mind when I was writing my piece, especially given my mind was clearly already in the neighborhood. As I wrote in my footnote:

In another example of computer industry symmetry, an increasingly irrelevant mid-90s Apple faced the opposite side of this same problem when it struggled to produce compelling hardware, leaving buyers asking why they should pay more for what seemed to be the same beige box as the competitors’.

While I agree that mid-90’s Apple faced the same problem, what I find particularly interesting is that the Mac maker came to it from the opposite side. Today’s Microsoft is struggling to convince the world that Windows and the PC are a choice on par with the more premium Mac, and not just a cheaper compromise. Microsoft is faced with a commonly held belief that Apple Macs are better than PCs enough to be worth the extra cost. Mid-90s Apple struggled because it failed to establish that same value proposition after Windows 95. A vast majority of people not only thought Macs weren’t worth their premium, but many thought that Apple was actively trying to rip them off.

The existence of Macintosh clones only adds to this symmetry. Out of desperation to improve the PC experience, today’s Microsoft has started making premium hardware that enjoys tighter integration with its Windows OS a la the Mac. Out of desperation to be competitive, Mid-90s Apple licensed Mac OS to commoditized hardware manufacturers a la Windows. The only break in this symmetry is that Microsoft has little to fear with their Surface venture whereas the Macintosh clones legitimately jeopardized Apple’s main line of business in the 90s, partly because Apple also struggled to justify their premium against the clone makers just as they did with the PC.

Wisser also added:

The problem for Microsoft is that they can’t win back control of their consumer product the way Apple did.

Their enterprise and embedded footprint is way too big.

[In my opinion], the only way they could do it would be to turn Windows into a legacy product and ship their own hardware running a new OS.

I agree 100%3, but also wonder if Microsoft needs PCs to be as good as Macs or just good enough that most people don’t feel they benefit from spending extra. Who knows if that’s possible with the current situation. I think that the best Microsoft can hope for now is that other PC vendors will eventually come to the same conclusion they’ve already reached and start producing nice enough hardware to keep users from yearning for a Mac.

Who knows? It could happen.

  1. I wonder if Google knows it can see the future. 

  2. Because Nick is clearly much more on top of his blog and engaged with the community than I am.  

  3. This is a similar point to the one I made in arguing Microsoft should have done a Metro only tablet back in 2011. While then I was talking about software partners, I think the same logic applies to hardware vendors. 

  4. I might be addicted to Markdown footnotes. 

Reference Design

Ever since Microsoft introduced its line of Surface tablets, there has always been a lingering question as to why. Why is Microsoft risking alienating OEM partners just to go into a business that is both costly and relatively low margin when compared to software? One answer I’ve been thinking about for a while now is that Microsoft’s move is at least partly about giving commoditized PC manufacturers a high-end design to reference that isn’t Apple’s.

The PC industry as a whole, and therefore Microsoft, benefits whenever one or more manufacturers succeed by offering high-end quality computers, because doing so sets the bar for everyone else to measure up against. The best example of this that I can think of is the IBM ThinkPad. If you worked in an office in the late 90s, chances are you hoped for a ThinkPad, but ended up with some cheaper Dell or Compaq. This often worked out fine because whatever laptop you were given was still trying to be a ThinkPad, just cheaper. But therein lies the problem – with the vast majority of PC buyers being IT departments of variously sized organizations with limited budgets, PC’s success wasn’t driven by quality as much as it was price. IBM 1 would be undercut by Compaq who would be undercut by Dell who would be undercut by HP, and so on and so forth. Now everyone is provisioned the same sub-$500 5lb brick with build quality standards based on what was already second rate in 2005.

As bad as PC’s race to the bottom has gotten for the business market, I would argue it’s even worse for the consumers. Because as much as IT may not give a damn about the hardware quality of your brick, they care deeply about the software and service that comes with it. You only get the software that’s perceived to be needed and if your brick dies, it will be fixed or replaced. Consumers on the other hand don’t have such luxuries. That lack of profitability on hardware means most consumer PCs are sold with minimal support and buyers can’t even count on a clean user experience thanks to preinstalled trial software (lovingly called crapware) that relentlessly advertises paid upgrades.

The only company to avoid this fate has been Apple. Thanks to some sort of alchemy where gross incompetence was followed by expert leadership, Apple has remained a consumer driven company where it continues to compete primarily on quality. As a result, Apple now singularly owns the high-end computing market. Because of this and the fact that there is no one else to follow, PC makers have increasingly and more obviously emulated Apple.

The has led to the current PC market, which I think can be described in four categories:

  1. Old style business bricks.
  2. Old style consumer bricks that are filled with crapware.
  3. Higher end MacBook knock-offs that are filled with crapware.
  4. Wacky laptop/tablet all-in-ones that are filled with crapware.

With old style laptops looking increasingly dated and all-in-ones feeling a little under baked, I would wager number 3 is the most compelling category for most consumers right now. From there, the choice becomes either buy what is known to be a crapware-filled knock-off or just spend the extra money and get the real McCoy2. Whether or not the PC or Mac gets purchased at this point becomes somewhat irrelevant because the decision process itself concedes that Apple makes the better computer. This looks bad for the PC industry and, because Apple is the one major computer maker that doesn’t include Windows, looks bad for Microsoft too3.

Apparently I am not alone in this thinking. Joanna Stern succinctly made a similar observation on a recent episode of John Gruber’s The Talk Show:

Apple makes the best Windows computer. And I said it when I was working at Engadget. I said it when I was working at The Verge. And I’ve said when I’ve been working here at the [Wall Street] Journal. When you install Windows on a MacBook Air or a MacBook Pro, Windows runs better there than it does on pretty much any other laptop I’ve ever tested in the last 10 years. And that is a problem for Microsoft.

As a long time Mac user, I have no qualms saying that Windows has gotten leaps and bounds better in the last 5 years, but those significant improvements have been largely erased by mediocre hardware, penny pinching IT departments, and the continued horrible practice of crapware. I am sure no one is more frustrated by this fact than Microsoft, who I believe has been desperately trying to elevate the PC back to respectability. I think the Surface exists as part of that strategy to help4 the rest of PC industry with a unique5 reference model not entirely owned by PC’s oldest and now biggest competitor.

  1. “Who exited the business by selling off ThinkPad with the rest of its PC division to Lenovo 2005.” 

  2. In another example of computer industry symmetry, an increasingly irrelevant mid-90s Apple faced the opposite side of this same problem when it struggled to produce compelling hardware, leaving buyers asking why they should pay more for what seemed to be the same beige box as the competitors’. 

  3. Would Microsoft even bother with Surface in a world where Apple was somehow a high-end Windows OEM? 

  4. Or perhaps to threaten. 

  5. Aside from uniqueness, I think the laptop/tablet form factor is ideal for Microsoft for two reasons.

    1. Apple’s stated disinterest in the market leaves an open opportunity for Microsoft to pursue and gain competence while minimizing comparison to arguably the best hardware maker in the world.

    2. Microsoft makes Windows and actually has a proven history integrating hardware and software with Xbox, which in my book gives them a shot at the legitimizing a heretofore wacky form factor.