An old and almost legendary argument came from something Bill Gates said about cars. Gates allegedly said at COMDEX that, “If GM had kept up with the technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25.00 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon.” GM’s then CEO allegedly responded with a list of things that cars didn’t do that PCs, unfortunately, did at the time, like crash twice a day, weren’t based on standards, needed to be rebooted, would ask before it deployed something like an airbag and that you’d have to push a start button to turn it off. That last is funny because I now push my electric car’s start button to turn it off. Snopes says this conversation never happened, but I find it interesting that the car companies generally now do a better job of surveying their customers about what they like than tech companies, who build the survey technology, do.
Targeted PCs are uncommon, and I believe this is a common error made by OEMs who churn out a large number of PCs with no awareness of who will use them. Apple, which should be focusing on creators, has developed a much simpler line, yet it treats everyone as if they all had the same job and responsibility. Many vendors build PCs using “personas,” yet as the book Technically Wrong points out, this technique frequently results in goods aimed at people who don’t exist. Given that male engineers often define these personalities, it’s no wonder that PCs geared toward women don’t exist, despite the fact that the marketing collateral that surrounds PCs is often rather diverse. The Surface Laptop is one of the most popular laptops on the market.
Of the two newest cars I have, there isn’t a month that both car makers don’t ask me what I like about the cars and ask me about things they are considering for the next version. PC companies rarely survey their installed base on what they are missing with what they are using, and Apple, arguably the most focused PC makers, seems to be one of the most disconnected from them. For instance, given Apple supposedly focuses on creators, they are seemingly trying to push people onto their iPad Pro platform, which doesn’t have the power that creators typically require. They haven’t added touch screens to their PCs, not because they don’t believe in them (iPads, iPhones, and iPods all have them) but because they don’t want to.
The Surface Laptop Studio has a unique hardware design that uniquely benefits creators, specifically those with artistic skills. It uses a cantilevered touch screen and a special haptics pen to create what is arguably the best digital painting surface currently on any tablet or laptop. Unlike the old Surface Book, it doesn’t try to be a better tablet than the iPad. It tries to be a better Laptop for creators than either the MacBook or especially the underpowered iPad Pro. It comes with an optional NVIDIA RTX GPU. I’d suggest that this option is more of a requirement for a product in this class, and an optional Intel I7 (you can get an I5 version with integrated graphics, but this would be like buying a muscle car with a four-cylinder engine which I think doesn’t make sense). The laptop is a piece of art, so I can see some folks buying the base version just for the looks and for that cantilevered screen which is damn near perfect for movies on a plane and not bad for Cloud gaming (something that Microsoft takes more seriously than Apple given their Xbox franchise).
So, what Microsoft did with the Surface Laptop Studio was take a hard look at what creators needed but weren’t getting and design an equally unique targeted product for those creators. They are effectively asking, “Why buy from a company that doesn’t care what you do and mines you for money when you could buy from a company that gets creators and won’t mine you for money?”
The PC market traditionally doesn’t target specific users, but it should. With the Surface Laptop Studio, Microsoft is breaking from the pack instead of their past practice of creating relatively generic products that didn’t target specific use cases. This laptop is the first targeted product I’ve seen from Microsoft in some time (I think you could argue the Xbox is even more targeted, but most don’t consider it a PC). I hope it will begin a trend where more PC OEMs build products, outside of actual workstations (which are targeted), that target specific users and that this market will finally mature to reach its true potential. I think the Surface Laptop Studio is excellent; it’s just that I think this user targeting is even more powerful than this initial product is, and should it set the trend. It could redefine the PC market and put Apple on notice that they need to step up their game as well.
As President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, Rob provides regional and global companies with guidance in how to create credible dialogue with the market, target customer needs, create new business opportunities, anticipate technology changes, select vendors and products, and practice zero dollar marketing. For over 20 years Rob has worked for and with companies like Microsoft, HP, IBM, Dell, Toshiba, Gateway, Sony, USAA, Texas Instruments, AMD, Intel, Credit Suisse First Boston, ROLM, and Siemens.