Connect with us


Microsoft raised the bar for Windows PCs with its Surface computers, despite low share after a decade

Source image:

Panos Panay, chief product officer of Microsoft Corp., displays the new Surface Laptop 3 computer during a Microsoft product event in New York on Oct. 2, 2019. Microsoft unveiled a dual-screen, foldable phone that will run on Google’s Android operating system, jumping back into a market it exited years ago.

Mark Kauzlarich | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Microsoft made a splash in 2012 when it introduced the Surface, the first computer it had built in its 37 years of existence. The computers are still kicking 10 years later, with Microsoft issuing annual updates, but Surface’s mega-growth is long in the past.

Microsoft tried to reimagine tablets, which are made popular by the iPad, when it launched into the PC market. In 2012, the Surface with Windows RT, later named Surface RT, was more than just a touchscreen slab like Apple’s iPad. The Surface could act as a full PC with an optional cover featuring a keyboard and trackpad.

Apple in the ensuing years would make the iPad more like the Surface, adding similar accessories, while Microsoft would do what it usually does: Roll out a series of small updates. It later added new Surface computers to the family, including an all-in-one PC, a standard laptop and miniature versions of the Surface.

Those steps have brought about growth. In Microsoft’s most recent fiscal year, Surface kicked in $6.7 billion of the company’s $198 billion in total revenue. That’s more than the total revenue of over 100 companies in the S&P 500 index.

But the hyper-growth vanished after the first three years. In the 2022 fiscal year, Surface revenue increased by 3%, despite being smaller than PC initiatives at several other companies. Apple’s Mac business, at almost $38 billion, grew about 8% over the same period.

Surfaces just aren’t as popular as other computers. They have never managed to take more than 2.1% market share of PC shipments, according to an estimate from technology industry researcher Gartner. Lenovo has a 25% share of the market, while HP has 19% and Dell has 18%, respectively.

Microsoft declined to comment on whether it considers Surface successful.

“We design Surface to be the one place where the best of Microsoft comes together, delighting customers and inspiring the Windows ecosystem,” a spokesperson told CNBC in an email. “Surface began as a tablet to replace your laptop, showcasing Windows capabilities like touch, ink, Windows Hello, and more. Since then, the 2-in-1 category has taken off and Surface has grown into an innovative portfolio of products offering premium designs and capabilities that consistently earn high customer satisfaction.” 

That Surface has not surpassed more experienced PC makers might not be such a bad thing anyway. PC builders are among Microsoft’s most prominent clients because they pay Microsoft a fee for the copy of Windows that goes on each computer. Upstaging them might not be wise.

Surface has held on to an important role — bringing to market Windows PCs with fresh designs, Gartner analyst Mikako Kitagawa told CNBC in an interview.

“I think those are the things they should really focus on, instead of looking for share gain and revenue growth,” she said.

If Microsoft were to charge forward in pursuit of dominant share, they could kill their customers, she said. Kitagawa recalled that Windows PC makers were not very happy with Microsoft when the first Surfaces arrived. “Taking 3% share was taking from somebody, right? That’s not incremental share,” she said.

Premium feel

Microsoft Corp.’s Surface tablet computers, aiming to compete with Apple’s iPad, are displayed at Hollywood’s Milk Studios in Los Angeles Monday, June 18, 2012. The 9.3-millimeter thick tablet comes with a kickstand to hold it upright and keyboard that is part of the device’s cover. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Damian Dovarganes

The first line of the news release about the 2012 Surface showed Microsoft’s intent. These computers were meant to be “the ultimate stage for Windows.” A section near the bottom acknowledged the clients that were suddenly becoming the competition. “Microsoft is delivering a unique contribution to an already strong and growing ecosystem of functional and stylish devices delivered by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to bring the experience of Windows to consumers and businesses around the globe,” the company said.

The inaugural Surface, the Surface RT running Windows RT, boasted clever physical attributes. A thin but sturdy kickstand could sweep out and prop up the display on a table or a desk. The case was made out of magnesium in a process called VaporMg, which lends it a premium feel akin to the aluminum wrapping up Apple’s MacBooks. An optional magnetic Touch Cover contained a narrow keyboard and a trackpad that doubled as a cover for the display. A power-sipping Arm chip gave it respectable battery life.

But the Surface RT blocked people from opening programs that weren’t listed in Microsoft’s app store, preventing them from using most existing Windows software. Basically, there wasn’t a lot you could do with it, and many third-party developers hadn’t done the work to adapt their software to it. The device garnered less than glowing reviews, with The Verge calling it “honestly perplexing.” “Little inconsistencies and bafflements are everywhere,” The New York Times’ David Pogue wrote.

Microsoft Surface with Windows 8 Pro


In 2013 Microsoft brought out the Surface RT’s more expensive and more powerful sibling, the Surface Pro. It contained a stylus, along with an Intel chip that could run real Windows programs, with stronger performance than the Surface RT.

For Microsoft to put forth a more traditional Intel-based Windows PC would be bold. It would directly challenge some of the company’s top clients. “It did not seem prudent,” Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft’s Windows division who left the company in 2012, wrote in “Hardcore Software,” a detailed recollection of his experience that he’s been publishing in parts on Substack. Windows was Microsoft’s main source of profit. If even one of the major Windows device makers were to stop building Windows PCs, that would be, in Sinofsky’s words, “a massive problem.”

Microsoft pressed on anyway.

Like the Arm-based Surface RT, the Intel-powered Surface Pro wasn’t perfect. It could only run for a few hours on a single charge, and it was heavy and impractical to use as a tablet. And regular laptops offered better keyboards than those that Microsoft sold separately for the Surface Pro.

Cutting into profit

Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Go 2 starts at $599.


A few months later Microsoft revealed a black eye. It trimmed the price of the Surface RT by $150 to $349 and instituted inventory adjustments for related parts and accessories, which resulted in a $596 million reduction in its quarterly net income.

But Microsoft did what it usually does. It stuck with the Surface line instead of ditching a challenged brand. It rolled out refinements, such as making the hinge on the back of the tablet adjustable and changing the aspect ratio in such a way that work became more comfortable in landscape orientation.

  1. By 2015, Microsoft had walked away from Windows RT and was focused on building devices with Intel chips that could run standard Windows applications.

Meanwhile, copycats were coming out from top PC makers such as Dell, HP and Lenovo. And Apple was also responding, rolling out the laptop-like 12.9-inch iPad Pro and compatible Apple Pencil stylus and Smart Keyboard cover in 2015.

It was a strong dose of validation for Microsoft. In 2012, before the Surface came out, and there were only rumors of Microsoft’s plans for Windows, Apple CEO Tim Cook told analysts that “you can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but those things are probably not going to be pleasing to the user.”

Yet in 2017, Apple, perhaps Microsoft’s toughest corporate critic, capitulated. It came out with a toaster-refrigerator combo of its own, said Michael Gartenberg, a technology industry strategist and former Gartner analyst. “It’s clearly become a mainstream design,” Gartenberg said.

Also that year Microsoft introduced the Surface Laptop. While it was as boring as any other laptop, it left out the software that sometimes could burden Windows PCs from other manufacturers, the sorts of things end users might want to spend time deleting, Gartenberg said.

Microsoft Corp. surface 5 laptop computers on display at the company’s Ignite Spotlight event in Seoul, South Korea, on Nov. 15, 2022. CEO Satya Nadella gave a keynote speech at an event hosted by the company’s Korean unit.

SeongJoon Cho | Bloomberg | Getty Images

In 2019, Microsoft took another shot at an Arm-based Surface, with the Surface Pro X. Reviewers gave it credit for long battery life but dinged it for performance and compatibility reasons, not unlike the original Surface RT.

This year, Microsoft made things more complex by introducing an Intel-based Surface Pro 9 along with an Arm-based version, which put an end to the distinct brand for Arm-flavored Surface. People have fretted that the Arm model of the Pro 9 is still unable to run some programs. The Intel version has received more praise. “The removal of the headphone jack is the only new thing that’s wrong with it,” Ars Technica said in its review.

Those who opt for the Surface Pro 9 with an Arm chip can at least access a broad swath of apps. The 2022 update to Windows 11 includes a way to run over 50,000 Android apps through the Amazon Appstore.

If you look at it for just a second, the Surface Pro 9 with Intel inside looks a bit like the 10-year-old Surface RT. Changes inside and out have made it tougher to dismiss as a novelty. There’s a button to enable the Function row on the keyboard, which boasts a more responsive trackpad. Enhancements to Windows make it easier to tap buttons on the screen when using the Surface as a tablet. You can open the programs you need.

Surface Pro 9, Surface Laptop 5 and Surface Studio 2+.


Gartenberg, who lives in New Jersey, doesn’t see many people using Surfaces in the real world, although he did recently witness a man working on a Surface while walking around outside. The man was wearing a harness that held the Surface just off his chest, so he could tap on the screen when necessary, Gartenberg said.

There’s one place you’ll certainly see them, though. During televised games, you can spot players, coaches and referees using branded Surface machines at National Football League games as a result of a partnership Microsoft struck with the NFL in 2013.

Buffalo Bills defensive line coach Eric Washington reviews plays on a Microsoft Surface tablet

Robin Alam | Icon Sportswire | Getty Images

In the course of a decade, Microsoft has managed to raise the bar for Windows PC makers, demonstrating that a top tier of Windows can exist, Gartenberg said.

“If someone said to me, ‘I need a Windows PC,’ what would I recommend? I would say, ‘Go see what Microsoft is offering. Go see if that meets your needs,'” he said. “‘It’s not going to come with any junk you’re going to call me about, and it will just work.'”

‘No compromise whatsoever’

Still, it’s not very easy to locate Surface diehards. A few can be found by surfing Craigslist.

There is, for example, Stephane Prunet, an investment advisor in Berkeley, California. For years the device’s unconventional design has appealed to him. He bought a Surface Pro 3 and then a Surface Pro 7. The latter, which came out in 2019, is his main computer, and he runs Microsoft Excel and other work-related programs on it.

“I almost never use it as a tablet. Maybe I should, but I don’t,” he said. Earlier this month he listed both on Craigslist. If someone buys the Surface Pro 7 for a good price, he’ll upgrade to the Surface Pro 9, which has a larger display.

If not, he said, he’ll hang on to the 3-year-old Surface. He won’t be giving it away to one of his children. His daughter uses a Mac, and his son is happy with his own Windows laptop. “He’s never shown interest in the Surface,” Prunet said.

Sure, some people might want a bigger screen, but beyond that, he doesn’t understand how people would be better off with a regular laptop than with a Surface.

“Except the fact that maybe some laptops are less expensive. That’s probably an explanation,” he said. “Because otherwise, I find there is no compromise whatsoever. In fact, there are only benefits. The keyboard is very comfy. It’s not as rigid as a laptop, but who cares?”

WATCH: The Microsoft Surface Go is a good computer, but a very bad tablet

The Microsoft Surface Go is a good computer, but a very bad tablet


Continue Reading


Two children and two adults survive after Tesla plunges 250 feet off California cliff

View from the helicopter during a rescue operation after a vehicle carrying two adults and two children went over a cliff in Devil’s Slide, San Mateo county, California, U.S., January 2, 2023, plunging hundreds of feet, according to the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, in this still image obtained from social media video.

CHP – Golden Gate Division | Reuters

Two adults and two children were rescued from a Tesla that plunged 250 feet off a cliff Monday morning in San Mateo County, California, officials said. 

The car was traveling southbound on the Pacific Coast Highway when it went over the cliff at Devil’s Slide, south of the Tom Lantos tunnel, and landed near the water’s edge below, the Cal Fire San Mateo-Santa Cruz Unit said. 

The car flipped and landed on its wheels in the fall, CAL FIRE/Coastside Fire Incident Commander Brian Pottenger said. Witnesses saw the accident and called 911. 

As crews were lowered down, they were able to see movement in the front seat, through their binoculars, meaning someone was alive.

“We were actually very shocked when we found survivable victims in the vehicle. So, that actually was a really hopeful moment for us,” Pottenger said. 

Fire officials called for helicopters to help hoist the survivors to safety. As they waited, firefighters rappelled to the scene and rescued the two children.

Rescue teams are seen at the scene as a Tesla with four occupants plunged over a cliff on Pacific Coast Highway 1 at Devils Slide on January 2, 2022 in San Mateo County, California, United States.

Tayfun Coskun | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The California Highway Patrol shared video on social media showing helicopters lower first responders to the scene to extricate and rescue two adults inside. 

All four were hospitalized. The San Mateo Sheriff’s Office said the two adults suffered non-life-threatening injuries and the two children were unharmed.

It’s not clear what caused the car to go over the cliff. CHP is handling the investigation. 

Continue Reading


Tesla shares tumble more than 10% following deliveries report

Tesla vehicles are shown at a sales and service center in Vista, California, June 3, 2022.

Mike Blake | Reuters

Shares of Tesla dropped 13% on Tuesday morning, a day after the electric auto maker reported fourth-quarter vehicle production and delivery numbers for 2022.

Deliveries are the closest approximation of sales disclosed by Tesla. The company reported 405,278 total deliveries for the quarter and 1.31 million total deliveries for the year. These numbers represented a record for the Elon Musk-led automaker and growth of 40% in deliveries year over year, but they fell shy of analysts’ expectations.

related investing news

Some analysts see a buying opportunity in Tesla for 2023 despite persistent demand pressures


According to a consensus of analysts’ estimates compiled by FactSet, as of Dec. 31, 2022, Wall Street was expecting Tesla to report around 427,000 deliveries for the final quarter of the year. Estimates updated in December, and included in the FactSet consensus, ranged from 409,000 to 433,000.

Those more recent estimates were in line with a company-compiled consensus distributed by Tesla investor relations Vice President Martin Viecha. 

Some Wall Street analysts think Tesla’s deliveries miss spells trouble for the electric vehicle maker, but others see a buying opportunity for the company in 2023.

Baird analyst Ben Kallo, who recently named Tesla a top pick for 2023, maintained an outperform rating and said he would remain a buyer of the stock ahead of the company’s earnings report, which is scheduled for Jan. 25.

“Q4 deliveries missed consensus but beat our estimates,” he said in a Tuesday note. “Importantly, production increased ~20% q/q which we expect to continue into 2023 as gigafactories in Berlin and Austin continue to ramp.”

Analysts at Goldman Sachs said they consider the delivery report to be an “incremental negative,” and view Tesla as a company that is “well positioned for long-term growth.” Goldman reiterated its buy rating on the stock in a Monday note and said that making vehicles more affordable in a challenging macroeconomic environment will be a “key driver of growth.”

“We believe key debates from here will be on whether vehicle deliveries can reaccelerate, margins and Tesla’s brand,” the analysts said.

Shares of Tesla suffered an extreme yearlong sell-off in 2022, prompting CEO Musk to tell employees in late December not to be “too bothered by stock market craziness.”

Musk has blamed Tesla’s declining share price in part on rising interest rates. But critics point to his rocky $44 billion Twitter takeover as a bigger culprit for the slide.

Morgan Stanley analysts said they think the company’s share price weakness is a “window of opportunity to buy.”

“Between a worsening macro backdrop, record high unaffordability, and increasing competition, there are hurdles for all auto companies to overcome in the year ahead,” they said in a note Tuesday. “However, within this backdrop we believe TSLA has the potential to widen its lead in the EV race, as it leverages its cost and scale advantages to further itself from the competition.”

CNBC’s Lora Kolodny and Michael Bloom contributed to this report.

Continue Reading


Tesla makes China boss Tom Zhu its highest-profile executive after Elon Musk

Tom Zhu Xiaotong, Tesla’s current executive in charge of China, speaks as a new Tesla experience store opens on Aug. 18, 2015 in Hangzhou, China.

Visual China Group | Getty Images

Tesla’s China chief Tom Zhu has been promoted to take direct oversight of the electric carmaker’s U.S. assembly plants as well as sales operations in North America and Europe, according to an internal posting of reporting lines reviewed by Reuters.

The Tesla posting showed that Zhu’s title of vice president for Greater China had not changed and that he also retained his responsibilities as Tesla’s most senior executive for sales in the rest of Asia as of Tuesday.

The move makes Zhu the highest-profile executive at Tesla after Chief Executive Elon Musk, with direct oversight for deliveries in all of its major markets and operations of its key production hubs.

The reporting lines for Zhu would keep Tesla’s vehicle design and development — both areas where Musk has been heavily involved — separate while creating an apparent deputy to Musk on the more near-term challenges of managing global sales and output.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Reuters reviewed the organizational chart that had been posted internally by Tesla and confirmed the change with two people who had seen it. They asked not to be named because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

Elon Musk needs to go back to Tesla and have others run Twitter, says Jim Cramer

Zhu and a team of his reports were brought in by Tesla late last year to troubleshoot production issues in the United States, driving an expectation among his colleagues then that he was being groomed for a bigger role.

Zhu’s appointment to a global role comes at a time when Musk has been distracted by his acquisition of Twitter and Tesla analysts and investors have urged action that would deepen the senior executive bench and allow him to focus on Tesla.

Under Zhu, Tesla’s Shanghai plant rebounded strongly from Covid lockdowns in China.

Tesla said on Monday that it had delivered 405,278 vehicles in the fourth quarter, short of Wall Street estimates, according to data compiled by Refinitiv.

The company had delivered 308,600 vehicles in the same period a year earlier.

The Tesla managers reporting to Zhu include: Jason Shawhan, director of manufacturing at the Gigafactory in Texas; Hrushikesh Sagar, senior director of manufacturing at Tesla’s Fremont factory; Joe Ward, vice president in charge of Europe, the Middle East and Africa; and Troy Jones, vice president of North America sales and service, according to the Tesla notice on reporting lines reviewed by Reuters.

Tesla country managers in China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand continued to report to Zhu, the notice showed.

Zhu does not have a direct report at Tesla’s still-ramping Berlin plant, but a person with knowledge of the matter said responsibility for that operation would come with the reporting line for Amsterdam-based Ward. Ward could not be immediately reached for comment.

Zhu, who was born in China but now holds a New Zealand passport, joined Tesla in 2014. Before that he was a project manager at a company established by his MBA classmates at Duke University, advising Chinese contractors working on infrastructure projects in Africa.

During Shanghai’s two-month Covid lockdown, Zhu was among the first batch of employees sleeping in the factory as they sought to keep it running, people who work with him have said.

Zhu, a no-fuss manager who sports a buzz cut, favors Tesla-branded fleece jackets and has lived in a government-subsidized apartment that is a 10-minute drive from the Shanghai Gigafactory. It was not immediately clear whether he would move after his promotion.

He takes charge of Tesla’s main production hubs at a time when the company is readying the launch of Cybertruck and a revamped version of its Model 3 sedan. Tesla has also said it is developing a cheaper electric vehicle but has not provided details on that plan.

When Tesla posted a picture on Twitter last month to celebrate its Austin, Texas, plant hitting a production milestone for its Model Y, Zhu was among hundreds of workers smiling on the factory floor.

Why China is beating the U.S. in electric vehicles

Allan Wang, who was promoted to vice president in charge of sales in China in July, was listed as the legal representative for the operation in registration papers filed with Chinese regulators in a change by the company last month.

Tesla board member James Murdoch said in November the company had recently identified a potential successor to Musk without naming the person. Murdoch did not respond to a request for comment.

Electrek previously reported that Zhu would take responsibility for U.S. sales, delivery and service.

Continue Reading