On Pando Daily, Farhad Manjoo discusses why Microsoft felt the need to build the Microsoft Surface itself, rather than farming Windows tablets out to an OEM. He casts the explanation in terms of the trackpad on your laptop or netbook. Because Apple builds its own hardware, it is able to make the trackpad on its Macbook computers perfectly responsive in a way that Windows hardware manufacturers never can. Because Windows-based computers are built from commodity parts, the touchpad just doesn’t cut it much of the time.

Why does any of this matter? Because PC makers’ inability to build a perfect trackpad is symptomatic of the larger difficulties the Windows device business faces in the mobile age. Windows device makers are used to competing on specs; they buy commodity parts, they use generic reference designs, and they stick everything together in a case and slap on an inscrutable model name. This worked perfectly well in the desktop market, and for many years it worked well in laptops, too.

But when you move away from those machines into computers that are more like appliances, you get the sort of clunkers that now clog the ultrabook market. They’re cheaper than the Air, they have better specs than the Air, and yet—because of things like terrible trackpads—they fall far short of the Air.

I tend to agree. On my own MSi laptop, I’ve experienced my share of frustration while typing something on the built-in keyboard. It’s quite common for an accidental feather-light touch on the trackpad to put me back at the beginning of where I was typing, with predictably annoying results. This is why I invested first in a wireless mouse, then a wireless keyboard: so I didn’t have to deal with that any longer.

And this might very well be what really lets Microsoft’s Surface compete with the iPad and the Macbook Air—the same quality of construction, designed in-house so the company will have that Macintosh-like custom parts advantage, rather than having to deal with commodity pieces. People have speculated time and again about particular devices being “iPad killers” and been universally wrong; for the first time, Microsoft might actually have built one.

And needless to say, it will likely make at least as good an e-book reader as the iPad does.


  1. This theory assumes that Apple hardware is somehow “better” because it is proprietary and the name is the difference despite the fact that the specs are a level playing field. All computer hardware is made somewhere in Asia according to manufacturer specs. Sorry, I don’t buy it. Proprietary hardware is just another trend toward market control and disposable equipment with non-replaceable batteries and planned obsolescence.

  2. Hysterical to see MS eventually following Apple down a route that they ridiculed for so long. Apple has proved again and again the significant technical advantage of total hardware and software integration, and the resulting difference in customer experience. Apple’s ‘similar’ hardware specs has always produced major differences in actual performance and customers have noticed this on their iMacs, iPhones and iPads.
    MS is scrambling to catch up but it is three years behind and this Surface thing is going to bomb. Full Windows ? Full Windows applications with full Windows application prices ? No apps ? What a joke.

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