Although Microsoft has only recently gone public with information that Surface had been a busted flush, Microsoft has known the grisly details for far longer. The information must have come to light quickly from all manner of telemetry and intelligence vectors that what they'd put out there was not looking like it was headed for success.
And yet Microsoft has said nothing about what's happening with "Surface v2". That's odd, right? I think if I'd shipped a "company-saving" product that turned out to be very poor, I think I'd be up there talking up the next version.
What possible reasons could Microsoft have for not talking? What's stopping them from saying "What was wrong with Surface was this, this, and this. What we're doing is this, this, and this."
I suspect a lot of the reticence is down to the fact that everything about this scenario is too complicated to get over in a single message. Just defining what Surface is, because it's tied in to two versions of Windows, a new app development paradigm, an ecosystem, two different classes of markets, is incredibly difficult.
If we just list just some of the factors involved you can see the complexity. And in answering the question "OK, Microsoft -- how is Surface v2 going to fix the disaster that was v1", you'd need to answer all of them. Here's some of the factors:
Hardware -- what's good or bad, what needs fixing about the hardware itself?
Consumer/enterprise -- trying to mate one thing to two utterly different audiences is probably impossible. Yet that's what they're trying to do. Surface, and Windows has to appeal to an the enterprise market, and the consumer market.
Core operating system software -- there's a question about whether the user experience design elements of Windows 8/Windows RT makes for a good tablet operating system?
Apps ecosystem -- the apps are general amateurish, and the overall impression of the store (one year on) is one of paucity.
Office -- is Office on RT, given that it has no VBA support, good enough for enterprise? It shouldn't be. And consumers don't care about Office. (If you do, and you're a consumer, I'm afraid to say that you're an outlier.)
Content ecosystem -- i.e. movies, music, etc. Is what's there actually squaring up to iTunes or Google Play, because I see no evidence is it.
Marketing -- building two operating systems with essentially the same name, one of which is actually Windows, one of which just looks like it sometimes, was only some of the problem.
The Old Windows desktop acts like a dirty little tentacle that anchors Microsoft in the past from both a technical and philosophical perspective. It sucks and drains the energy from what could be a great product. It stops them from moving into the post-PC era, whilst Apple and Google establish beachhead after beachhead in pristine, profit-rich new lands.
The trick is to cut away the tentacle and allow Microsoft to play in post-PC land on new terms. And to use Surface as a vehicle for doing that. Luckily, it's easy.
It just needs one new message: "Windows for work, Surface for play".
A "Surface v2" just needs to reboot the proposition into one where the enterprise, PC world says in the past. Let's look at the factors now, assuming Surface v2 is "Windows for work, Surface for play":
Hardware -- Surface hardware is beautifully executed. A smaller model is needed. Great, easy. Do it in an afternoon.
Consumer/enterprise -- consumers love iOS and Android. New Windows with it's Metro-style/Modern/Whatever-its-called UI/UX paradigms is good enough to go toe-to-toe with iOS and Android. It's only Old Windows that's rubbish. (Plus Old Windows will never work on small tablets.)
Core operating system software -- generally fine if you keep the user away from the Old Windows desktop.
Apps ecosystem -- there aren't enough good apps. But why would there be if no one is buying the devices? So this would need fixing.
Office -- ditch it. Consumers don't care. And I don't care about lost revenue -- any loss would be illusory because consumers don't care and wouldn't buy it anyway.
Content ecosystem -- enterprises don't care about this one anyway.
Marketing -- one message to one audience rather than a zillion messages to two audiences.
Keep or kill Windows RT -- I'll get to that.
Pricing -- the market has already defined an expected price, just go with that.
All of that shows that in order to fix Surface with "v2" is simple. It's this message:
"Guys, we got it totally wrong. Surface isn't going to be Windows anymore. It's got Windows inside it, like the Xbox, but it's different. It's this:
It's just for consumers -- use Windows at work, Surface at play.
It's simple -- we've got rid of the complexity of Windows
It's fun -- all the things you want, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, it's all there along with all the other apps you'll ever needed.
It's secure -- it's locked down and safe. None of the weird, bloated overhead of Windows.
The hardware is sleek and pleasant -- it's not cheap, box-shifting rubbish from our OEMs."
That message, "Windows at work, Surface at play", allows Microsoft to cut away the tentacle that's anchoring them to the past, allowing Apple and Google to colonise more or more of the post-PC landscape as every week goes past.
That approach allows Microsoft to keep investing in Windows RT in a way that's not embarrassing. All they have to do is cleave the market, and they can do that without losing too much face.
"Sorry guys, what we did before was too complex, too muddy. How's this?"
That's a story that anyone can spin.
What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.