Microsoft's Surface Pro 3: the Toaster-Fridge Makes its Formal Debut

Surface Pro 3. Image credit: Microsoft.

Microsoft didn't do well selling the first and second generation Surface tablets. Those tablets were not pure, mainstream tablets. So Microsoft has altered its strategy with the Surface Pro 3 to go after notebook computers. The result? The true toaster-fridge makes its debut.


First, some background, The origin of this phrase, toaster-fridge, seen in several variations (FridgeToaster) stems from a statement Apple CEO Tim Cook made in April 2012. An analyst at Apple's earnings report asked about whether Apple might pursue a tablet-laptop hybrid. Mr. Cook responded. “You can merge a toaster and a refrigerator, but that’s probably not going to be pleasing to anyone.”

Ever since them, the legendary term toaster-fridge has come to suggest an inadvisable, force-fit merging of the two platforms, to no good end, and to no good understanding of the market.

Let Me Count the Ways

There is a multitude of reasons why the Surface Pro is a bad idea. But before I get into that, it's worth noting that companies tend to have a certain momentum in their thinking and manufacturing. There's a mentality that of only a few tweaks are made, the company can be saved the embarrassment and effort of changing gears. I believe this is what happened to Microsoft with the Surface Pro 3.

But there are bigger fish to fry here, and it revolves around the idea that the marketplace has spoken. Some people need the classic notebook, and its design has evolved to perfection over the years. For one thing, the heavier base with a superb keyboard and the light display rests comfortably on the lap, well balanced, in mobile situations — without being top heavy. The Surface Pro literally turns that human interface concept upside down.

The elegance of a quintessential notebook is hard to beat. Microsoft is trying to enter the market with a hybrid, with not a very good mobile OS, from left field, desperately seeking acceptance instead of meeting true needs. It makes one wonder about Microsoft's ability to strategize. For example, having failed as a tablet, Microsoft wants to address the notebook market, yet not step on the toes of its OEM partners. Microsoft's hand was forced, and a compromise product resulted.

Next, Apple knows very well that that the tablet is an evolving product. It's the ultimate manifestation of the Post-PC era. Therefore, the well designed tablet should be allowed to evolve. Taking what used to be a tablet, in a way, and pitting it now against Apple's MacBooks suggests that Microsoft doesn't have a very clear idea about the product's focus and future. As I said before, this product line really should have been killed.

It's actually quite humorous how Microsoft is positioning the Surface Pro 3 against the MacBook Air — and even the MacBook Pro in its advertising. Suggesting that the Surface Pro 3 is about half the weight of a MacBook Pro and touting its multi-touch screen, in contrast to the MBP, right away sets of customer alarms. It's like when, as just an typical example, Yugos would advertise that they had more luggage space and more headroom than a BMW 3-series.

Partial Comparison Chart: Credit: Microsoft.

No one buys these comparisons because we've all come to know they're slanted and serve nobody's interests except the manufacturer. This particular ad campaign casts Microsoft in a bad light and suggests that the company, rather than delivering a drop-dead gorgeous product that amazes and delights the customer, is just out of touch with the market and is greatly challenged to come up with sensible, compelling comparisons. It's a bad-form attempt to change the rules.

That the market has bifurcated into the tablet branch and the notebook branch isn't a weakness or a problem in the industry. It's a direct manifestation of the needs of customers in the market. Apple continues to meet that need. Microsoft, on the other hand, having dealt themselves the hand of only one product, has to make its single offering try to be all things to all people. I believe the Surface Pro 3 will fail just as the previous generations did.

For all the reasons I've cited above, what we have is the formal introduction of the world's first toaster-fridge.


For more on this, listen to today's Mac Observer Daily Observations Podcast  "Microsoft’s Surface Assault on Apple," in which Jeff Gamet, Kelly Guimont and I chat about the Surface Pro 3.