The New York Times published a fascinating piece yesterday evening about Microsoft’s Surface tablet which contains a few interesting tidbits about Apple’s iPad and just how far Cupertino had gone to gain an edge on its products…

Author Nick Wingfield relays words by a former Microsoft employee, who explained:

Microsoft learned through industry sources that Apple had bought large quantities of high-quality aluminum from a mine in Australia to create the distinctive cases for the iPad.

And “in a nod to Apple’s work with aluminum”, members of the Surface team began researching various materials before eventually settling on a cool magnesium case that “felt good to testers when held in their hands”.

That’s when the problems began.

Apple’s penchant for new materials and uncanny ability to contract out assembly to a vast supply chain network was impossible to beat and even Microsoft was take aback by Cupertino’s strengths in manufacturing (thank that to Tim Cook):

The executives were stunned by how deeply Apple was willing to reach into the global supply chain to secure innovative materials for the iPad and, once it did, to corner the market on those supplies.

Apparently managers at Microsoft were “worried that Windows PC makers were not making the same kinds of bets”.

The article also goes on to assert that Microsoft’s dissatisfaction with its OEMs willingness to experiment with materials, their impetus and reluctance to go the distance in order to delight with innovative products all contributed Microsoft’s decision to enter OEMs’ turf with a tablet of its own.

Reuters reported earlier that the Surface led to a sense of “betrayal” among the OEMs who’d prefer Redmond to deal with software and leave them to create products around Windows.

When you think of it, innovation is expensive. Microsoft is forcing OEMs to use inexpensive parts and create products that are as cheap as possible.

The problem is, the game is not fair now that Microsoft is doing its own tablet. Computer makers have to pay licensee fees to Microsoft for using Windows 8 on tablets, limiting their ability to compete on price.

There’s also this slight problem with Apple’s famous vertical integration:

With the iPad, Apple has proved that there are significant advantages to designing hardware and software together. When separate companies, each with its own priorities, handle those chores, integrating hardware and software can be more challenging.

I also like this bit about control over its powerful supply network:

Microsoft worked with other hardware partners to devise products that would be competitive with the iPad, but it ran into disagreements over designs and prices.

“Faith had been lost” at Microsoft in its hardware partners, including by Steven Sinofsky, the powerful president of Microsoft’s Windows division, according to the former Microsoft executive.

The article goes on to mention the politics and power play between Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft that led to a premature demise of HP’s tablet before it even took off, HP’s expensive gamble with webOS and more.

It’s an interesting and highly recommended read.

My take?

I don’t really see any company matching Apple’s supply chain advantages.

That, coupled with Apple’s vertical integration, is a tough nut to crack and right now, I think only Samsung is able to compete with Apple on a global scale.

What’s your take?

  • Well_Said

    I love how windows 8 runs on Macbook Air “13 (mid 2012), it’s just amazing experience. Go Apple

    • Jurassic

      Yes, fortunately Apple’s MacBooks offer the best trackpads for multi-touch in the business.

      It’s just too bad that there is no software available for Metro, other than what gets installed with W8.

      • There’s already loads in the store app 🙂

  • huh dog fights………………………..cant live with em, cant live without em

  • Stop being so kind Microsoft! No other manufacture is going to make any tablet as good as the Surface. It’s obvious that the original makers are the best at innovating. You made the software, you make the hardware. The Windows Phones you’ve been using to display things on your sites look 10x better then what Nokia, HTC and others have come out with. Samsung got close, but they screwed up by making awful back covers and labeling “Samsung” all over the device.


      • … I hope you’re being sarcastic. No I don’t have one, but from all the things we’ve heard, seen and learned about the Surface, it’s quite obvious, considering the history of the other companies, that nothing they make will be as exciting as the Surface.

      • Huh, is it really THAT exciting? For me, it is not even competing with the new IPad AT ALL… Sure USB port and hdmi are nice, but the rest except the good look of the UI, is a meh…

      • Jurassic

        What have you heard about the Surface?

        The only thing that you’ve heard has come from Microsoft’s PR machine.

        None of the tech reporters at Microsoft’s show last week were even allowed to use or test ANY of the products shown.

        Add this to the fact that Microsoft gave very little in the way of factual information (for example, no information was given on prices, release dates, battery life, etc.) at the show, and you have products that can only be called “vaporware” at this point.

      • Well, (except the above that you mentioned + USB, hdmi port that I mentioned) I heard that it won’t have Retina Screen (or higher resolution screen whatevr

      • Exactly, but it’s pretty obvious when the release date will be around and for the battery life, it should be close to the tablet that was used for Windows 8 Developer.

      • Jurassic

        “it’s pretty obvious when the release date will be around and for the battery life, it should be close to the tablet that was used for Windows 8 Developer.”

        Honestly, “around” and “close” cannot be called factual information, they are just guesses.

        Microsoft did not give any specific release dates, nor did they give any stats on battery life, and not even what these props would cost.

        It’s obvious that the Surface is nowhere near ready to release, since Microsoft refused to allow reporters to use or test it.

        Microsoft could only provide vague generalities, and hardly any specific information. They seem to be as clueless about the Surface as everyone else is right now.


  • its incredibly interesting how the computer industry is panning out. Apple’s “Porsche’sk” pricing and quality model rendered them recession proof which is impressive and genius in its own right. But it looks like the Apple way of doing things is slowly winning Apple the upper hand. I guess slow and steady wins the race. Is it possible that Microsoft could take a massive hit as it potentially burns bridges? Could hardware developers adopt another OS? Say, Linux as an option or even as a mandatory pre-installed OS? It looks like that is a possibility.

    • Falk M.

      Linux really?
      Yeah, we see how that took off with netbooks /s

      Sarcasm and joking aside, seeing how people are all nuts about putting their precious data and applications in the hands of unknown people who manage their data (tough luck if THEY have a disk error or wipe it accidentally, but hey, it’s the cool new trend), the importance of host OS is lesser and lesser of worry and maybe eventually when everything is web apps or whatever, people will be “ready” for the “year of linux”, because all you need is some cheap frameworks and a browser…


      • I’m saying that Microsoft may be shooting itself in the foot with this tablet thing – as far as its hardware partners go. Also, WinVista did worlds of hurt for the popularity and customer loyalty. I for one was pushed over the edge by Vista – after a long history of a love hate relationship with Windows. Linux (IMO) is a much more viable option than Windows. Without starting a flame war / hopefully people will not default to over reacting – but Windows is an inferior product and consumers are starting to see this – which is why Apple is gaining market share and popularity. Linux is becoming a viable option as Windows becomes less popular. Most people game on consoles so that is no longer a finer point keeping people tethered to Windows. The netbook was somewhat ahead of its time and never really caught on. I don’t see that as a Linux fail but as a timing fail – much as the DreamCast was one of the finest gaming consoles of all time but its launch date and advertising was way off.

      • UBUNTU is certainly very advanced and runs very well on some of my old laptops!

        I agree that Linux is certainly far ahead of Windows in many aspects, especially with a UI like UBUNTU who has certainly refined the ease of use and beauty of the interface.

        Additionally, being that Linux is build on UNIX which is the same foundation for Mac OS – they share much of the same security features – thereby making them far superior to Windows DOS foundation.

        Recently I read articles on how UBUNTU is trying to work with Smart Phone Manufacturers to essentially make your desktop computer your mobile smart phone. You would use a cradle at home, just plug your smart phone in this cradle, and it becomes your “desktop” home computer! Very interesting indeed…. I’m just sad that they are building it for Android smart phones instead of Apple iOS phones.

      • steve_webb

        Let’s turn sarcasm back on for a minute.

        Netbooks started out doing great. The pundits thought they would be the next big thing, savior of the PC industry. That was when the Eee PC used a lightweight version of GNU/Linux on Celeron and Atom processors. These Netbooks sold so well that the big boys like Dell and HP started making me too products, and that woke up Microsoft.

        Putting Windows XP on netbooks exposed them for what they really were – small, cheap, underpowered laptops. That revelation was a mortal blow. Then Apple twisted the knife by releasing a keyboard-less netbook, the iPad, running a lightweight version of UNIX called iOS.

        Now, “The Empire Strikes Back!” Microsoft is producing a keyboard-less netbook WITH a keyboard! It runs a lightweight version of Windows called Windows RT. I predict that when people try to run Microsoft Office on this tablet, they will discover that it is just another cheap, underpowered laptop – only this time it is running a cheap, underpowered version of Windows.

        Wait…there’s more!

        Microsoft is also making a Ultra-powered keyboard-less tablet with a keyboard. It has an Intel i5 and runs Windows 8 Pro. /s

        I am not ready to predict what will happen when people discover that the Surface Pro is an Ultra-book disguised as a tablet. It specs are similar to the Dell Inspiron 14z Ultrabook.

        How’s that doing?


      • Falk M.

        I wrote an answer going a little into detail about what I the other two guys wrote, but it’s under moderation, God knows when it’ll get published, either way:

        What do you think makes the Average Joe’s computer powerful enough, and don’t you think that many will firstly see the Surface as a tablet (iOS/Android-esque style) before realizing that they can (or cannot, whatever your needs are) do their traditional computing on it?

        I think the Surface is an answer to the iPad, not saying it will kick its butt, we don’t know jack (I’d still bet on Apple remaining the king in the town), but the (“traditional”) computing feature is an afterthought for many buyers I would guess.

        Let’s not forget: What power does Avg. Joe need?
        Netbooks, they couldn’t really play HD videos, they had tiny screens with an OS not optimal for such small screens, they didn’t have the horsepower to drive games worth mentioning (recent, in whichever quality however)

        Tablets in general, and probably the Surface, too, do tackle these problems.
        Joe doesn’t give a rat’s a** about a solid video conversion time or the likes.

      • Greg Liberman

        Good analysis – but now it’s 2012, and there’s more horsepower in smartphones like the Galaxy S3 than in 2-3 year old laptops. Quad core 1.5GHz ARM CPUs + 2GB RAM + new GPUs are more than enough to handle HD video, office document editing and most 3D games. Underpowered won’t be a problem anymore. Even bloated MS OS’s will run just fine.

        Surface sounds like a hit to me if it’s backward compatible with the millions of Windows “apps” I have lying around. Apple stuff is nice, but overpriced and limited in functionality, just like it always was. Microsoft is smart – they will license AND have proprietary versions of their tablet software, just like Google.

        I suspect the next big thing won’t be coming from Apple.

      • steve_webb

        “Apple stuff is nice, but overpriced and limited in functionality, just like it always was.”

        I’ll believe that Apple is overpriced when Windows RT is free, and Excel and Word for RT are less than $9.99 each.

      • Microsoft Surface is an EXTREMELY innovative product. I’ve never seen anything like the Touch Cover. It’s an extremely thin cover that incorporates a trackpad+keyboard, that’s amazing. I can only imagine taking my tablet to school, putting it on a table with the built-in stand and putting on the Touch/Type cover. I think this is revolutionary and it’s an even more portable solution then an Ultrabook, yet as powerful. You can’t argue with that.

      • People don’t want to store their data in the Cloud, they want the cloud to push data to all your devices. It’s the exact same concept of Dropbox. You can have your files on a computer and then have them synced to other computers. You still have the files on your computer, but they’re available multiple places without having to do anything, and of course they update as you work. SkyDrive “Photo Stream” is just awesome, it works and it’s like Dropbox but with more customization. It would be cool to have all your stuff 1 place, the cloud, but I think almost everyone will have some sort of backup like an external hard drive.

      • Falk M.

        I wish people were smart enough, but the success of many services that are not into synching and backing up and rather about single-storage tells me another story.

        I’m not necessarily talking about storage, but webapps like Google Docs, the neglecting of a proper mail client etc…

  • I think that the perfect combination will be to port the Windows RT (Surface’s OS) on the iPad. This way you have a full OS and the high-end hardware of the iPad.

    • Do you know that MS will ship a dual core Intel Core i5 processor with a clock no less than 1.7 GHz, that processor alone beats the living hell out of the Apple A5x Chip clocked at 1 GHz, also worth mentioning, Intel has an integrated Graphics chip which will reduce the over all power consumption, before you say the iPad has ‘ high-end ‘ hardware, make a lil research BTW just so that we are talking about Processors, a 4″ Nokia PureView 808 phone has a faster processor than the new iPad which is a full fledged tablet. One more thing….. you can actually USE a MS Surface, not just fool around with it. You can also play games etc btw, even the latest Diablo III

      • I totally agree with you I know the hardware behind the surface, but I am speaking about Windows RT not Windows 8 for Intel based devices, the Windows 8 with the i5 totally wins the A5X. But you know windows RT are being made for devices with ARM Chips like the iPad.

      • Look, now you’ve gone and put the spec-goggles on, and have lost sight of the major reason for using a tablet. . . A tablets purpose is completely defeated if you are playing Diablo whilst tethered to the wall. Apple has spent years achieving a pretty good balance between power and portability. It would have been really easy for them to have thrown an Ivy-Bridge into an iPad shell, but there’s a good reason–or many–why they didn’t: It is called balance.

    • It’s possible if OpeniBoot gets updated for the iPad 1 and iOS 5 (it requires a bootrom exploit so it can’t be used on A5+ yet). Unfortunately the OiB project looks mostly dead: there hasn’t been any news for a while and the iDroid wiki says a lot of the hardware support hasn’t been finished.

  • I gotta agree with you, Samsung might be able to compete with Apple, they make AMAZING hardware I just loved the screen camera and speed of my Galaxy Note, but as long as they keep using crapdroid they won’t be a real threat to Apple.

  • The only reason I switched to a Mac was really the overall feel. The way things work, the beauty. In OSX there’s all of these things that just work and do a lot of stuff. Everything is so high quality, so detailed. To me, the difference between Windows and OSX is like the difference between Snow Leopard and Lion. Snow Leopard is just awful to use after using Lion 😀

    • Falk M.

      The SL analogy is awkward, I think the difference from Windows to Mac is tremendously more obvious and in your face.
      Not to sound like a recorder faithfully playing back the “wise words of Steve” as some weird troll would try to make me look as, but Steve pretty much summed it up when he said that Microsoft has no culture in their products and doesn’t design their stuff well enough. (There are exceptions, definitely, for example I think their mice looks rather cool, apart from the Arc mice which just looks awkward, but that might be just me)

      Case in point is that I switched (amongst others) for the very same reasons and I will not switch back as far as I can predict.
      Especially with that POS Metro on desktops I’m immensely happy to have switched myself over ca 6 years ago and my fiancé one year ago.
      My two best friends now have Macs, too and I’ve seen people around me get Macs and it makes me happy. I started out being the only Mac user I personally knew myself apart from the friendly sales staff in my local Apple licensed stores and now I have an Apple-ize friends circle. This sounds fanboyish maybe, but I’m happy to have saved my friends from Metro and lead them to the beauty of OS X and its applications, the workflows and the plethora of what you can do so easily and beautifully.

      I think people don’t switch to Macs to use webapps, don’t get me wrong, but seeing how many just want to shake off Windows and seeing how there is software besides Win32 programs by the example of webapps and the apps that they see on their iOS devices, I think Linux and OS X become more viable, especially OS X, as it has AAA software known from Windows (Adobe applications, etc) and also excellent support from hardware vendors etc.
      It’s much more displayed than Linux computers and people are already gateway-drugged into OS X via iOS.
      Smart Apple, smart!

      Being on OS X feels so good after all those years, just like on day 2 of owning a Mac, because somehow all this doesn’t wear off like Windows does and I excluded day 1 as it was probably the most nerdgasmic day in my life.
      I came from a 15″ TFT display to a 20″ iMac (’06 model).
      Just unboxing that beauty and placing it on my desk was like… “so much workspace!” and it was well… the first day of a wonderful OS experience, trying everything out on your own Mac is a lot different from using one outside of your house! 😛