I’ve been pretty quiet about Microsoft Surface, but today I come out of hibernation on this topic. Someone waved red meat outside my cave and I couldn’t resist.

The Red Meat

In a recent interview, user interface guru Don Norman (Nielsen Norman Group) said that in his opinion Android is far more a copy of Apple’s iOS than what Microsoft’s created. Perhaps this is true. Certainly Steve Jobs shared this sentiment and openly stated as much. However Mr. Norman also said this about Surface,

“I’m impressed that Microsoft said ‘let’s look at how one works with gestures and not copy Apple’. That’s what’s so brilliant,”

Suggesting it’s a stroke of “brilliance” that Microsoft decided to not copy Apple is a silly commentary on the debate. With the litigious climate of mobile, Microsoft had no choice but to avoid the known potholes. Labeling this as a reflection of how “innovative” Microsoft has become concerning the Surface, is a foolish notion.

A more intellectual analysis of the innovative process leading up to Surface, given existing and well-documented touch and form-factor patents, might reveal just how narrow a pathway Microsoft and other tablet-wanna-be makers must navigate to enter the post-PC market. A more compelling commentary might suggest that the passage into mobile and post-PC products is so narrow and trecherous that it may be impossible to create a serious threat to any existing post-PC era products.

In contrast to Mr. Norman’s assertion, it’s my view that Surface is a highly constrained and far less innovative product than it might have been were it not for a vast body of prior art created (and owned) by Apple and Google. Stated with less ink – too little, too late.

Surface looks like a notebook and for good reasons based largely within the confines of an intellectual property cluster-you-know-what. And it probably feels a lot like a notebook as well. But we don’t really know what it feels like because not a single a reporter at the launch event was allowed to touch one while it was running, a bright red neon-glowing red flag in my book.

Perhaps [partly] because of all the hardware partner tablet misfires, Microsoft came to the mobile tablet party so late that caviar is long since consumed, the champagne is flat, and the room is littered with passed out vendors who got drunk way too early on the equivalent of an open-source Sangria.

Apple, Motorola and a few others got to the party early. Apple, more so than any other company, quietly embraced the post-PC idea long before it was coined the post-PC era. Microsoft didn’t. And still hasn’t, mostly because they can’t, but also because they won’t.

That’s the story lurking just below the “surface”.