Why Acer is wrong about Microsoft Surface

Acer's CEO tells Microsoft to 'think twice' about building tablets because it's "not something you are good at"

Acer CEO Campbell Kan slammed Microsoft this week, telling a newspaper reporter that Microsoft should "think twice" about its decision to make Surface touch tablets.

"It is not something you are good at so please think twice," he said.

Oh, really?

I think Kan should think twice about that statement. If he did, he'd realize that's he's totally wrong.

Microsoft hardware is better than Microsoft software

Everybody calls Microsoft a software company, but of course Microsoft makes hardware, too. In fact, Microsoft has been making PC hardware for longer than Acer has. When Microsoft started designing and making mice in 1982, "Acer" was called "Multitech" and was still an electronic components distributor.

On average, Microsoft hardware fares far better than Microsoft software, either critically or commercially or both. Yes, the number of historical Microsoft software products dwarfs the number of hardware products, but Microsoft's hits-to-flops ratio is vastly better in hardware.

If you were to stop people on the street and ask them which Microsoft product is the best in its class, or ask them which Microsoft product they "love," the answer in both cases would probably be: Xbox 360.

Microsoft's track record on hardware is pretty amazing. Its mice and keyboards are among the best-selling ever. (I personally prefer Microsoft mice above all others, and even use one with my MacBook Pro.)

Microsoft's LifeCam webcams and LifeChat headsets are super good products for the money.

And Microsoft's SideWinder line of gaming peripherals are pretty great, too.

And remember the Zune? This little digital media player flopped in the market, mostly because Microsoft got it right just as the category itself was being killed off by smartphones, which replaced stand-alone media players.

If you don't remember the praise given this ill-fated gadget, remember what Engadget's Joshua Topolsky said about Zune hardware in 2009. He called it "incredibly sexy," "sleek," "smartly put together," and concluded that he's "taken with it."

Perhaps most devastating to Acer's case, however, is the interactive coffee table formerly known as Surface, now called PixelSense.

The original Surface, with its incredibly advanced multi-touch user interface, shipped before Apple's first multi-touch device, the iPhone.

The PixelSense is truly awesome multi-touch technology. The only major commercial company that can come anywhere close to Microsoft in designing large multitouch appliances is Jeff Han's company, Perceptive Pixel. Microsoft just bought the company!

So what part of Kan's statement is true? When Kan said: "It is not something you are good at," what does he mean by "it"?

Microsoft makes the best advanced-interface gaming appliance on the market. Microsoft makes the best large multitouch appliances on the market. And Microsoft has a killer track record in designing, making and selling hardware.

Sure, Microsoft is still making billions on software. From a business perspective, Microsoft is still a very successful software company.

But in the past 10 years, all of Microsoft's "hot" products -- the ones that lead categories, get rave reviews and engender loyal fans -- are hardware products.

Microsoft hardware is better than Acer hardware

Implicit in Kan's criticism is that companies like Acer are good at making touch tablets, while Microsoft is not.


Over the years, Acer has made some very good, very solid laptops. The company has also made pretty good desktops and tablets.

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