In a brutally honest interview with CNN, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President, Panos Panay reflects on the less than stellar launches of previous Surface models that cost the company $1 billion and discusses how Microsoft has learnt from these humbling experiences to improve the product line and create something that will be a financial success.
“You know, that billion dollar writedown will never go away,” Panay admits. “Those lessons learned from it will always be unbelievably valuable. But the lessons learned when you get a little success with a product — those don’t go away either. That balance of learning has made us feel really good going into the next product.”
The reasons for Surface’s failure will differ depending on who you ask. For some, the original Surface Pro’s weight and kickstand made it a poor replacement for a regular laptop, while for others it was the comparatively short battery life that turned many away. Most would agree that the cheaper RT models failed due to the scaled down version of Windows 8 that ran on them which prevented the installation of popular non-Windows Store programs like Photoshop and iTunes.
Windows 8, which launched around the same time as the Surface RT and Surface Pro, received much more negative press (and still does to this day), damaging the public’s perception of Windows products as a whole. There was also the issue of low availability during the Surface RT and Surface Pro’s launch and a painfully slow international staggered release which saw many countries wait months for the RT and even longer for the Pro.
Panay agrees that they made mistakes and while the Surface product line may have received a lot of criticism, he and his team listened to all of the feedback to learn from their mistakes and fine tune their vision. “We go full speed, and sometimes we might be going in the wrong direction — and that’s OK,” Panay said. “If you fail, this company is amazing. They will support you. You just have to learn about it. If you take some shots out there, you might come back with some beautiful things.”
Naturally Microsoft doesn’t prefer failing though as Panay is quick to add, “This isn’t about failing to fail. This is about trying new things, pushing the envelope, creating more value, making customers love you. And the products? As a company? So important and that comes with, you know, living and learning.”
With the improved sales of the Surface Pro 3 and the recently announced Surface 3 (which now comes with a full Windows operating system unlike its Surface RT and Surface 2 predecessors) Panay and his team seem to finally be back on track and the reason according to Panay is simple; “Having a product people love is the most important thing and you can get there.”
While there has obviously been growing pains in releasing a commercially successful Windows device that consumers feel passionate about, Panay maintains that while there were moments of doubt, they never stopped believing in the product they were making.
“What a journey for all of us,” Panay said. “There were a lot of moments of, ‘Do we believe?’ And the answer has always been, ‘Yes.'”