Skin Deep Usability, Take 2

My post last week on the  poor set-up experience we had in getting our new Microsoft Surface running has struck a chord. Until last week, our sleepy little company blog could count on about 20 hits a day (thanks Mom!), and as of today we’ve gotten over 20,000.

I should have known what a potent potion I was brewing – world’s biggest technology company + hot new product + usability = lots of opinion.

But I’d like to make 2 things clear to this new, enormous audience -

1) the Surface unit itself is a fantastic touch-screen computing experience (as you can see in this short video), the usability of which is as highly polished as the iPhone – my critique was limited to the one-time set-up of the unit alone.

2) the poor set-up experience I described was the result of a simple error – had the use case that Microsoft envisioned happened correctly, I would never have had to struggle to find the power supply input.

Turns out that Microsoft offers the Surface in two flavors – “Commercial” & “Developer”. The “Commercial” model is designed for businesses that order multiple units to run the same application in different locations, and at $12,500 it comes with a comprehensive installation service as part of the purchase agreement. The “Developer” option delivers essentially the same piece of hardware , but at $2,500 more it comes with additional SDK licenses and 2 full days of training in Seattle for a Designer & Developer. Additional instructions come with this unit, as well as an invitation to an online community complete with helpful instructional videos and articles. It is clearly designed for the use-case we were.

You can see how this makes sense — many units, you just need someone to deploy them in many locations and then teach the people at those locations how to turn it off an on. Just one unit, they train you how to be become an expert operator.

The person who purchased our Surface ordered the “Commercial” unit, but then scheduled the installation service to be performed at the business conference where we were going to unveil the Surface and our application 2-weeks later. Thus, we were delivered a unit designed to be set-up by someone else, in another time and place.

As the  helpful Jason McConnell from Microsoft explained to me on a phone call earlier today, “Your blog post took us all by surprise – it was valid from your perspective, and funny, but it shouldn’t ever have happened.” He then added that  one part of my post that they are looking at addressing is with the initial set-up screen – “We want to add some goodness right there – the user shouldn’t have to wait to be greeted with some of the excitement of the product”.

As with any brand-new product, there are bound to be hiccups. It is reasonable to argue that our use-case wasn’t that far-fetched, that someone along the way should have helped us realize we were going off-path, or that the documentation should have been sufficient to set the unit up without assistance.  That didn’t happen, but with anything as complex as the Surface – and as necessarily big an organization as Microsoft is – it isn’t surprising that this slipped throught the cracks.

However, I really do appreciate the folks at Microsoft taking the time and care to reach out to me and find how they can improve their delivery process and ensure a similar tale isn’t told in the future. And, as I want to stress again, I really do appreciate the fantastic usabilty experience that they have produced with the Surface product. It is a great platform that will be exciting to watch develop in the future.

And thank you for reading our sleepy blog – come back next week when we talk about our love of Tito’s Burrito’s in Morristown, NJ!

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3 Responses to “Skin Deep Usability, Take 2”


  1. 1 Phasiahon November 25, 2009 at 12:44 am

    Kick-ass post, great looking website, added it to my favs.

  2. 2 online stock trading advice January 11, 2010 at 12:51 am

    I don’t usually reply to posts but I will in this case, great info…I will add a backlink and bookmark your site. Keep up the good work!

    I’m Out! :)


  1. 1 Wither our post? « Momentum Trackback on April 25, 2009 at 3:25 am

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