A ‘problem-solving machine’ is not always the same as one that solves a problem

Consider this: when the modern electric refrigerator was invented, it solved the problem of food spoilage.

Before that, food had to be consumed very soon after it was purchased…this was especially true for perishables like meat and diary products. While the original piece of furniture that was known literally as an icebox worked better than nothing, it provided cold storage that was both too temporary and messy.

So, the refrigerator was–and is–a problem-solving machine.

You could go on and on with other modern appliances. Each solved a problem or problems that existed for its user, and was created for just that reason.

The modern computing device is also just such an appliance. But, here’s the difference–it solves many different problems, and does so in many different ways.

While it’s true that the basis of computer programming is no more than the solving of complex mathematical formulas, sometimes hundreds or thousands or millions of times, what results from those calculations and their answers? The software is designed so that certain tasks will be completed, tasks that before had to be done manually. Even me typing these words on this display is something that was done before on a typewriter…but the words could not be manipulated the way a computer can, be cut and pasted, or have their appearance changed…and so on.

It has emerged that there are two basic reasons for creating something: to solve a problem or assuage a need, or to copy or duplicate another device that does those same things.

Microsoft’s Surface does neither of these things, well or otherwise.

In an article that offers solid arguments and thoughtful consideration, Jim Darymple of LoopInsight.com suggests, “Microsoft forgot to solve a problem“:

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the Microsoft Surface over the past few weeks, in an effort to figure out what the company is trying to accomplish. While I have given Microsoft kudos for not blindly copying Apple’s tablet strategy, what they released doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

What occurred to me is that Microsoft’s critical flaw is that they don’t solve a problem with the Surface. In fact, you could argue that the Surface actually causes more problems for users. That’s not a good start for a new product.

If we look at the iPad in comparison, Apple released a product that solved a number of consumer and business user’s problems. The tablet concept had been around for quite a while before Apple released the iPad1, but they never caught on.

The tablets of the day were big, heavy, ugly and relied on PC software2 to get the job done. It was like you were carrying around a PC. Clearly, this isn’t what the buying public or business people wanted.

Apple recognized the problem and set out to fix it with a sleek tablet that was light, beautiful and would have software designed and developed specifically for the device.

Apple developed gestures that would allow people to manipulate and navigate the iPad, giving the device even more power. It’s proven to be a hit among consumers, business executives, gamers and just about everyone else that wanted a tablet.

You could easily use those same points to show the success of the iPod and iPhone too. Apple saw a problem that needed to be solved and it developed a number of technologies and designs to meet the needs of the people it saw as its main market.

Which brings me back to the Surface. What did it solve? Microsoft loaded the Surface with a 16GB operating system that isn’t optimized for a tablet, but rather is a hybrid desktop/tablet OS that tries to do both.

The problem with that strategy is that you can’t do both successfully. One OS needs a mouse and keyboard, while the other needs touch-enabled and optimized software. These are fundamental differences in how people interact with the operating systems and the devices they are being used on.

They also loaded on a lot of software that also isn’t optimized for the tablet, further underscoring the problem for the people buying the product.

In his review of the Surface, MG Siegler said:

After using it for over a week now, it’s hard to come up with a lot of nice things to say about the Surface. Don’t get me wrong, there are some solid things here. But by and large, it’s a strange, buggy, and clunky product that I simply can’t imagine many people buying after the initial hype wears off.

Successful products solve a need or provide a solution to a specific problem. Apple has become quite adept at identifying those problems and designing products to solve them. Apple’s competition have become quite adept at copying those solutions.

Microsoft can’t seem to do either effectively.


1. Ironically, it was Microsoft and its partners that made the tablets before the iPad.

2. Instead of software specifically written and optimized for a tablet.

Interesting argument, and perhaps a good reason why the Surface RT isn’t receiving the acclaim and hefty sales that Microsoft had hoped for.

One thought on “A ‘problem-solving machine’ is not always the same as one that solves a problem

  1. Like the Chinese word “Yoshina Yo Kangai” meaning good product good service. Like was said in the analogy of Microsoft and Ipad , product is meant to solve problems and as well address other issues. I quite agree with your theory.

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