Microsoft Surface Propels Company Into Number Five PC Maker Slot For Good Reason [Opinion]

microsoft surface sales
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For the first time in the U.S., Microsoft breaks into the top five PC makers. Microsoft’s hardware initiative began under Steve Balmer but was hardly a crowning achievement. The Surface brand suffered bad press, poor implementation, lack of focus, and costly write-downs.

While this turnaround has some pretty big caveats, it is still big news for Microsoft, and perhaps the wider world of personal computers. Some of the caveats are as follows:

  1. The number five ranking is only in the U.S.
  2. Gartner is the only one that ranks this way.
  3. Gartner has been inaccurate in the past when ranking Apple because they have no access to Apple’s retail sales numbers.
  4. While barely making the list, there is a huge distance between number four and number five.

Business Insider put it this way:

“We’re unlikely to ever see Microsoft as the top PC manufacturer — globally or in any country. But breaking into the top five in the U.S., six years after the first Surface debuted, is nonetheless an accomplishment.”

That said, the U.S. market is obviously a big deal. Post-Balmer, Microsoft’s hardware strategy has been exemplary. Here is some of what they did right:

Playing To Their Strength

Microsoft Surface running Windows
  Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Microsoft is a Windows and Office company that mostly serves enterprise customers. For a while, they were convinced that they had to be something more, something different. Balmer tried to turn the company into an Apple clone that attracted consumers with tablets and smartphones.

The new Microsoft no longer presents the Surface as an iPad alternative, but as a full PC co-equal to any other PC. Microsoft rediscovered its strength and leaned into it.

Premium

Microsoft used to denounce Apple for being expensive and elitist. But that has never been a winning strategy. The new Microsoft embraces the premium ethos. Surface is a high-end line of products with emotional, not just utilitarian appeal, and a price to match. The U.S. rewards makers of premium products in a way that the rest of the world often does not.

Innovative

The PC grew stagnant and Macs were seen as innovative. Today, Mac laptops are viewed as underwhelming while PCs have become interesting again. This is due almost entirely to Microsoft’s Surface initiative. The U.S. tech market rewards innovators. And Microsoft is now in the innovation conversation in a way that they never were before the Surface.

Microsoft’s Surface strategy is not perfect. But it gets a lot of things right. The overall PC market has new hope for a better day. Even longtime Apple enthusiasts are starting to take notice.