Beneath The Surface: Digging Into Microsoft’s Claims About Momentum And The Mac – Forbes

If you want a new Macbook Pro with a Touchbar, you might be able to get one in time for Christmas. While that might not seem like big news given the latest Apple laptops were announced 6 weeks ago, the reason that is noteworthy is until very recently the machines had a minimum month-long wait. Many configurations still require 2-3 weeks, so the one you want still might not make it under your tree on time. But that isn’t what Microsoft meant when they called the new Macbook Pro a “disappointment” in a corporate blog post yesterday.

More than meets the eye? The Surface gets its share of attention from onlookers, but questions remain as to how many take it home. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Instead, Microsoft was referring to something of a popular meme in the tech media and at least some segments of the Mac community that Apple had failed to produce a winning computer after making the faithful wait a long time for a new model. It will be difficult to tease out precisely how true that is even after Apple’s earnings report. The company reports Mac sales with precision but because those include the iMac, Macbook, and Mac Pro as well, even a year-over-year comparison won’t tell the full story unless Apple explicitly states how good Macbook Pro sales were over the holiday season.

Of course compared to Microsoft, whatever detail Apple offers is likely to speak volumes. Consider the metrics we “learned” about Surface yesterday.

  • “November was our best month ever for consumer Surface sales.” Sounds good, but a reasonable conclusion is that it wasn’t a record month for total Surface sales including those sold to corporations. If it were, why not say so?
  • The Best Buy-exclusive Surface bundle sold out on the first day.” So a bundle at one retailer — albeit a very important one — was popular enough to go out of stock. How many units that equaled is left unsaid.
  • In the UK, we had the best single week for Surface ever.” This suggests there was no record month, nor many countries that experienced a record week. Otherwise, why not mention them, too?
  • “In Germany the Surface Pen became the best seller in PC Accessories on for over 12 hours.” That someone felt this was worth highlighting makes one wonder what wasn’t worth highlighting.

The common thread of all the above is that those claims sound like they are saying something when in reality they don’t. But Microsoft wasn’t finished with claims about Surface sales. The company also says it ismaking inroads against that difficult-to-find Mac. “More people are switching from Macs to Surface than ever before. Our trade-in program for Macbooks was our best ever, and the combination of excitement for the innovation of Surface coupled with the disappointment of the new MacBook Pro – especially among professionals – is leading more and more people to make the switch to Surface,” according to the blog.

What Microsoft neglected to mention was that in the 2015 version of the trade-in program, you could get up to $300 for a Mac if you purchased a new Surface. In 2016, that offer was sweetened quite a bit, with “up to $650” on the table. Again, we don’t know if trade-ins increased by a few percent or a significant amount. We don’t know if tens of thousands took advantage of this offer or a few hundred.

One thing Microsoft does do is provide some financial detail each quarter about Surface revenues. From that data we know Surface is now a substantial business, running at more than $4 billion over the past four quarters. Apple’s Mac business did $5.7 billion last quarter alone, despite a lineup of machines that mostly hadn’t been updated in more than a year. And it’s more than fair to point out that Mac sales have suffered from that lack of updates.


But it’s also fair to point out that Surface sales haven’t exactly been soaring. First, they are indeed seasonal like both Mac and iPad sales. Second, the Surface Book was added to the lineup late last year, giving Microsoft more of a traditional laptop to join the Surface Pro tablet/keyboard combo. That allowed Microsoft to boost average selling prices of the Surface line and also capture some small number of sales from competitors like Lenovo, Dell, and HP in a PC market that’s declining by mid-single-digit percentage points this year.


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