Microsoft's leader of its Surface team, Panos Panay, stated in a new interview that the company's early attempts to keep the tablet a secret from competitors hurt the product at first. However, feedback from customers has resulted in improvements being put into the current Surface models.
In a chat with CNN, Panay revealed that Microsoft set up the Surface team in a secret lab, which had the meaningless name "WDS". The first versions of the tablets got poor reviews when they launched in the fall of 2012 and Microsoft had to take a massive one-time $900 million write down in 2013 due to unsold tablets. Panay admitted that development was "humbling". From CNN:
"Panay said the negative reviews were difficult to swallow. But he and his team listened to feedback and learned a lot."
"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."
Things have indeed turned around for the Surface division as the Surface Pro 3 is now selling well. The team is also leaving Windows RT and ARM-based processors behind with the just-announced Surface 3, which uses an Intel Atom processor and has Windows 8.1 installed. However, Panay clearly doesn't want to forget that just a couple of years ago, the Surface cost Microsoft a bunch of money:
"You know, that billion dollar write down will never go away," Panay said. "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."