The Frame Game

Gruber and I discussed the Microsoft Surface announcement on this week’s episode of The Talk Show. John Siracusa complained on this week’s episode of Hypercritical that Microsoft should’ve just picked a price point for their announcements.

There’s many pieces arguing that Microsoft hurt themselves by not specifying things like screen size (in pixels and DPI), battery life, and price point.

They’re all missing the point of the announcement.

Microsoft introduced the Surface this week, hastily, in order to dodge anything Apple may have announced and to frame the discussion of whatever Google is going to announce at I/O next week.

Google is expected to announce a tablet next week at Google I/O. In the mainstream press whatever they announce is now going to be mentioned along side the Microsoft Surface.

That Microsoft didn’t release specifics about battery life, screen size or price point insn’t a mistake — it’s the entire point.

Every number Microsoft reveals becomes a metric that can be measured against the competition. By not revealing any of the specifics Microsoft gets to be part of the conversation but doesn’t have to participate in any sort of bang-for-the-buck analysis.

And that’s how the Frame Game works. When your company thinks, “we’ve got to get in front of this” and you’re not sure you’ve got a better product, well, the best thing you can aim for is to be part of the conversation.

I think that’s what Google tried to do with their 3D Maps announcement a week ahead of WWDC and I think that’s what Microsoft was trying to do with their short-notice Surface announcement this week.

To me it’s no surprise that Microsoft didn’t release details of their battery life or price point — the goal wasn’t to pitch a product. The goal was to be part of the conversation.

I think they’ll succeed there. Not in the circles that are likely to read this piece, but with the larger and less tuned in audience. The people who buy a lot of things and read CNN and the BBC.

“The technology is not the goal”

I have been watching the high-lights coming out of this year’s 10th All Things D conference, a get together for the notables of various technology firms and firms that intersect the field.

One thing that strikes me is that many of the guests who speak about larger issues than their own company’s immediate concerns downplay the relevance of the technologies themselves. They speak of the ability of the technology to enable the creativity of others. A personal hero of mine, Ed Catmull, one of the fathers of 3D computer graphics and a founder of Pixar (among other achievements) speaks very directly and plainly about how this is the case.

I write software for a living. I’ve worked in the games industry for years. One of the most rewarding aspects of what I’ve done has been creating systems that have allowed people who are creative in different ways than I am to make something great. My greatest thrills have come when creative people have taken the tools I’ve designed for them and have made something that I didn’t believe was possible.

All Things D has made available all of the Steve Jobs’ appearances at the conference. Watch them. If you can watch them back to back and realize how Jobs sticks to the message year after year, even using the same jokes and shtick. But my favourite line is where he’s talking about Pixar and it’s success and saying they still do things the way Walt Disney did. “Sure, they’ve got the most powerful pencils in the world”.

Making pencils is cool.

Pencils being made