If you were one of the 10,000 ISTE 2013 attendees in San Antonio this past June, congratulations.Along with all that juicy professional development, you received a free Microsoft RT Tablet just for showing up. You also were taken for a ride and you were used as Microsoft Marketing Tools for a failed product.
At first blush that giant giveaway sounded like a pretty darn nice thing for Microsoft to do. After all, the RT Tablets cost around $250 each. That is a chunk of change isn’t it? Multiply that by 10,000 and heck, Microsoft must really be committed to education! Microsoft called the giveaway part of the “Windows in the Classroom Surface Experience" whatever the hell that was.
There was a lot of PR, a lot of whooping and hollering, and then, almost complete silence. There were even fake blogs about how excited people were to get their tablets. Lots of tweets. Lots of noise. Then…silence.
(One of my friends who attended ISTE told me that most of the Surface RT boxes he saw at ISTE remained unopened, and that a lot were immediately put up on Ebay or were destined for Christmas presents. He pointedly tweeted that he didn’t think the same would have happened if Apple were giving away iPad Minis.)
The reason that there was almost complete silence after ISTE is because, the entire thing was a marketing ploy by Microsoft to try to put the proverbial lipstick on a pig. The “experience” of the Windows RT Experience was for Microsoft to get rid of a ton of inventory that was not selling and give it to a bunch of unsuspecting teachers who love free stuff no matter what the value.
The Surface RT tablet which had terrible reviews from the technology press, even before ISTE 2013 was a serious bomb on the market. Even back in March, the device was pretty much considered a still birth in the technology gadget delivery room. No school district had widely adopted it like iPads or like Chromebooks. Back in May, Microsoft itself offered a discount to attendees of it’s own EdTech conference. Not a small discount like Apple does mind you (here is $10 off, feel good about yourself for not owning a piece of shit) but a deep discount like you find n the cutout rack at Staples.
So it was pretty clear that by the time ISTE had arrived, Microsoft had a turd of a product on it’s hands and it needed to get rid of inventory. Hello gullible teachers! ISTE was the perfect venue to get rid of all those tablets destined for landfills. Education needs help. Education needs technology.
Education needs tablets. What better way to look like a good guy than to give a bunch of teachers free tablets? Steve Ballmer dressed as Superman always looks good to stock holders right? And it fits in nicely with that whole Gates-Foundation-we-are-changing-education script that has been going for about a decade now.
I don’t blame the teachers for taking the bait. Educators are conditioned or have been forced to take free stuff and be thankful just like street beggars. Thank you sir. More food sir?
I do blame Microsoft for using teachers as tools in a PR stunt. The Surface RT is a flop no matter how you slice it and giving it away as an act of benevolence when in fact it was an accounting thing, was mean thing to do. The Surface RT will be dead in just a little while as a product. Using teachers to get rid of bad inventory, giving them the impression that a pig’s ear was a silk purse and using them as pawns is just wrong wrong wrong. It is another example of how big business thinks education is just something to be used and educators are something to be manipulated.
I also think that ISTE itself should be called on the carpet for allowing this silliness to happen. They had to have known that the Surface RT was a POS, unless they collectively live under a rock. They had to have known that Microsoft was going to be using the teachers at the conference as marketing pawns. They had to have known that 10,000 teachers were going to be getting very expensive doorstops that would be pretty much useless once they actually got back to class and tried using them in their schools. So shame on ISTE for allowing Microsoft to do that, and for allowing their conference attendees to be used as marketing tools. I am sure that the organization got some kind of financial kickback (charitable contribution or some such) that they can add to their books next year when tax time comes around.
Finally Microsoft itself took a $900 million write off (did you get that? 900,000,000 dollar write down!!) on it’s unsold inventory of Surface RT tablets. That means that they could not sell $900 million dollars worth of the devices. Perhaps they should have given everyone at ISTE 5 of them.