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How Microsoft’s Surface Created the Pitchfork Effect—Data Sheet

October 8, 2019, 1:30 PM UTC

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In the era of iPods, and later with the iPhone, Apple benefitted from the halo effect: consumers who were exposed to the company’s great design sensibility and smooth integration of hardware and software in its smaller gadgets started buying Macs, too. From 2006 to 2012, Apple’s U.S. market share in the PC market jumped from 4% to more than 14%.

But since 2012, Apple’s market share has fallen back to 12%, where it’s been stuck for the past few years. It’s a little puzzling at first, because iPhone sales were still growing strongly back after 2012 for a few years and Apple’s U.S. mobile market share has continued increasing right up through this year.

Part of the issue may be Apple losing focus on its popular MacBook line. The MacBook Air, Apple’s best selling and most affordable laptop, fell into neglect and didn’t get a high-resolution screen until last year. And have I complained enough yet about the horrible butterfly keyboards in Apple’s current line?

But another piece of the puzzle may be the going’s on up in Redmond, where rival Microsoft decided to get into the PC game starting in 2012 with the Surface tablet and quickly expanded into two-in-one’s and laptops. By the end of last year, the Surface line, which goes head-to-head with Apple in the premium segment, captured about 3% of the U.S. market. Expect even more buyers to line up for the latest designs unveiled last week, including the super-thin Surface X tablet and coming-soon Surface Duo, a folding gadget that fits in a pocket.

Could Surface be having an even greater effect, though? Not an angel’s halo–call it the devil’s pitchfork effect. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who inherited Surface from his predecessor Steve Ballmer, explained how he’s been poking and prodding the rest of the PC industry to improve the quality of its designs.

“In doing a great job with it, I think we are inspiring others to do also a great job and raise their game,” Nadella said in an interview with video blogger Marques Brownlee. “If you look at the ecosystem today and the quality of the PCs coming out this holiday from everyone and you compare it to the pre-Surface era, that’s a marked difference.”

No more up-the-nose cameras, wide bezels, or flabby designs? Seems like Satya just may have prodded the industry in the right direction.

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Pardon the slight delay in sending today’s Data Sheet. In return, we can give you an exclusive first look at the tech heroes of tomorrow. KPMG surveyed seasoned tech execs and millennials who work in the industry and asked who they saw as the most visionary innovators.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai topped the oldsters ranking, while Tesla and SpaceX boss Elon Musk was the millennial choice. Much of the top 10 was similar, with Jack Ma, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg ranking highly for both groups. But the experienced hands filled out their list with Larry Page, Satya Nadella, and Marissa Mayer in their top 10. The younger generation went with the late Steve Jobs, Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei, and SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son. 

Aaron Pressman

On Twitter: @ampressman

Email: aaron.pressman@Fortune.com

NEWSWORTHY

A million little pieces. Do we all miss the cable bundle? In a world of too-many-streaming options, bundling may be making a comeback. Apple has approached the major record labels about bundling its Apple Music service with its upcoming Apple TV+ video service, the Financial Times reports. Apple declined to comment.

Do the right thing. Without comment, the Supreme Court left in place a lower court ruling that held the pizza chain Domino's accountable under the Americans With Disabilities Act to make its website and apps accessible to blind people. Guillermo Robles, a blind pizza lover, sued the company in 2016 when he discovered that he couldn't use his screen reader software to make an online order with Domino's.

Do the right thing, part two. After zillions of media sites geared up to profit from Facebook's video aspirations, only to shutter and cut staff like crazy when the effort sputtered, Facebook is paying for its excessive hype–sort of. The social network agreed on Monday to pay $40 million to settle a class action lawsuit that it inflated its video viewership stats to advertisers.

Working for the clampdown. The Trump administration on Monday added more Chinese tech companies to its blacklist, prohibiting them from buying products from U.S. companies, among other restrictions. The just-banned include China's top facial recognition startups, Hangzhou Hikvision and Zhejiang Dahua, plus A.I. specialists SenseTime and Megvii. On Tuesday, China was threatening to retaliate in yet unknown ways.

Automagically. If you want more in-depth coverage of artificial intelligence, don't forget to subscribe to our weekly Eye on A.I. newsletter. A new issue comes out every Tuesday.

ON THE MOVE

Software developer BMC nabbed Ayman Sayed as CEO from CA Technologies, where he was Chief Product Officer. Interim BMC CEO Bob Beauchamp will continue as chairman of the board...Former Google VP and Barclays tech guy Sunil Chandra is hopping to the fintech sector, joining European lending startup OakNorth as CEO as the company looks to crack the U.S. market...Rachel Potvin, head of data insights at Google Cloud, joins Microsoft's GitHub as vice president of engineering...Massachusetts startup Vecna Robotics CEO Dan Patt resigned after less than two years on the job and was replaced by Vecna co-founder Daniel Theobald...Former Securities and Exchange Commission member Dan Gallagher is joining free stock trading app Robinhood as its first independent board member. He's currently law firm WilmerHale's deputy chair of securities.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Some of the conventions around software user interface design are a bit of a puzzle. We still use the floppy disk icon to mean "save" in many programs, for example. Susanna Zaraysky, who works on design at Google, has some advice for the field (cited on Twitter yesterday by former Microsoft exec Steven Sinofsky). In her piece titled "The Obvious UI is Often the Best UI," Zaraysky recommends a few simple practices to improve software design. And some conventions need to be broken, she says:

Obvious design isn’t only about location of components, but also how easy it is for a user to understand the actions and options in a UI. For example, not all users will immediately understand icons and symbols. The $ symbol means dollars or money in the U.S., Canada and some other countries, but is not the symbol for currency worldwide. Someone who grew up using computers with floppy disks will most likely automatically know what a floppy disk is and recognize that a floppy disk icon means “save.” However, for those who began to use computers in the 21st century and who never saw a floppy disk, the floppy disk save icon may look like a mobile phone SIM card with a rectangular and circular hole and a missing corner. Those users may not understand the meaning of the floppy disk save icon. 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

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5 New Features That Make the MacOS Catalina Update Worth a Download By Lisa Marie Segarra

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HP’s Ink Business Used to Print Money. Now It’s Running Dry By Erik Sherman

Ripple CEO Not Bullish on Facebook’s Ability to Launch Libra Cryptocurrency By Jen Wieczner

BEFORE YOU GO

Is there a more winning combination that dogs and frisbee? I don't think so. Italian photographer Claudio Piccoli has posted a stunning collection of pooches in action chasing after the spinning plastic discs. Unbeatable.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.