One of the competitive differentiators for Microsoft’s Surface vs. the iPad is the availability of the core Microsoft Office apps, as highlighted by Microsoft in its recent criticism of the “watered down productivity apps” available on other tablets.

Which is why Apple fans are having a field day with this Microsoft Surface 2 billboard in San Francisco. As reported by Apple Insider, the ad shows an incorrect sum of $9,000 for a column of expenses that should actually add up to $9,500.

Microsoft’s Frank Shaw offered this explanation on Twitter over the weekend.

However, if that were the case, the formula bar in the ad would show “500,” as noted by Rafael Rivera and others on Twitter.

As evidenced by the picture below, I spent way more time than I should have this morning on a Surface RT and Surface 2 trying to reproduce the spreadsheet shown in the billboard, even recreating the “Hawaii Budget” chart.


I tried a variety of different input scenarios, including the possibility that the bottom two cells in the list were left out of the autosum formula, but I haven’t been able to reproduce precisely what the ad shows. I even tried snapping it to the side as shown in the billboard.

The good news for Microsoft is that the real working version of Excel on Surface calculates the column correctly.

Yes, it has crossed my mind that the image published online could have been doctored somehow, but there’s no actual evidence of that. If anyone has seen this billboard or another one with the same error, please send it along.

At this point the most likely scenario is a mistake in the ad — possibly a composite image of some sort by the agency that created it, as Ed Bott notes. There’s no doubt a team inside Microsoft trying to figure this out right now.

Update, 12:55 p.m.: This was first reported by David Yanofsky on Quartz last week, with an image of a different version of the ad, so we can rule out the notion that the Apple Insider version was doctored somehow. Here’s a video by Bill Jelen running through a possible explanation, but this still doesn’t explain why the formula bar was empty, which suggests the ad agency was using some sort of composite image here.

Thanks to Romit Mehta for pointing that out. And with that, I’m going to move on now, barring some major revelation that turns this into something bigger.

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  • Guest

    The photo was taken after the user typed $500, but before he pressed ENTER.

    The workbook was configured with manual recalculation and the user had not yet pressed F9.

    These are but two of many feasible explanations for that billboard. Call me an apologist if you will, but I’d like to apologise for the behavior of the Apple fans who are ignoring the message and focusing on pedantry instead.

    I’m sorry.

    • Todd Bishop

      That is an accurate description of how manual recalculation works, but even in that scenario, the formula bar would have showed ‘500’ when the cell was selected. So it still looks like this was a composite image.

      It’s a small issue in the scheme of things, more of a curiosity, but Microsoft probably should have made sure the numbers added up.

    • ic

      Sorry, but that doesn’t wash. The pie chart includes the 500 figure, so it had obviously been entered fully.

  • Tim Wisner

    accidental error, or planned error? Lots of free hype out of this…

  • Scotty


  • SilverSee


  • teralgoe

    There are no error in the table, as the cell is being edited the total will be updated until enter is hit. Try by yourself.

    However there are an error in the artwork, in the formula bar in a in any exel worksheet the formula bar will show the 500 value, the fact that in the billboard doesn’t appear is the reason to think that is an artwork and not an actual screenshot.

    Due the size of the billboard, the excel worksheet is a vector artwork rather that an actual screenshot because the resolution would be too low to render well without heavy pixilation.
    The ad agency probably recreate the worksheet in AI to have a resizable file to insert in a PSD artwork to send the raster image to the billboard print, but they forgot to put the 500 value in the formula bar

  • gseattle

    Might have been the formula Microsoft Marketing is developing for how to be cool. lmao.

    On the bright side, seems like they actually tried to convey something about the product. ++

    The old MS ad with humans flying into the air still bugs me (so if I buy that I’m going to become weightless?)

  • Paul Erskine

    I think the explanation is very simple: the ad agency didn’t use a sum function to get the total, they just manually added it up and entered the value. The problem is they added wrong!

  • Mary Branscombe

    without wanting to keep the pot boiling, the interface of the app isn’t quite right either (missing ribbon tab). I’m thinking ad agency composite.

  • Sandeman21

    Seriously? … get a real subject!

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