3 reasons why Microsoft is crazy to keep comparing the Surface RT to the iPad

by Don Reisinger

August 11 2013

TabTimes contributor Don Reisinger is a New York-based technology writer who's work has appeared in CNet, eWeek and other publications.


Microsoft is at it again. The software giant has been running a series of ads promoting its Surface RT tablet that take on the iPad head on. Microsoft compared the devices feature by feature, and gave its own product the nod for everything from its branded keyboard to its USB port.

Microsoft even said that its newly reduced Surface RT, at $349, is a better value for customers than Apple’s $499 iPad. The company finished off its firefight with a rather interesting tagline – “One app at a time vs. Do multiple things at once.”

Poorly conceived marketing-speak aside, the ad achieved what Microsoft wanted: to pit the Surface and Microsoft against the iPad and Apple. But what it failed to do was prove to customers that the iPad should be tossed aside in favor of the Surface RT.

The commercial didn’t answer the question of why Windows RT is failing miserably, and why vendors (Asus being the latest) are running from it. The ads also failed to answer why, if the Surface RT is such a winner, Microsoft was forced to writedown $900 million for the device, its parts, and accessories, while Apple posts massive profits on the iPad.

Simply put, Microsoft has it all wrong. The company cannot compete against the iPad, and so it should stop. Here's why:

1. Why pit the Surface RT against the best of the best?

Microsoft is obviously lost. In what world would the company want to pit its sub-standard tablet, the Surface RT, against the iPad?

Yes, I understand that the Surface RT has a big display and it has a nice design, but should the average consumer forget that the device also lacks support for the vast majority of essential Windows programs? And what about the fact that Windows RT is essentially a stripped-down Windows 8 – another operating system people don’t like?

The iPad, meanwhile, has just about everything a customer would want. The device launches with a nice display, it has more than enough apps to satisfy any need, and its operating system is both functional and intuitive.

Microsoft shouldn’t be trying to compete against what is, in the opinion of many, the best tablet on the market, with a tablet in the Surface RT that can barely hold its own against second-string Android slates. It’s just a bad mood.

2. Right now, it’s about growing the base

In what world does Microsoft believe that, through its advertising and its incessant need to compete with Apple, that it can steal would-be iPad owners and get them to buy a Surface RT?

Again, the Surface RT is not a true iPad contender. I can appreciate that some people are looking to save some cash and the iPad can get expensive at $499, but if they really want to save some cash, why wouldn’t they just opt for an iPad Mini?

More importantly, Microsoft is attempting to show the Surface RT’s prowess by selling would-be customers on the idea that its slate comes with an official keyboard. Technically, that’s true. But in order to buy that keyboard, it’ll cost them $100 more.

For Microsoft, success in the tablet market is not about trying to convince would-be iPad owners that the device everyone tells them is fantastic isn’t worth buying. The sad truth for Microsoft is, right now, it needs to grow its base by attracting Microsoft lovers. If those people can become evangelists for its platform, it might be on to something.

Simply put, what Microsoft needs now is to focus on its own fans and attract them to its tablet. Absent that, it seems impossible for the Surface RT to gain even respectable market share.

3. Stop trying to recreate Apple’s BYOD phenomenon

Microsoft has obviously watched Apple’s iPad take rise in the enterprise. Ballmer and Company then reasoned that since Microsoft is already an enterprise favorite, surely the company can bridge the gap between consumers and enterprise users with the Surface RT and Surface Pro.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, however, it failed to actually understand that the iPad was only able to make an entrée into the enterprise because the slate appealed to consumers first.

The Surface Pro is by no means a bad product, and has several features that appeal to enterprise customers.

The Surface RT, on the other hand, is not appealing to consumers in any significant way. What's worse, the company's dual-tiered approach, aimed at getting the Surface RT to appeal to consumers and the Surface Pro to be the go-to product for IT professionals, is ill-advised.
 
Microsoft is living in a pipe dream, believing that the Surface RT can appeal to consumers and then be used in the enterprise, leaving IT professionals with no other choice but to deploy the Surface Pro to all others. The iPad’s BYOD success was due in large part to its usability both at home and in the office. Unfortunately for Microsoft, neither the Surface RT nor the Surface Pro can hit on both points -- despite Microsoft's best hopes.

While the Surface RT might be fine for some home users, those who want a sophisticated experience will be disappointed. And that, of course, means that the Surface RT has no place in the enterprise.

Meanwhile, the Surface Pro might appeal to some enterprise customers, but with BYOD sweeping the globe, Microsoft’s old-time strategy of relying on CIOs and IT decision-makers to help its business is wearing thin.

Sadly for Microsoft, neither the Surface Pro nor the Surface RT can scratch every itch. And the iPad – the device that Microsoft has stubbornly tried to compete against – does.

TabTimes contributor Don Reisinger is a New York-based technology writer who's work has appeared in CNet, eWeek and other publications.
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  • John Swain
    1 year 1 week ago

    Don, you are absolutely correct when you point out that Microsoft should market to current MS users rather than chase Apple fanboys. That's like trying to convert from one religion to another, it's possible but not cost effective. As you point out, Microsoft has legacy software that will always have it's followers. Go preach your product to your own flock, and leave the Apple evangelist alone, they are never going to convert.

    Microsoft must decide whether to be in the software business or market both hardware and software. Don, as you aptly point out, Microsoft has not given fully functioning software with its RT line. If they had marketed the RT with a keyboard, that cost $25 in production, and included a full Win 8 OS from the beginning, they would not have had to take $150 off the price.

    Microsoft seems to think discounting will solve the problem. That's like a movie mogul advertising that its $3 billion production is no good at $5.00 per ticket, but it is an academy award winning show at $3.49 per ticket.

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