What it is: In response to the iPad’s success, Microsoft is rumored to be readying low-cost versions of their Surface tablets.
When Apple introduced the iPad, Microsoft felt safe backing netbooks. Netbooks ruling Linux had earlier threatened the laptop market so Microsoft encouraged computer makers to shift netbooks from Linux to Windows. The problem with these Windows-powered netbooks was that they ran slower Atom processors, offered minuscule, cramped keyboards, and tiny screens that made using them as laptops clumsy.
Yet netbooks thrived initially because they were cheap, light, and easy to carry. Then Apple introduced the iPad that redefined the tablet market and essentially killed the netbook market. No computer maker actively markets netbooks any more because the iPad and other tablets killed that market for good.
As the iPad thrived, Microsoft kept trying to offer a competing product. They offered Windows RT, which bombed. Now Microsoft is supposedly readying lower cost Surface tablets to compete against the iPad. Can such lower cost Surface tablets compete against the iPad? Nope, and here’s why.
Right now, the Surface tablet is actually a super portable, lightweight laptop that just happens to offer tablet-like capabilities. Ask what most Surface tablet owners use their devices for and most of the time it’s as an ultralight laptop. How many people are buying Surface tablets solely to use them as tablets?
What makes Surface tablets so attractive as laptops is that they run Windows, so whatever Windows programs you run on a desktop, you can run on a Surface tablet. What makes Surface tablets far less attractive as a tablet is that they run Windows.
Windows can be configured to run on a tablet, but is that what people really want? When people want a tablet, they want a portable computer. They don’t necessarily need Windows compatibility. Ask yourself what types of programs a typical Windows user might want to use on a computer and you might think Photoshop, Excel, Word, and Visual Studio. Now ask yourself what types of programs a typical tablet user might want to use and you probably aren’t thinking of Photoshop, Excel, Word, or Visual Studio running on a tablet.
In short, the tablet form factor requires different expectations. Windows isn’t optimized for tablet use and its software library isn’t either. While many programs like Microsoft Office can run on a tablet, it’s not optimal. People don’t think of a tablet to run Word or Excel. They think of a tablet to solve a problem. Many survey takers use iPads to record answers from people. Could they use a Windows-powered Surface tablet to do that? Yes, but it’s a far clumsier solution that doesn’t need Windows compatibility.
In other words, people want software optimized for tablet use, not software that can be tortured to run on a tablet. When you offer people a less than optimal user experience, don’t be surprised when customers fail to make the Surface tablet a runaway success.
Microsoft’s bid to lower the price of its Surface tablets can only appeal to people who want a tablet and want Windows. Most tablet buyers simply want a tablet and the best one on the market today is the iPad. Anyone attracted to a Surface tablet for Windows capabilities probably isn’t interested in using the Surface tablet solely as a tablet.
So there’s the problem. The Surface tablet appeals to laptop users, not to potential tablet users. Unless Microsoft wants to lose money selling Surface tablets, they can only lower the price by so much and still maintain a profit. Just don’t expect the world to shift en masse to using Surface tablets instead of iPads. When people think of a tablet, they think of an iPad. When people think of a laptop, they think of a Windows PC such as the Surface tablet.
Despite its name, the Surface tablet is more of a laptop than a tablet. Trying to get people to buy a Surface tablet instead of an iPad is like trying to convince people to ride the bus instead of driving their own car. Few people are going to make the switch.