Microsoft Surface is competing with laptops, not iPads

Martin Brinkmann
Oct 17, 2012
Updated • Oct 17, 2012
Microsoft, Windows 8

Microsoft revealed the pricing for the Surface RT yesterday, starting at $499 for a 32 Gigabyte model without keyboard up to $699 for the 64 Gigabyte flagship model with keyboard included. The majority of journalists compared the pricing to Apple's iPad, heck, I did that too, and I think it is a valid thing to do. Comparison-wise, the Surface RT is cheaper than Apple's new iPad. You either get more storage or the same storage and a keyboard for the price of the iPad.

The Surface in addition ships with an extra microSDXC slot for additional storage and an USB port (RT only USB 2.0, Pro with USB 3.0) among other things. Not everything has been in favor of the Surface though, the lower screen resolution for instance needs to be mentioned in this regard.

But is it Microsoft's intention to compete with Apple's iPad and to a lesser degree Android 10" tablets, or is there more to the story than meets the eye right now? Sure, it is a nice side effect if the Surface RT manages to snag away market share from Apple in the existing tablet market, but why would tablet owners purchase a new tablet? The tablet ecosystems are closed, and if you have installed apps and games, and maybe even made a few purchases, it is not  a light decision to switch to another ecosystem as you are losing all of what you have worked with, purchased, or installed before. Some tablet users that want to upgrade to a more powerful tablet may pick the Surface, but I can't really see many do that.

That leaves people without a tablet PC as the primary market for Microsoft. Those have options to purchase a laptop running Windows, a Macbook, or a tablet PC. And this is where it gets interesting. Instead of buying an expensive Macbook or a Windows laptop that is either cheap but not that powerful or expensive and powerful, and always quite heavy, people could decide to purchase a Surface instead.

The Surface's pricing when compared to traditional laptops running Windows is attractive. It not only makes available a touch screen that Windows 8 is optimized for, but is also optimized for mobile work. You can say the same for some laptops, but those usually weigh more unless you decide to get an expensive ultrabook.

While the Surface RT won't support legacy Windows programs, it does ship with Office, and providing that the version supports the majority of features of the desktop Office versions, it is added value that non-Windows 8 tablets do not offer. You also get a full Internet browser and can take advantage of services and apps available on the web.

Combine that with the keyboard, and you got a device at hand that many can use for work and leisure. Would you rather carry a 680g Surface around with you or a traditional laptop weighting in the kg range?

I'm not saying the Surface RT can replace a laptop for all users, it can't, but it can for some. If you have the requirement to run legacy software, you can purchase the Surface Pro instead which is a bit on the heavier side but ships with more storage, Windows 8 Pro to run both legacy software and Windows Store apps, a resolution of 1920x1080, USB 3.0, and is still below the 1kg mark weight-wise (I need to mention that this is without the keyboard which weights 200g).

What may be holding the Surface back though is missing cellular support which some business users may need for work. While it is possible to buy extra hardware and plug it into the USB port to add that, it means having to carry around with you another piece of equipment.

In closing, I believe that it is not Microsoft's intention to compete with Apple's iPad for existing tablet users.


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  1. tPenguinLTG said on October 17, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    Just a thought:
    Would one be able to dual-boot Linux on it? :P

  2. Edward said on October 17, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    A tablet that the only desktop apps are office and IE and nothing else should be compared to laptops?

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on October 17, 2012 at 5:46 pm

      Well it depends on what you do with the tablet. If you need more than Office and Internet, then it is obviously not enough. If that is all you do with your PC, then it is certainly enough.

  3. Oleg said on October 17, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    That’s interesting view but in the end it does not really matter.

    It does not matter what Microsoft think they compete against, what matters what people think they choose between.

    If people are choosing between iPad and Surface instead of laptop and Surface, the price has to reflect that fact, not ivory tower thinking of Microsoft executives.

    1. DC said on December 20, 2012 at 1:53 am

      I just bought a Surface specifically to use as a laptop. I wanted a new laptop (not a tablet) and bought this. In my case I chose between a laptop and a Surface.

  4. ilev said on October 17, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    Pre Orders for Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on October 17, 2012 at 1:28 pm

      I really hope the Surface Pro will start at less than $1000 including a keyboard. If it does not, I won’t be getting one. The $1200 seems really expensive to me.

      1. Karl Gephart said on October 18, 2012 at 4:22 am

        I’m holding out for the Surface Win8Pro like you. What I’d like to do I’m not sure is possible. I’m assuming it will have only the one USB port like the RT. I plan on using it as a desktop and tablet. I’m wondering if I can plug in a USB hub so I can run a keyboard and mouse off it (and ext HD) and also have a connector to attach a large monitor. Any word on the specs? Thanks!

      2. Martin Brinkmann said on October 18, 2012 at 6:22 am

        Karl, the only specs are those that Microsoft has released:

      3. ilev said on October 17, 2012 at 6:04 pm

        The $499 32GB Surface RT has been out-sold just in couple of hours.
        Back orders are now 3 weeks.

        p.s For using Office for Windows RT in business users have to get a license. “”not for use in commercial, nonprofit, or revenue-generating activities. Commercial license options available (sold separately).”

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