Microsoft just announced a brand-new version of the Surface Pro. One of the fascinating things about the concept of the tablet is that, between Apple and Microsoft, Microsoft came up with the idea first and Steve Jobs first called it out as stupid, and then made a far more popular tablet. With this latest version of Surface, and during what has been a near catastrophic market decline for the iPad, Microsoft has created what the iPad should have really been.
I think there is a teachable moment here so let me walk you back through how this all came about.
Back around 2000, Microsoft created the Windows Tablet concept. It relied on partners to build products based on this tablet specification. This was long before Intel really felt the need to create a truly mobile process so the result was hulking laptop/tablets that weighed in at two to three times what an iPad eventually weighed, had around a third of the battery life, and cost up to four times as much. Granted, we didn’t even know what an iPad was back then, and a lot of us thought that Windows Tablets were the future. They weren’t, and it took Jobs calling the concept stupid for us to see these things as they were: overweight, pricey laptops with a feature that made no sense in its size and weight class.
As a result, the market, except for a couple of vertical business segments like insurance (forms), and health care, went back to laptops as the preferred mobile product and the Windows Tablet never got to critical mass.
Now the concept came out of Bill Gates’ belief that folks who hadn’t moved to PCs wanted something that was more like a pad of paper they could write on and he figured a form factor that was closer to what they wanted would fill the gap. Not only was he wrong, the truth was much closer to them not trusting or wanting a computer in the first place. But Microsoft repeated the mistake it made with Microsoft Bob and tried to apply the new form factor to folks who had no problem with laptops. (Microsoft Bob was initially designed for people who feared computers, where it worked, but it failed because it was presented as the next user interface for everyone, and engineers freaked out.)
Jobs came at the market very differently. He took what was basically an iPod Touch with a bigger screen and presented it as something magical and unique. And it was; the iPad was great for movies, decent for reading books and magazines, and better for many games than a smartphone. Much like the Nintendo Wii did initially, the iPad became the device everyone needed. But it was close enough to the size of a laptop that a critical mass of influencers tried to use it to replace their laptops and that didn’t end well.
People didn’t want to carry a smartphone, tablet and laptop, they wanted to leave one of them at home. The iPad couldn’t perform as a laptop did, and then smartphones got bigger. The result is the iPad, because it couldn’t grow to replace the laptop and didn’t do telephony (it would have been interesting to see someone hold an iPad up to their head), the product became largely redundant. What Apple should have done is merged the MacBook with the iPad and created a more fully featured offering. But Apple doesn’t like to cannibalize products, even though cannibalizing the iPod to create the iPhone was massively successful. It thought it could get people to constantly buy all three products and it learned that there apparently is a hard line for most folks at two. It did create the iPad Pro, but the market didn’t say it wanted something bigger, it wanted something that could be both a MacBook and a tablet. Just making a larger iPad fell well short.
Surface Pro was created as an iPad killer. The problem initially was that Windows is Intel-based and Intel was very slow to recognize that it needed a fully featured product that had far better energy management. The first attempt to bridge this was to create an ARM-based Surface called the Surface RT, which was very much like the iPad but lacked a critical mass of apps, and the Surface Pro, which was more like the old Windows Tablets than it was the iPad. The market wanted the battery life and weight of the RT but the application support and experience of the Pro and whatever these first generations of Surface were, they weren’t iPad killers.
To give you a sense of how close this new Surface Pro is to the iPad Pro, the iPad Pro has an impressive 10 hours of battery life, the new Surface Pro around 13, the weight of the iPad Pro is 1.57 pounds, the new Surface Pro (m3) 1.69, the iPad Pro with 128 GB costs $899, the new Surface Pro (M3) with 128 GB $799, and the screen resolution of the iPad Pro is 264 ppi and the new Surface Pro is 267.
On specifications, the products are right on top of each other, but the Surface Pro can replace a Windows laptop, while the iPad Pro can’t yet replace a MacBook.
Wrapping Up: Teachable Moment
Breaking down the history, we had Microsoft coming up with a flawed idea: that people who didn’t like technology would move to a technical solution if they could write on it and then positioning against a broad market that wasn’t initially targeted. Apple was targeting that broad market correctly, but not realizing that Gates did get one thing right: Folks wanted to work on the product. Then Microsoft was the first to put all the elements together.
The lesson is that you really need to know the audience, match the solution to the audience, and then modify that solution based on how it changes the audience. Microsoft missed the audience for its product. Apple hit but the product modified what the audience wanted. Microsoft saw this and adapted, Apple didn’t, thus the Surface sales are growing and iPad sales are declining.
Something to think about this week.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+