Apple, Microsoft — two tablet visions

When Steve Jobs took the wraps off Apple’s first iPad, he showed a new class of device. The iPad was neither a new type of PC nor was it a giant smartphone. The iPad opened new territory.

Apple sold the original iPad as a personal digital media device. It stuck with that approach for the first three tablet generations.

It wasn’t until the iPad Air arrived that Apple’s marketing bowed to the inevitable and admitted tablets are also useful for creating content and as business tools. Even now that’s not the main sales pitch.

Google doesn’t sell its own tablets. When partners began selling Android tablets they followed Apple’s lead. Samsung took pains to emphasis the entertainment and media aspects of its Galaxy Tab S. Business takes a back seat.

Microsoft Surface — productivity first

That’s not how Microsoft views tablets.

Even before CEO Satya Nadella told the world Microsoft is now a ‘productivity and platform’ company, Microsoft emphasised the Surface range are business tools.

This explains why Surface evolved quickly in just 18 months and three generations from tablets to tablet-cum-laptops. The way Microsoft’s marketing says the new Surface Pro 3 is a “PC when you need it and a tablet when you want one” speaks volumes.

The message is “you need a laptop to do real work, but tablets have a place too, so here’s something covering both bases”. It’s no accident that almost every Surface buyer picks up a keyboard along with their tablet.

How does this play out in business?

You could argue the Surface, particularly the Surface Pro 3, is the kind of tablet corporate technology buyers always wanted. That’s clearly the market Microsoft wants.

And yet, Apple does a great job selling iPads to large companies. Walk into any CBD glass tower you’ll see people using iPads.

The iPad took root in business from the bottom up. People who bought iPads for personal use took them to the office and found new ways to be productive. In some cases using third-party add-ons and apps from the iTunes store.

Companies had little choice but to adapt to this trend, hence all the hand-wringing you hear about BYOD, bring your own device. I’ve no evidence, but I suspect most Surfaces are bought either by companies who give them to staff as productivity tools or by people who are deeply committed to Microsoft products and services. I also suspect many Surfaces replaced PCs.

One device or two?

Microsoft thinks you need only one device to do two jobs. The Surface Pro 3 is quite possibly the best Windows laptop. It’s a good tablet, but not fabulous and it is expensive.

In Apple’s world, there are two jobs needing two tools. The tablet is a consumption device. If you are serious about creating content, buy a MacBook. You are, of course, welcome to buy both. Apple is doing something right. While iPad sales have hiccupped, sales of Apple laptops continue to rise. Windows laptop sales are falling, attacked from above by Apple and from below by the Chromebook.

Crunch time for lost Microsoft Surface

As Microsoft prepares to launch the Surface Pro 3 in New Zealand, overseas news services report the company may pull the plug on its tablet.

Gregg Keizer at Computerworld says Microsoft’s Surface lost money every quarter since first appearing in 2012. To date, the total loss is close to US$2 billion.

Keizer quotes Jackdaw Research analyst Jan Dawson, who says: “Continued losses will make it harder and harder for Microsoft to keep the Surface project going, so a good performance in the next quarter or two will be critical to justifying its continued existence”.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella hints at impatience with Surface. In July he said: “We are not in the hardware for hardware sake and the first-party device portfolio will be aligned to our strategic direction as the productivity and platform company”.

Surface was a gamble on Microsoft’s part. Apart from anything else, moving into hardware alienated traditional partners like HP, Dell and Toshiba. Because Surface is a tablet with laptop-like characteristics, there was a risk it would undermine the entire Windows PC market.

When I looked at the Surface Pro 2 last year, I said it doesn’t compete directly with Apple’s iPad but is a credible alternative for business users.

Surface is suited to those who rely on Microsoft Office and other Windows software. It is well made and a pleasure to use. However, with Surface Pro prices starting at NZ$1300, the Surface is expensive compared to the iPad — although good value by laptop standards.

And there’s the problem. Surface sits somewhere between an iPad-like tablet and a traditional laptop. Or perhaps, given the financial evidence, we should say it is lost somewhere between a tablet and a laptop.