Has the Microsoft Surface Challenged Apple’s iPad?

About a year ago I wrote an article for iPad AppStorm entitled, “What the new Microsoft Surface means for the iPad”. It got lots of comments, many of which called me biased towards Apple and the iPad. Maybe I was slightly biased, but as an iPad and iPhone owner writing on an iPad website that was to be expected. Today I revisit this old topic as news of Microsoft slashing the price of the Surface RT (the lower end model) is released upon the world. In this article I’ll again be looking at the Surface and the iPad, what they mean for each other and whether the Surface has proved a true contender to the iPad on a number of levels.

Read on for more.

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How Well Was the Surface Received?

In my previous article on this topic, I hinted that even with an impressive spec list, great keyboard cover and beautiful design, the Surface might fail to compete with the dominance the iPad has over the consumer tablet market. In the year since I wrote the original article, I’ve seen one Surface Pro used at my university. You read that right — just one! At the same time, countless of my classmates had their iPad or iPad minis out taking notes and reviewing course material. From my real world, but very limited perspective then, the Surface hasn’t been so well received.

The Surface is a stunning, well-built device but has it challenged the iPad?

The Surface is a stunning, well-built device but has it challenged the iPad?

Don’t take my word for it however, recent data from IDC shows that in the first quarter of 2013, Microsoft shipped 900,000 (a 1.6% market share) units of the Surface RT and the Surface Pro combined. Apple, on the other hand, shipped 19,500,000 iPads (a 39.6% market share) and Samsung shipped 8,800,000 units (a 17.9% market share).

If that data doesn’t back up the fact that the Surface hasn’t really troubled Apple and the iPad then I don’t know what will. I think the exact words I used in my previous article to describe what the Surface would mean for the iPad were “not much”. As vague as that sounds, I think I can now confidently look back on those words as a prudent choice, because for all the hype and all the “iPad killer” rumours that floated around when the Surface was announced, it really hasn’t posed a serious threat to the iPad’s dominance.

Why, you might ask? I don’t think anybody can accurately answer why the Surface hasn’t put up much of a challenge to the iPad. A lot of people claim that Windows 8 and Windows RT (the mobile version of Windows 8) is to blame. I definitely think that the operating system will have played a huge part, but I also think that Microsoft’s system of releasing a low and high end model could be what’s putting people off. Just hear me out for a second.

By offering a low-end and a high-end model, which look the same but run slightly different operating systems, Microsoft have created a product lineup that has the potential to be highly confusing for a great number of consumers. Can I run this program on the Surface RT, do I need the Pro to do that? If both models came with the same operating system, but slightly differing internal specs (such as storage or RAM) then consumers would be in a better position to make a decision as to which model to go for.

Microsoft have recently cut the price of the 32GB to $349 without a keyboard cover.

Microsoft have recently cut the price of the 32GB to $349 without a keyboard cover.

Then there are other problems with the Surface. A lack of a 3G option for one. My flatmate owns a 3G Retina iPad and I have to say that when I use my WiFi only model, I feel somewhat constrained and restricted. Sure there are WiFi hotspots everywhere, but who can be bothered going through the sign up processes if you’re only around for 10 minutes. 3G for tablets is a must, in my opinion.

Despite having a USB port on the Surface, Microsoft don’t seem keen to support 3G dongles, especially not on Windows RT (the Surface Pro running Windows 8 will support 3G dongles, but this isn’t made clear — another cause for confusion). So for mobile working, the options available from Apple seem to edge ahead here.

Then, there’s the issue of price. Sure, the price of the low end 32GB model has just been cut (by $150 if you were wondering) — it’s the reason I’m revisiting this topic — but I still feel that the Surface is a bit of a gamble for most consumers. Perhaps Microsoft knew it was a gamble and this is why they’ve cut the price? But, at $349, perhaps it’s still too much of a gamble. At this end of the market you can pick up a 16GB iPad Mini for $329 — a tempting thought. Frustratingly, for $349 though, you don’t get the much praised keyboard cover, which is an additional $100. This is a problem since the Surface is at its best when it’s combined with the keyboard cover.

There’s yet another issue I can see with the Surface as well. The rarity of Windows phones. Sure they exist, but as with the Surface, I’ve only seen a handful being used in the flesh. Most of my friends have iPhones, Android-based smartphones or BlackBerrys (at least here in the UK – if it’s different where you are then let me know). If you have an iPhone, then the iPad is the most logical choice for you, since you’ll be able to benefit from iCloud syncing and all the other bells and whistles that iDevices offer. If you own an iPhone and buy a Surface, then almost all that cross-functionality is lost to you. Is this a deal breaker? I don’t know for sure, but I think it would certainly put me off.

Conclusion

It’s pretty obvious that the Surface hasn’t been the complete success that Microsoft were looking for. Despite this, it’s a first generation model and no doubt Microsoft will be working on the next generation as I write. Perhaps that’s another reason for cutting the price, to make way for new stock? Either way, I bet the next generation Surface will be hotly anticipated by tech fans around the world. Is the price cut of the current model going to turn things around for Microsoft? I’d suspect not, because for me, it’s too little too late.

Do you think the Surface has challenged the iPad? Do you own a Surface? If so we’d love to hear from you in the comments below!