With the iPhone (News - Alert) 5 feeding frenzy now quite thoroughly underway, it's worth taking another look at one of the upcoming new tablets in the market, the surprise dark horse entry from Microsoft (News - Alert). The Surface tablet has been impressing lots of people since its first unveiling, but the newest reports suggest that any hope some might have held out for a less expensive offering from Microsoft may be unfounded.
A recent interview with Steve Ballmer (News - Alert) suggested that the Surface was clearly targeting the iPad line--not surprising, as most tablet releases have been measured against the iPad with many wondering "is this the iPad-killer?"--but whether it was planning to compete on price, features, or both, Ballmer's responses weren't quite saying.
Image via www.microsoft.com
Specifically, one response drove much of the speculation, "I think most people would tell you that the iPad is not a super expensive device. … (When) people offer cheaper, they do less. They look less good, they’re chintzier, they’re cheaper. If you say to somebody, would you use one of the seven-inch tablets, would somebody ever use a Kindle to do their homework? The answer is no; you never would. It’s just not a good enough product. It doesn’t mean you might not read a book on it…. If you look at the bulk of the PC market, it would run between, say, probably $300 to about $700 or $800. That’s the sweet spot."
While Ballmer's remarks are an unnecessary slight to the Kindle Fire, which may not be a "homework machine" in the sense that Ballmer's thinking, as well as to the Nexus 7 and similar seven- inch tablets like that which Apple (News - Alert) is said to be in the midst of developing, he does have a point in that many smaller tablets--many cheaper tablets--simply don't look good or work well. But Ballmer is likely setting up the Surface to fail here; many tablets have come and gone trying to compete with the iPad in terms of features and quality. For the most part, they have failed, not because of a lack on their part, but because if people want a tablet that's every bit as good as the iPad, and costs about the same as an iPad, they just buy an iPad. The biggest competitor to the iPad has been the Kindle Fire, because it's offering a different niche, and yet still offering good, solid service.
Even Apple is starting to come around to the idea of a smaller-screened tablet, and it's likely because the Kindle Fire has done so well. It's not competing with the iPad; it's competing alongside the iPad, and that's an important distinction. Even those who already own an iPad can have a Kindle Fire as well, because the Kindle Fire serves a different purpose in the presentation of media.
Still, while Microsoft may have something pretty impressive in the Surface, if it can't keep its prices down--maybe down to $299 instead of the hoped-for $199--it will likely have a worse showing than expected. Some have suggested that Microsoft doesn't have the brand loyalty for such a price structure, and it's not easy to disagree. Microsoft would likely do better to not try and eat Apple's lunch, but rather, find their own lunch to eat instead.
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Edited by Brooke Neuman