Microsoft has a problem and it has mostly to do with Apple’s successes. That’s right. Apple’s success has become Microsoft’s second most glaring problem. What’s first on the list? Failed diversification efforts. But that’s another story for another time.
Here’s the deal. Microsoft simply missed the mobile device revolution. Missed, as in, missed the boat that sailed away from Windows Phone and into a future dominated by Apple and Google. Microsoft tried to catch up with Windows RT and Windows Phone, failed again, ousted a clumsy CEO, but decided to double down on the only things left. Windows and Office.
Windows. Office. Everywhere.
Microsoft has a problem similar to Google’s Android problem. Android is everywhere. Windows is, mostly everywhere, if you only look at notebooks and desktops. But Google cannot control the quality of Android devices, and Microsoft has always had a similar problem. Device makers differentiate on price and that makes Android (which is free already) a valueless OS, and Windows is much the same; squeezed by free Chrome and inexpensive Chromebooks at the low end, and dominated by Apple’s hot selling Macs in the premium space.
Microsoft was left with a single choice and took it. Microsoft’s own branded personal computers, the Surface. It’s a full line of mostly reference hardware, priced high enough not to scare Windows PC manufacturers too much, but somewhat competitive with similar hardware specifications from Apple’s Mac and iPad line.
Yes, the Windows and Office juggernaut has seen better days, but Office is everywhere these days, and Microsoft has addressed its Mac and iPad problem in the only way possible– by creating a new category where Apple dares not compete. Hybrid notebook tablets.
Yep. That’s what they are. Hybrids. Not exactly great notebooks and definitely not very good tablets, but good enough to sell a few, good enough to be easily differentiated when compared to either a Mac or an iPad, and expensive enough not to upset the Windows OEM folks. Too much.
The latest Surface devices have been billed as iPad killers, Mac killers, and regardless of the technology media’s swooning over something from Microsoft, the hardware does not make for a clear and present danger to anything Apple is doing.
The new Surface Pro 5 looks great. On paper. It’s still a hybrid tablet notebook. It still runs Windows 10. Unlike the newest Macs, this Surface runs battery sipping Kaby Lake 7th generation Intel CPUs, specifically the Core m3 and Core i5. Older versions of the former show up in the MacBook, and older versions of the latter show up in the new MacBook Pro. The low end model is a finless hybrid while the faster model includes a fan.
Microsoft claims 13.5 hours of battery life, a high resolution Retina display, and a starting price tag at $799. Need a keyboard? That’s an additional $129 (Surface Pen, like iPad’s Pencil, is $99). Alright, so how does the new Surface Pro 5 compare to an iPad Pro or a MacBook or MacBook Pro?
iPad – Obviously we can’t do a feature-for-feature comparison, but we can get close. A 128GB iPad Pro comes in at $599 plus $169 for the detachable keyboard for a total of $768 vs. the entry-level Surface Pro 5 at $928. Again, not apples to Apple, but there is a difference. iPad actually has more applications available than Windows 10 but battery life is rated higher.
MacBook – The Mac doesn’t have a touchscreen, so, again, Apple to apples comparisons need adjustment, but you’ll get the idea. The entry-level MacBook comes in with 256GB of SSD storage and 8GB of RAM, but last year’s Intel Core m3 CPU for $1,299. You can’t even get a Surface Pro 5 with the Core m3 CPU and 8GB of RAM or 256GB of storage, but the Core i5 model is $1,299 plus $129 for the Alcantara fabric keyboard for a total of $1,428. A comparably equipped MacBook Pro comes in at $1,499 (with last year’s CPUs). The Mac features USB-C to handle power, external display, Thunderbolt, and USB– while the Surface model has old USB and displayPort.
The big difference, of course, is the Surface touchscreen and tablet option, and the Mac’s ability to run Windows 10 and most flavors of Unix.
The takeaway here is obvious. Microsoft had no choice but to double down on Windows; no choice but to create their own hardware reference design with a built-in touchscreen for every device, and no choice but to make the devices a hybrid with extra cost detachable keyboards. Apple presented Microsoft with a situation whereby iPad sales and Mac sales have combined to put a dent in the Windows PC universe, and with inexpensive Chromebooks chewing up marketshare at the low end of the product spectrum, left Microsoft with no choices except to double down on Windows and Office everywhere.