The wrong fight: What’s the Surface competing with?


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The Lord loves a workin’ man and the tech press loves a story of Apple copying someone else.

Take it away, Business Insider’s Dave Smith!

“Microsoft, not Apple, is guiding the future of tablets now” (tip o’ the antlers to @JonyIveParody)

Unlike Business Insider’s usual anti-Apple knee-jerkery, the Macalope can almost see the glimmer of a point. Smith is right that the Surface is doing way better than it was and that the iPad isn’t doing as well as it was. But like Business Insider’s usual knee-jerkery the glimmer of a point is exaggerated and misses what’s really going on.

So, just a few years after after Microsoft made a bold bet with the Surface, the makers of both Android and iOS seem to be playing catch-up.

The operative words here being “seem to be”. Apple still makes six times as much revenue on iPad sales than Microsoft makes on the Surface. And don’t even get the Macalope started on profit. Really, don’t, because the horny one doesn’t have those numbers handy. It’s not a stretch to imagine they come out in Apple’s favor, though.

This is not the first time the Macalope’s seen this argument. The exact same argument was made about 7-inch tablets and large smartphones. First it was Apple’s behind/doomed/barely able to tie its own shoes and then it was copying.

Microsoft spent years stumbling over its oversized clown shoes trying to figure out tablet by shipping keyboard-less Windows machines nobody wanted. Apple made the tablet a viable category and, like the market for large phones (which was only 20 percent of the smartphone market albeit growing before the iPhone 6 came out) others made variations on the theme. Apple invented these categories so all its competitors could do was try to make little changes within them to sell some units.

But the Macalope would argue that the Surface isn’t so much a variation on the tablet as it is a variation on the laptop.

What's most interesting about Microsoft's strategy is the company doesn't compare the Surface to the iPad; rather, it compares the Surface to Apple's bestselling Mac lineup.

Yes, it is interesting! And why is that? Because the Surface really is more of a laptop than a tablet. Anecdotally, the Macalope’s not seen a huge number in the wild but whenever he has they’re always being used in laptop mode. And you only need to look at what Microsoft thinks it competes against to see which category they really think it’s in. If that’s the case, Microsoft is less eating Apple’s lunch than it is eating the lunch of its OEMs.

Give them credit, they finally made the choices that PC OEMs weren’t willing to make by removing the junkware, stickers and ever-present VGA port that somehow showed up to the party like the drunk uncle no one invited.

It's safe to say Apple and Google want a piece of Microsoft's Surface formula.

Sure, why not? Much like Apple relented and made smaller tablets and larger phones.

The problem with the tablet category is less that there’s little innovation in it and more that larger phones have moved up and cannibalize it. Of course, as long as people are buying your larger phones, who cares?

Ultimately, though, while Microsoft is making some good moves, it’s more making them in the laptop space than the tablet space.

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