Because of Apple’s stellar unit shipment numbers and big-spending customer base, hundreds of companies support Apple tablets with creative, off-the-wall and fun aftermarket devices including not just cases, but all kinds of unexpected iPad-specific products.
This enormous after-market will exist for the iPad Mini, just as it does for the current iPad. The Surface? Not so much. It’s a real disadvantage.
When Apple launched the first iPad in 2010, it was one of the most impressive first-version launches of any consumer electronics product ever. In addition, it had the advantage of being the only product of its kind on the market for months. It was literally incomparable because there was nothing to compare it to.
The biggest possible concern is lag time for the multi-touch interface. Apple’s ability to provide relatively little lag-time when you, say, swipe your finger across the screen to move from one set of icons to the next is the single biggest advantage it had over Android devices. It’s the “magical” that Jobs talked about, where your brain accepts the illusion of physical reality.
Laggy, jaggy performance for touch interfaces shatters that illusion, and turns off users.
To the best of my knowledge, Apple is the only tablet maker that has been able to ship non-laggy multi-touch performance in its version-1 tablet. So it’s unlikely that Microsoft will be able to.
Any poor interface performance by the Surface will tar the product with a bad reputation which could take years to overcome after actual performance has been improved.
One of the un-measurables surrounding Microsoft’s many attempts to crack the mobile consumer electronics market is that the Microsoft brand is not associated in the minds of consumers with any particular temperature: As a company, Microsoft is neither “hot,” nor “cool.”
It’s almost bizarre that Microsoft has a reputation as a stodgy, corporate hawker of Excel and Exchange Server, when you consider the Xbox, Windows Phone and other appealing consumer products the company has been actually making for years.
Microsoft’s reputation isn’t fair, and it isn’t right, but mostly it isn’t irrelevant.
The fact is that Surface will very likely face the same prejudice, for lack of a better world, as Windows Phone handsets do. Some of these phones are innovative, powerful and really cool. But Microsoft and its Windows Phone partners just can’t match the reputation for hipster cool that the iPhone has or geek cred that Android handsets are associated with.
So Microsoft faces an uphill battle convincing the masses to pick Surface over iOS or Android devices.
And now we come to the least well-appreciated barrier to success that Microsoft faces: Its own fan base.
Yes, Microsoft has fanboys, and millions of them. But they love Microsoft in large part because the company promotes products that are the opposite of “information appliances.”
The post-PC world so far belongs to Apple, a company that ships environmentally unfriendly black boxes that the customer is not meant to modify, expand upon, optimize, customize or even understand.
So now Microsoft comes along with an appliance. Who’s going to buy it? Not Microsoft fanboys -- they want anti-appliances. Not Apple fanboys. And not Android fanboys. Who’s left?
The Microsoft Surface RT and the iPad Mini are not comparable, really. The current iPad makes a better comparison.
But I compare them anyway because we’re in a situation where we have two essentially unknown tablets from two of the biggest companies in the industry.
And even before we’ve actually reviewed either of them, or tried them out in the real world, I still think we have enough information to predict that the iPad Mini will be an instant success. And the Microsoft Surface will be a short-term flop.
The good news for Microsoft is that they’re on the right track, and that the future could be altogether different.
But I’m pretty sure that a comparison of the first six months of each device will see unit sales of the Apple iPad Mini more than 10 times bigger than the Microsoft Surface.