Why the iPad Mini Will Sell 10x More than Surface

Pre-launch, Microsoft’s new tablet looks cool. But not cool enough to compete with Apple’s killer tablet.
Posted October 17, 2012

Mike Elgan

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The gadgetsphere is gabbing excitedly about two unknown touch tablet products: one from Microsoft and the other from Apple.

At first glance, these two products appear to be categorically similar. In fact, they’re different from each other in just about every important way.

Some Microsoft fans say that finally Microsoft is getting into the game, and can start rolling back Apple’s dominance of the tablet market.

Unfortunately, this isn’t going to happen any time soon.

While Microsoft’s Surface with Windows RT tablet may eventually become a runaway success, I’m predicting that unit sales of the iPad Mini will be at least ten times higher during its first six months on the market (not including other iPad models -- just the Mini) than sales of the Microsoft Surface with Windows RT during its first six months.

Here’s why.


The cheapest Microsoft Surface with Windows RT will be about the same as the cheapest current iPad: $499 will get you 32GB of internal storage and no keyboard cover.

If you do want the keyboard cover, it will set you back another $100, and with both cover and double the storage an extra $200.

When you consider materials, components, manufacturing economies of scale and other factors, this pricing is very aggressive from Microsoft’s perspective. It’s got a quad core Tegra 3 CPU and 2GB of RAM, two cameras, two microphones, a regular USB port, a microSDXC card slot, HD video out, Bluetooth 4.0 and WiFi.

While Apple makes huge profits on every iPad, Microsoft may be close to breaking even on Surface tablets in the short term -- or possibly even losing money.

So this is an aggressive price when you consider the cost of the stuff it’s made of. Unfortunately, consumers don’t consider that. They will look out over the tablet landscape and see vastly cheaper tablets running Android, and far better known and supported iPads for the same price.

The tiny new iPad will cost half the price. I know, they’re not comparable as devices. But they are comparable as holiday gifts -- people may consider buying one or the other for their spouse, kids, grandparents or whatever. And at $250, the iPad Mini is in the sweet-spot gift zone.


Microsoft made the marketing decision to highlight the flexible keyboard cover as the main visual differentiator between the Surface and the iPad. When you think of a Surface device, you think of the optional cover. When you think of an iPad, you imagine a tablet without a keyboard or cover.

The Microsoft Surface keyboard is probably nothing special, and is probably going to suck.

Very flat keyboards built into flexible or semi-flexible rubber skins have been around for two decades. Just look at how many there are available now. They generally don’t sell very well, because the usability of zero- or very low-key travel keyboards is terrible.

Even flat keyboards built into tablet covers have been something of a banality for two years.

Microsoft all but admitted the fact when the company’s President of Windows and Windows Live Steven Sinofsky told reporters that “it typically takes a few days for users to get used to typing on the Touch Cover, but when they do, they can expect a typing experience that is almost as good as typing on a keyboard with moving keys.”

My current belief is that the best keyboard you’ll be able to use with the Surface will mostly likely be Apple’s standard Bluetooth keyboard -- the same one I’ve been using with iPads for two years.

No, it’s not built into the case. But I think most people prefer them separate. The best experience for using a keyboard with a touch tablet involves a case that props up the tablet, and a wireless, separate keyboard that gives you not only a vastly superior typing experience but also the freedom to place and angle your tablet how you like it.

As I’ve pointed out, the keyboard comparison is technically a non-issue. Any tablet can use any Bluetooth keyboard, and the Surface keyboard cover is optional.

But in the world of marketing and perception, the assumed and highlighted benefit of a so-called revolutionary keyboard cover will turn into a liability as users try it, hate it and complain about it.


It’s possible that Surface with Windows RT, which can’t run Windows applications, will one day have enough apps to make it a compelling platform but not within the first six months of its existence.

Meanwhile, the iPad Mini will offer more than a quarter of a million apps the day it ships.

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Tags: Microsoft, iPad, Apple, tablet, Surface, iPad Mini

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