Microsoft's new Mac vs. PC hyperbole

Microsoft has three new Surface Pro 3 ads out today that, as promised, switch from trying to attack the iPad to trying to attack the MacBook Air. Given how heart-breakingly, bank-breakingly unsuccessful Surface has been to date, it's hard not to sympathize. It's also hard not to think repeating past strategic failures will only result in more failures. Instead of shifting from iPad to MacBook, maybe Microsoft should shift from attacking Apple to attacking the PC market?

Mac sales were up 18 percent year-over-year last quarter. The Mac has grown 32 out of the last 33 quarters. That's against Windows PC sales that continue to be on the decline.

It's incredibly tough to imagine anyone would leave a MacBook Air for a Surface Pro 3. More specifically, that they'd leave the ability to run OS X on hardware of that caliber for Windows 8 on anything. Especially because the MacBook Air can run OS X and Windows 8. Putting Windows on a tablet turned out to be a liability not a feature and it looks like the same is going to hold true for hybrids.

People who use Macs use them intentionally. We love not only the quality of the hardware but the experience and workflow enabled by the software, by OS X and iLife and iWork and all the OS X-exclusive apps by Panic and Flexibits and Tapbots and Aged & Distilled and SuperMegaUltraGroovy and The Iconfactory and, many more. That's simply not attainable by PC hardware, and certainly not by the widely-maligned Windows 8.

It's telling that "run Windows instead of OS X" wasn't even suggested as a benefit in any of these three new ads. When Apple ran their famous "Mac vs. PC" series, OS X being better and preferable to Windows was almost always front-and-center.

Microsoft does mention running Office and Photoshop, but both of those apps are available on the Mac. Office is available for iPad now as well, as are really great detachable keyboards. They also suggest you need a paper note book to use a pen with Apple products, which, given the stylus market for iPad, is either ignorant or deliberately false.

I'm almost tempted to suggest Microsoft would be better off running an ad encouraging OS X customers to buy a Windows license for their Macs, to get the "best of both worlds", but again, given how poorly Windows 8 has been received, that probably wouldn't help very much. Maybe focus on Bootcamp and gaming?

I'm even more tempted to suggest Microsoft shouldn't focus on Apple at all, and go gunning for Dell, HP, Lenovo, and other PC vendors instead. People who buy PC laptops and hybrids are already Windows-only customers. All the things Microsoft is actually showing off in their ads — great specs, capacitive touch, pen input, etc. are probably something Windows-only customers would be really interested in. Hell, for anyone used to the creaky plastic and gaudy stickers of many Windows laptops, Surface could be a welcome upgrade. Even for people with higher end PC ultrabooks, getting something not painfully, slavishly derived from Apple design could be a breath of fresh air.

Given the politics involved in Microsoft's OEM partnerships, however, I don't think we'll ever see that happen.

Instead we'll continue to see Microsoft position a multitouch screen and detachable keyboard against OS X, the very definition of oranges to Apples, and we'll continue to see people avoid compromises and embrace well thought-out, well-focused products.

  • iPad Air (with a keyboard cover if you're a heavy typer) for ultra-mobile modern computing.
  • MacBook Air for ultra-mobile traditional computing.

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Microsoft's new Mac vs. PC hyperbole

67 Comments

That's not true....the reason is that the people are just waiting for the useless overpriced apple product to be utilized to the max and then buy the surface pro as in the commercial, you can see that its much better and useful than apple MacBook air.

I totally agree that apple products could be less expensive. Really, I do. But anyone who calls a macbook useless never had one. If anything windows 8 is useless. And I have a macbook and a dell running windows 8. My aunt owns both a iPad and a surface. The surface is rarely used compared to the iPad.

I love my first gen Surface pro (got it refurbished at a good price). It is a lot of fun to tinker around with and is a good tablet and a good PC with pen input. But if I was going to spend $999 I wouldn't want a "good" hybrid device I would want a great device and I would have to choose the Air over the Surface 3.

I don't think MS needs to advertise Windows on a Mac, as it seems to be pretty popular (sales are up) without any advertising whatsoever (kinda sad for OSX that people want to put Windows on a Mac).

The Macbook Air is pretty awesome (even with a subpar screen) so that's a tough race to win. Just looking at that screen shot, I'd rather use the Air than the Surface as the Surface looks too cramped (the hands take up the entire keyboard).

p.s. it's good you took notice of the Microsoft v Apple ads as you missed the Siri/Cortana ads.

People have to use Windows still for some enterprise apps, and some games. Also, Office is still better on Windows.

I did miss the Siri/Cortonana ads. I'll check them out.

I use my mac at home more and more, and whilst there are still some backward applications that you have to use windows for, I can still do just as much on my mac as my windows lenovo.

Also the other thing that really bugs me about the surface, is that its priced as a high end laptop, but marketed as a tablet, but Microsoft often forget to say that you only actually get half or close to half of the disk space you purchase.. so for the money I would still go with a normal mac rather than the surface pro.. not to mention when you add the pricing of their accessories, you have already paid double the price of the mac air just to get close to it..

So because Microsoft is currently down against Apple, they should just focus on lesser competitors? That makes no sense. What if Apple had positioned itself against Linux in the early years of OSX?

Furthermore, the argument that you espouse (its not only your own) positions a subjective preference (you like Apple products/ecosystem better) as objective fact (Apple products/ecosystem are best). If sales are your evidence, then Apple should have just packed its Mac operation up back in '06.

I didn't say Apple products were better. I said people who like Apple products are unlikely to switch because Surface doesn't address the reasons why people who like Apple products like Apple products.

That make more sense?

Consider the two classifications as umbrellas under which all opinions regarding the matter fall. You said that Surface doesn't address the reasons people like Apple products, and listed reasons. I consider your reasoning subjective. I would counter the points you listed by saying that there are many more Apple users "by circumstance" than you are accounting for. I think the kind of user you outlined is an Apple enthusiast (I consider myself part of this segment). The non-enthusiast is far more susceptible to sway than I think your analysis takes into account.

I am a certified Apple-only user but I think the ads could be pretty effective against their intended audience, which in my opinion, is the relatively brand-unconscious buyer who has $999 to spend on a computing device.

The ads won't convert users who are already under Apple's spell, but there are way more people who don't pay as much attention to the tech world and can still be steered in a particular direction with a clever ad - regardless of it's flaws.

"Spell" is an interesting word to choose, as it implies lack of reason or logic in the decision making process.

I think both of you might be underestimating the level of consumer competence in the premium market.

Rene - I'm using "spell" in a positive light to represent those of us who truly appreciate diamond cut chamfered edges, the fresh smell of Apple packaging, and living at the intersection of technology and liberal arts. Like others, my love of Apple products is based on more than any ratio between price and features or specs. It's about the cohesive marriage of hardware and software backed by incredible design that makes me feel great when I use it. That's the spell I'm referring to.

As for consumer competence in the premium market, I'd argue that the price points for the MacBook Air and the Surface Pro represent the low end market for a notebook or "tablet that can replace your notebook." I think most people who are choosing between a Mac or a PC understand that $999 is the starting point if you are on the OS X/Windows fence, and I can see parents and college students being swayed by Microsoft's efforts here. That's all.

Your friend John Gruber sums this up nicely I think.

"MacBooks don’t have even close to a market share lead in laptops, and the iPad doesn’t have one in tablets, either — but Apple is the clear leader in both markets because they dominate the profitable high-end in both."

The market share metric isn't as applicable. I suspect you know this though.

Gruber is, as usual, wrong. I believe the MacBook Pro is the top selling notebook in the US and I know the iPad is the top selling tablet in the US.

I believe the MacBook Air outsells the MacBook Pro in the U.S.

If either are "best selling", it might only be in the over-$1000 segment?

Gruber is right. "Apple is the clear leader in both markets because they dominate the profitable high-end in both."

I'm not sure what you are arguing against.

You keep responding in what feels like a patronizing and dismissive manner, which makes it hard to discuss things with you in a productive manner.

Does Apple make more money off personal computer sales than Microsoft? That's an interesting question. Do we count the iPad? Microsoft is targeting away from iPad, so maybe not?

I'm not sure that is correct. I believe the Macbook Pro and the iMac are still the best selling models in the US.

I agree with much of your analysis -- it is futile to try and sell Surfaces to Macbook Air users. However, I think your interpretation of Microsoft's marketing strategy is mistaken.  My guess is that Microsoft IS targeting Windows users with its Surface promotion.

More specifically, it is targeting Windows laptop and notebook users who are thinking of upgrading. "You can get just as good as what Apple offers without migrating away from Windows" is the Microsoft message. Its commercials a few weeks back were targeted at Windows users thinking of migrating to iPads, but it quickly changed gears and is now targeting Windows laptop and notebook users thinking of migrating to Macbook Airs. That could be because Microsoft is only belatedly learning about the needs and intentions of its existing customer base, or because Microsoft has discovered that iPad's superiority in the tablet space poses an insurmountable challenge for Surface. Or both. Probably both.

If IBM's new generation of big data software being designed exclusively for iOS is successful in the enterprise -- to be released in 1-3 months -- then Microsoft's range for maneuver will narrow significantly. The value of its Windows franchise will be hit hard as some (unknown but positive) fraction of enterprise computer users switch to OSX to enjoy the benefits of Continuity (plus other superior features of OSX unrelated to iOS).

Interesting point. I think Microsoft should get into PC hardware business but the high end market. The PC manufacturers would never do anything innovative and competitive in the high end market. Apple not only popularised the Air / ultrabook / thin and light but powerful category but was also the first to reduce the category's price in 2010.

Increasing number of people now understand the concept of value vs cost and with the success of iOS, there is definitely a long-term threat to Windows of losing a chunk of market share.

They could use BILLIONS. It makes no difference. They have 60 to 90 Billion in cash reserves. What does matter is if in the upcoming years they can sway users back to Microsoft Products. The 1 to 10 Billion in losses will be made up very quickly if they can do that. Can they? Will they? Who knows. In computer software you can be #1 one year and next year on the bottom. All it takes is a hit that convinces people to switch. Only real difference in between pcs and mac now is software. The form factors are the same except for the mac pro.

Microsoft hides the Surface in the Entertainment division. Nobody outside of the company will ever know how much it makes or loses.

i traded in my surface pro (first gen) for a MBA 13, and it was the best decision I have ever made. Some issues i had on my surface: screen size was too small for laptop use (clearly this was addressed in the current Pro3), the touchpad was terrible, and resorting to touching the screen meant i had to reach farther and therefore made the whole experience less comfortable overall, sound was pretty terrible, and the screen/body were total fingerprint magnets, oh and the pen was useless. Windows 8 had its own issues as well, could never get image files from zip files to open properly, a big problem when working on my Nexus 5. the irony is that running adb worked better on my mac than on my surface.

The surface pro 3 fixes most of those problems.

All surfaces are great, but you're being too negative.

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everything he said was true, in relation to the first gen Surface Pro. your response was too defensive. I know you're here to fight for Microsoft, but you should try to be more balanced or people will just disregard your comments completely.

I think the first, and to a lesser extent, the third ads are directed at the ultra-light PC buyers. Yes, the ads show MBA, but, as you pointed out, for OEM partnership reason, Microsoft cannot go after the ultra-books directly. Microsoft might not convince many Mac buyers to switch, but the ads might help someone shopping for an ultra-light PC see the Surface as a viable alternative.

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Yea, I do think the Surface could replace my laptop, if I had one, that is. Haven't had a laptop in a long time, replaced it with an iPad when I no longer had a need for my portable computer to be able to compile code.

I'm not so sure the Surface could replace my tablet however...

Microsoft understands perfectly what you are saying, but they not aiming at OSX fans.

You miss a third category - undecideds; that is, people with (currently) no concrete preference between OSX or Windows. MS is trying to persuade these people that Windows 8 is as (or more) compelling than OSX.

These ads attempt to counter Apple's enormous mindshare, not to persuade Apple fans to switch - that ship has sailed - but to prevent the heretofore unthinkable circumstance of consumers choosing Apple, not Microsoft, as a default.

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The comments on the WP Central Article are pure fanboyism & they've got the cheek to call Apple Users fanboys. I was a long term Windows user since 1999, and I switched from my Windows Laptop to a Chromebook in January after Microsoft went after Google with the Scroogled campaign and switched from a Windows phone Smartphone to an iPhone 4S last October due to the lack of Apps that I got used to when I was using an Android phone (namely Hangouts, Google+, Play Music, Play Books and YouTube). My Google Nexus 7 (2012), Acer C720 Chromebook & iPhone 4S do everything that I do on a daily basis without all the bloat and viruses of a Windows Machine, would love a MacBook and iPad to go with my iPhone though.

I think I could be classed as a bit of an Apple fanboy though as I've got a 1st Gen iPod Shuffle, 2nd Gen iPod Nano and a 2nd Generation iPod Touch as well as my iPhone 4S.

The thing that gets me is that the Microsoft fanboys on WP Central don't seem to know that there is probably a good chance that the WP Central team will probably use MacBook Pros or MacBook Airs. Macs are industry standard for the print media be it Online like Mobile Nations or Offline like most News Papers and that's not going to change to a Surface Pro any time soon.

Apple fanboys (I mean users) don't buy MacBooks because they're expensive and look expensive, it's because they know that Apple will support their expensive Laptop for as long as they can hardware spec wise and not dump it with every release. Since Microsoft released the Surface Pro line of hybrid Tablets in 2012 they've brought out one a year with two running Windows 8.1 as standard, where as Apple release a MacBook every other year to every two years (except with the Mac Pro which only just got a revision late last year which is four years after the original Mac Pro was released in 2009).

Roland

Microsoft fanboys are cool. Unlike the Apple ones, they don't follow the hype and have good reasons to do so.

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My iPod touch 1st gen which I bought was the biggest mistake that I ever made.... They stopped the support very soon..... And the next iPod touch was soon launched.....i was left with an expensive I iPod touch with no updates. So you cannot always say this.

This article was too negative. It focused more on the little things that no one cares about and turned them into a big deal.

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You're right. OK. But, still. I like happiness. Like when ppl are mean to BlackBerry I feel sorry for them because they are so small and never did anything. Maybe because Apple is so much ahead you should be sorry for Microsoft and instead of negating them you should give them reasons why not to switch and that people with Macs are happy enough. And Ik Microsoft gets rowdy about things but that's how they wanna get the message across.

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The commercials are getting some peoples attention but probably only the ones who wouldn't pull the trigger on a Mac anyway. I know a guy from church who is chomping at the bit to bet one. I call him the "Anti-Apple Apple user." He has an iPhone 5 but he's switching to android (for the last 1.5 years) because he finds apple products unimpressive, overly expensive, and hard to use. Every time he sees me he makes it a point to try and start a discussion at to why anything other than Apple is better than Apple thought he daily uses Apple products. Same thing with his iPad but he also wants a new laptop. He's got money to burn and thinks the surface is going to solve his problems. He's an old school network engineer and never had an Apple product until the original iPhone. For him it may work but he's long since retired and thinks that me and another guy who is an even bigger power user are fools for investing in Macs. But, to each his own. Maybe it will maybe it won't.

I still think Microsoft is leaving money on the table. They still have the majority if the PC market, so they are not the underdog here. Since that user base is already in place, why not build on things they are using in those pc's? I've always envisioned a truly touch optimized version of office. One that works seamlessly with a desktop version, and seamlessly on iOS and android. Maybe that's too much to ask, but office and enterprise keeps Microsoft rolling in dough. Just follow the money.

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This article is a bit mean spirited. I personally think that the MBA (and ultra books in general) are a lot better than the Surface, but it doesn't mean that the Surface is a terrible product. Maybe the Surface works for some people? To each their own.

Yeah. Same here. Macs are great. And so are Surfaces. Microsoft might want you to switch, but Rene, next time maybe you could like say it's a great tablet - but sometimes there are those moments when a laptop is easier. Not completely shredding it apart. Ik that's what you're paid for, but you're a good writer - surprise your boss with something that will make everyone happy.

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During the event where Apple announced that Microsoft had bailed them out of financial peril: ‘We have to let go of a few notions here. We have to let go of the notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft needs to lose.’ - Steve Jobs (http://www.wired.com/2009/08/dayintech_0806/ )
These articles and their subsequent flame wars are entertaining but in the end of the day pretty useless. Apple and Microsoft need each other. Apple peddles the stuff that Microsoft haters want and what they can get away with bundling because they're not considered a monopoly (yet). Microsoft peddles their platforms primarily and drums up ways to remind everyone that they are still they are still thinking of asking for your money (like throwing hardware options at you). At the end of the day the real loser is the consumers that pay the Apple tax or buy into the next "great" product from either that will be outdated as soon as the next financial cycle starts for their stockholders.

LOL! Real loser is the customer who buys a product from Microsoft or Apple? Keep your money and lose to inflation or give it to the banks so that they can play with the economy

i've been following this *Surface vs. MBA" thing for a couple days now, and that's only because my boss just recently bought a surface to replace both his iPad and is aging touch/stylus enabled Thinkpad.

I am an architect (the buildings kind), and if any profession can see value in using a stylus, it's us...along with graphic designers amongst other design-professional. Being able to make hand written notes and sketch ideas directly onto a presentation or a PDF or photo with something as well designed as the Surface stylus is something I would love to do on my iPad, but it's just not a great experience.

The only thing that comes remotely close to this is 53's and/or the new stylus Adobe is now using. I know there are many solutions for this on the iPad, but nothing that natively works as well as what Microsoft has done with the stylus on the surface. I've tried various solutions for this on the iPad and I haven't been happy with any of them. I just got back notes from a presentation and the notes he made on our PDF were so natural looking.

I've been dreaming about a *native* solution on the iPad ever since the first iPhone was released. Even back then i could see a need for a notepad sized device that you could simply and fluidly use just like a real paper notepad, but the iPad falls miserably short on this. What do many people do in a office setting at meetings? What to students do during class? They take notes with paper and pen. They have print-outs and make chicken-scratch on them for later reference. They make doodles on the margins. Yes, I know many people now type notes on a laptop now but i'm old enough (and my typing is slow enough) that that is just something you don't regularly see in my profession.

We are so ingrained to use some form of stylus/pencil/pen...some sort of hand-held writing and drawing implement that the iPad just can't replicate what i've seen from the Surface. What i've been saying for many years now, if the iPad doesn't work like a real paper notepad, you'd never replace the notepad, and you'll never fully integrate the iPad to business and education. Just think of all the teachers out there that could grade papers with a stylus as fluid as writing with a pen on paper. Kids could send their homework in digitally and the teacher could write directly on the digital papers or even (math & science homework).

Third Party Apps and Styli have come a long way in the last couple years, but it's not anywhere near as easy to do than on the Surface. I'm no lover of windows, I use windows in the office and i use parallels on my Mac to work with legacy software for my profession that just doesn't work as well on the Mac (AutoCAD, which is a whole other topic). I'm very, very happy with switching to Mac and there are many, many things OS X does better than Windows. But, I work in a profession that is pretty much dominated by the PC and probably will be for the foreseeable future. Too many professions that need to collaborate, who all need to be running the same platform and the same software. Architects, Structural Enginneers, MEP Engineers, Civil Engineers, etc. AutoCAD is available in Mac form but there are many legacy features that are missing...many deal-breakers. So why bother? Revit isn't even on Mac yet (although i haven't looked recently so I could be wrong).

One thing though where I can see a stylus being of great use is with the native app "Preview". The simply mark-up tools in Preview would be the perfect fit for the iPad even if you were forced to use text boxes and finger gestures for annotation. I've made whole Multi-page PDF presentations over the last 6-8 months in Preview, with annotations and graphics. It's faster and easier to use than Powerpoint or Keynote. It may not look as polish as a Keynote presentation but many times in my field Preview works great and it's gets the message across much quicker and easier. What i love the most about preview is that it's so universal. It's probably my favorite Mac-only app. It can read just about any document, and you can make mark-ups and annotation and print to PDF all in one App. I love this app, and i think it would be great with a stylus and and iPad.

If Apple could come up with a "Magic Pen" and port Preview to the iPad...as well as developing the Notes.App to allow doodling and hand-writing, they would really have a solid Business solution. Even more-so now with the Mark-up tools we seen coming to the Mac, and App extensions. They would really have a powerful business solution with this. Think of all the managers and Higher-ups that just make marks on a printout. Or if they do it via email, the lousy notes scribbled on with MS Paint or the Mac equivalent, not to mention the over-descriptive and cryptic comment via email because they can't simply point or speak what they mean. Granted Mark-up in OS X 10.10 will help a great deal for this but it would be even better with a stylus.

The other though i recently had about *IF* Apple should ever make a stylus and hand-writing/drawing on the Mac...what if the Trackpad was in some way part of the solution? What if this "Magic Pen" could be used to draw directly onto the trackpad for writing and drawing? Kind of like the Waacom solution but fully integrates so you don't have to lug a huge tablet with your Mac if you're going to a meeting and need a quick, integrated solution.

I agree that Jobs's comment "we're already born with 10 styli" is a valid argument with respect to the User interface of iOS and *other* Apps within IOS. but for specific tasks, a man-made stylus is key. We learn to write and draw when we're old enough to pick up a pencil...at least I did. I think Jobs was dead wrong about his comment with regards to using the iPad for business. His focus was much too narrow. This lack of stylus thing is the ONE AND ONLY feature i wish was added to the iPad and (with possible trackpad integration) not the Mac.

My comments on the rest of this article...
The idea of comparing the Surface to the MBA is kind of silly, the Surface is a tablet with a Full OS, that's trying to be a Laptop. The Air *IS* a laptop. If you go to MS's webpage for the Surface they compare it to the "13" MBA. That is really misleading because the Surface is a 16:9 12" tablet. And all the comparisons where MS claims the MBA is lacking, are all things the iPad can do (except for the stylus part). And the specs are misleading too. They say the Surface with keyboard attached is 2.4lbs and the MBA 13" is 2.96 lbs. But if you look at the weight of the 11" MBA, it's actually 2.38lbs. So MS's argument is much less dominant when you look at physical size/weight with the 11" MBA (which IMO is a more accurate comparison). And if you look at storage on the Surface, it's linked to the Chipset. So you can't get a 64gb surface with a i7 intel chip. And if you price out a MBA with the same specs as the Surface, the Air is actually cheaper in most cases i've tested. And the Air is a real Laptop. MS's website even has to make a full page argument for how they think the surface is comfortable to sit on your lap. I just had to laugh at that.

In general, agree with this post, and yeah, MS's argument is a little lacking in focus. But, there is one thing from the Surface we can all learn. People in an office setting will slowly adopt this, just hope Apple and come up with much smarter answers to some of the deficiencies of the iPad in business. Enterprise solutions and IBM is not going to solve this. It will need to be a much deeper integration.

Anyway, that's my verbal vomit for the day.

For those of you Microsoft fans, let me share my experience. At work, I have a new Dell desktop, running Windows 7, my company's server is Microsoft Exchange, and my main app is Microsoft Office 365. I could not get Outlook to work, and neither could our IT guy or the Microsoft Support staff, I just got shuffled around to "the people who specialize in my problem." I gave up. I bought a MacBook Air, and literally in one minute I was able to set up Outlook 2011 to the Exchange server at work, wirelessly. What does it say when an Apple product seamlessly connects to Exchange while three Microsoft apps cannot?