Why the iPad continues to succeed where the Surface RT did not

Last week during their earnings report, Microsoft reported a $900 million write-down in relation to unsold Surface RT inventory. It's just over a year since the Surface RT launched, and yet despite continual efforts from Microsoft, including iPad baiting commercials, things don't seem to be going so well. There's sure to be several reasons behind it, but Nick Bilton at the New York Times makes a valuable point:

Today’s consumers don’t want options. They are impatient. They want to tear their new shiny gadget from the box and immediately start using it. They don’t have time to think about SD cards or USB drives or pens or flip stands.

The Surface RT didn’t allow that. Customers had to think about it.

The iPad is one of the simplest mobile computing devices money can buy, and accounts for some of its popularity. It runs iOS just the same as the iPhone and iPod touch and you get all your apps from the App Store. The only concerns when buying one; storage size and whether to go for a cellular or WiFi only version. You buy it, tear open the box and start using it.

Sadly, for the average tablet buyer, there's surely too much confusion surrounding the Surface. Top of the list; Windows RT or Windows 8 Pro. While there's a monumental price difference between the two, the fact it needs explaining at all doesn't help good marketing. I actually really like the Surface as a piece of hardware, but it is confusing if you're not someone in the know. The iPad doesn't suffer this way. It's just an iPad. No gadgets and gizmos to consider. Do average consumers even care so much for hardware specs?

It comes down to preference of course, but user experience is also one of the key differentiators. Example; "But, why can't I install Photoshop on my Surface RT, it runs Windows 8, right?" It's confusing. The iPad experience is familiar, and familiar comforting. Windows 8 is still confusing, it still requires some thought as to what you want to do and how you're going to do it. Windows is known primarily as being a desktop OS, a productivity machine, a computer. Surface RT isn't that, it's closer to the iPad, a more casual experience. But does the average person know that walking into a store?

We're suckers for simplicity. The whole "it just works" is a little cliche, but it's true. The iPad is simple, and it just works. If Microsoft is planning a successor to the Surface, I'm really hopeful it's more successful. No one device, one brand, can be everything to everyone, so we need the likes of Microsoft and Google to continue to push, continue to compete. Taking a $900 million write-down has to be tough to swallow though. It's an interesting discussion, and I'd like to hear your thoughts. What do you think sets the iPad apart as a success against the Surface RT? Do you think its the simplicity like I, or something else? Let me know in the comments!

Source: New York Times

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Richard Devine

Senior Editor at iMore, part time racing driver, full time British guy

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Why the iPad continues to succeed where the Surface RT did not

40 Comments

Lots of things set it apart from the RT. ease of use is definitely one. Another is the ability to use the same apps that a person bought for their iPod touch or iPhone. Apple's ecosystem is nothing to laugh at.

Most importantly, the iPad doesn't try to be a computer. I know some people are replacing laptops with it and are using creative ways to let it fill the computer's role, but it still isn't a computer, at least not when it comes to user experience.

Computers often intimidate people, especially the less technically inclined. An iPad really does just work, and it is hard to crash one with normal use. Installing an app or removing an app are simple tasks. There are not layers and tables of files to browse through.

Also, there is the back button. Though much maligned of late, the back button is key to the simplicity of the iOS ecosystem. If my (extremely) technology-impaired mother does have a problem, she knows that she can always get out of an app by using that button. Usually any problem she has can be fixed by hitting back, or worst case, powering down and back up.

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Totally agree. The back/home button is the reason my kids (3 and 6) can use the Ipad and Iphone with no problems. Brilliant piece of HUMAN design interface (as in how humans actually use stuff).

I think iOS has some kind of visual warmth that Windows RT or Android lack. The latter two are way too "authentically digital" which reminds the average consumer of bad desktop experience in the 90. Especially Stock Android. Blacks and dark grays can be stylish but they can be off-putting. IOS just glows. Simplicity plus a soft welcoming image. It's delight for the eyes. AMOLED burnt colors and black don't have that effect.

Windows 8 life tiles are an amazing idea but still they are way to busy even for a tech guy like me.

Apple knows how not to overload your cognitions. And that is important.

Maybe Windows, but Googles first attempt with the Nexus 7 posted some pretty rock solid results. 4.8 million in 2012, and looking to double that this year. Apple has had the iPad out for a couple years now and been able to tweak and market the hell out of it. Give Google a couple years and they'll dominate the tablet market like they now dominate the smartphone market. They're already doing it in Japan. Ultimately though, get what you like, all these debates are stupid.

There have been a ton of android tablets out for several years. I don't see Google taking the market by storm. The reason android is so pervasive isn't because it is so good, it is because every manufacturer except Apple, Nokia, and Blackberry makes an android phone. Prices range from free to multiple hundreds of dollars.

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Sure, and how long did it take Android to catch up to and eventually over take Apple in terms of phones. I'm saying we need to give them the same amount of time for tablets.

I have problems with your use of phrases like "dominate" and "take over" in reference to Android. It just makes you sound hopelessly biased and foolish.

Yes, Android phones have large sales volumes. This is especially true when you include channel sales and units that aren't actually being used as smartphones. However there is almost no other measure by which Android could be said to be "ahead" at all. To imply the way you do that Android is some kind of powerhouse that's vanquishing the opposition is really to distort reality.

I think that you're ignoring a world of facts in favour of some kind of personal fantasy of Android dominance.

Ask consumers what they think is the most desirable phone. Ask a business person which platform he/she thinks is "winning." Ask an engineer which phone he/she thinks is the "best." In *none* of those cases will the answer be Android.

It doesn't even matter if you disagree or if you answer this comment, because my point is really that your bias is clear and obvious and leads me and any rational person to already discount everything you could say. I have lots of friends that choose Android, and we have lots of interesting debates about the differences, but no one wants to debate with a cheerleader.

I think the most telling line of your post is the first, that you have problems. You're an idiot. Nothing I can say will make you believe anything? And you call me a cheerleader? You're an idiot. I have an iPhone and I'm on my 4th Mac. I'm a "cheerleader" for facts. Ask anyone who drives a car what car they think is better, a BMW or a Toyota and they'll all say BMW. How many more cars a year does Toyota sell. Just because BMW's are perceived to be better doesn't make it the case. They are higher performance machines for higher end customers. Just like apple is compared to android. I'd list facts about sales, but with your small mind you'd try to counter with shipments versus sales with the delusion that people who sell android phones keep mass stock piles of unsold phones somewhere, over and over, year after year. So you're right on one thing, I won't change your mind with facts because you're an idiot.

wow. you got me. all those facts, it's like an avalanche.
and I like the way that nothing you say is coloured by emotion at all.
you're brilliant.

The inly thing im colored by is your lack of understanding of the English language. I have no emotional dog in the fight, but telling you I have an iPhone and a Mac obviously wasn't enough information for you.

When you enter a civilized conversation and immediately attack the person, calling them biased, foolish and a cheerleader, you set the tone for how you want people to talk back to you.

See I kinda disagree with most of the article. I think it isn't a matter of simplicity when it comes to the kickstand and pen; actually these are very neat tools that come along with the package and I'm pretty sure no one will have a hard time learning how to use them. In fact, the iPad and iOS in general are stupid easy to use, so much so that people including myself don't like this over-simplicity. Apparently Apple got the message that people aren't that stupid after all and would like to use some basic gestures to navigate around the phone/tablet as in iOS 7.

So I don't think it's the over-simplicity that keeps everyone sticking to the iPad. I think it's the over-complexity and confusion that keeps a lot of people away from the Surface. If you pay hundreds of dollars more for the Pro for example, you get more storage and horsepower, but you lose a lot of battery life. Power users need power and want to be able to go all day with their devices. If that is a priority to them then they will have to settle for less power.

Microsoft started the Surface project and couldn't get it right so ended up shipping whatever they got to without perfecting it.

Re: "... the iPad and iOS in general are stupid easy to use..."

And Apple has proven again that stupid easy always beats stupid hard.

Re: "...people including myself don't like this over-simplicity."

Good thing for Apple that people including yourself are in the minority.

iPad is all about style and class; a status symbol. There was some inconvenience when I first started using it but couldn't complain as reaction of people around me seeing me carrying an iPad was more fulfilling than the issues I was having. Bottom line is Microsoft needs to change it's team responsible for Marketing & Branding.

re: "Bottom line is Microsoft needs to change it's team responsible for Marketing & Branding."

Right. Another re-org will fix up everything. Uh. Huh.
Have you heard the expression "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic"?

The Surface RT doesn't run a full version of Winows. It runs a POS version called Windows RT (previously known as Windows on Arm, or imply WoA). Surface Pro runs Windows 8, a full version of Windows that runs full Verson of Windows programs (such as Photoshop and Premiere).

Maybe it's not o much that people don't want choice, and more of people don't want crap? Why get a Surface RT, running a crippled version of faux Windows, when you can get the better Surface Pro.

Except that you're running the full versions of Windows programs on a 10.6 inch screen. And you can get a Wintel laptop with a bigger screen for much less $$$ than a Surface Pro + Type Cover.

Or maybe not. I hear Microsoft is having a fire sale on Surface models.

In a nutshell:

The surface promises to bring the desktop experience to the tablet, the iPad promises it won't.

Apple wins

An often overlooked problem is that the Surface is entirely designed to be used in the awkward landscape orientation. This makes it more of a netbook than a tablet. This is evident in the fact that they rarely show one being used as a tablet. Microsoft doesn't understand the idea of a phone or a tablet being used without a keyboard. They're old fashioned. They want to anchor you to the desktop where they have dominated for years.
And one thing I hate about Microsoft and Ballmer, they do not want to coexist with competitors, they want their Monopoly back, and I hope they fail miserably.

Excellent points about not being used in portrait mode and tied to a keyboard. While at times I use a keyboard for my iPad, it is not something I do every day. Good observations and thanks for sharing them.

Bingo!

I tried the surface in portrait, and it was just plain awkward. Beyond that strangeness some web pages didn't even display properly in this orientation. The extra weight and bulkiness plus the aspect ratio made this feel like a poor computer instead of a great tablet.

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re: "They want to anchor you to the desktop..."

Bingo. Microsoft can't (successfully) move out of their happy zone.
Desktop productivity in an office setting.
Still plenty of corporate IT clients to milk.

I'm definitely biased, however I find the Microsoft Surface much simpler to use than an iPad. I've used multiple generations of the iPad at my tech position and have never really been drawn to it. Those additional features of the Surface such as USB, kickstand, and etc that are mentioned are extremely beneficial. I do agree that the distinction between Windows 8 RT and Windows 8 Pro was a fair mess. However when looking at a tablet, I wanted a simple tablet with basic app functionality along with Microsoft Office; so for me the Microsoft Surface RT simply works. Also I'm not too heavily invested in the iOS ecosystem so independent of that I don't see much advantage to the iPad. I'm interested to see the next generation of Surface however as I think the tablet market is far from decided and I hope iPad, Surface, and Google Tablets keep on competing.

Re: "They don’t have time to think about SD cards or USB drives or pens or flip stands."

True. But the real killer is that consumers don't have time to figure out Windows.
At work, you might need to deal with Windows. If you get paid to do it.
At home, no. Forget it.

What's that? "Metro," you say? Supposed to make Windows touch-friendly?
Then why the clip-on keyboard? Why do you need to switch between keyboard
and touchpad and touchscreen so often? And why can't you install your
Windows Phone apps on your Surface RT? What? No Universal Binary?

The questions go on and on. Way too much confusion.
Microsoft needs to cancel Surface. You know, like Zune. And Kin.

Um, no, you don't need the keyboard for Metro. In fact, you don't need it at all, although it makes the desktop much easier to use. But Metro is certainly a touch-optimized interface and anybody who has used it would know that.

Re: "...Microsoft reported a $900 million write-down in relation to unsold Surface RT inventory."

Boom. There's the real Apple Tax.
Money wasted developing failed iPad (and iPhone) clones.

If Microsoft skewed the tablet version of Windows, this would avoid most of the confusion. If we had Windows 8 for the desktop and mOS (insert any other name here) for the tablet then people would know what they get, and we could also run mOS integrated on the desktop (windowed) rather than forcing desktop users to use a split personality.

iPad is simple? Ask the average person to send an email with a photo attached. According to a recent test, 9 out of 10 peopel will fail -- just like I did when I attempted it. iOS is confusing. But then, people buy these for web browsing, not for emailing. The problem with all Surfaces, RT or Pro, is that they are more than that. RT tries to be a smart tablet, while Pro is a computer. Perhaps the tablet really needs to remain ultra simple and incapable versus a computer to sell in any numbers.

Hahaha... Wow! My two year old nephew can email a picture on an ipad. Who are these people being poled?

Something in the article struck a chord with me.

Could one reason be that the ipad never tried to set unreasonable expectations about its capabilities? I think most buyers are under no illusion about what the ipad can or cannot do when they buy it. I certainly am not expecting to edit movies or do photoshop on my ipad. Steve even marketed it as the missing link between smartphones and laptops. It was clear he never intended for it to replace a laptop in terms of capability.

However, as a result of this tapered expectations, people are more pleasantly surprised when they realise they can do something on the ipad. Wow, I can edit movies using imovie?!? Never mind that my options are extremely limited and it takes ages to export. The fact that I can do so is already a miracle (to me).

Conversely, the Surface tried to market itself too hard, and so people are more unforgiving of any limitations, real or perceived. After all, it has to serve as both a good laptop and tablet.

I think that has always been Apple's plan. Make a great piece of hardware with an emphasis on the user experience. The combination of the two has allowed developers (and ultimately, consumers) tomuse iPads in ways that Apple never imagined.

I agree. Did Apple envision that teachers would be using their ipads to mirror their screens to Apple TVs in the the classrom, enabling them to move around while teaching?

The fact that I, a tech noob, can do this easily in my classroom show just how much effort Apple puts into ensuring their devices are as accessible to the common consumer as possible. If this was Windows, I would probably have to contend with missing drivers, interfaces not scaling properly and general limitations in the UI (which I am in fact encountering now with the promethean whiteboards in my school).

This is mostly true. However, it requires you to purchase Apple periphrials. If you don't have those or if Apple isn't in that market, like the whiteboards, you are usually out of luck.

I'd love to get some evidence for that dodgy '9 out of 10 people fail to attach a picture to an email' study. sounds like bogus or plain iPad-bashing to my ears. iPad is simple, hence the success. I do believe it is that simple. I know these anecdotes are all over the internet, but I can just reiterate; both of my grandparents are absolutely useless when it comes to computer or phone usage, we got them an iPad cos they live in Europe and in the blink of an eye I found our families iMessaging and Facetimining. It's become the main way of communication, and they are completely sold on it. They even started venturing safari/google for questions, for they know all they have to do is press the only button on the device to go back to the home screen. I guess thats what makes iPad stand out. It can be dead simple for the most tentative users, and at the same time offers a lot for 'power users'. I'm a student and my mini makes things so much more convenient, i wouldnt want to study without it. Also for those who want a tablet for gaming (eg kids) it is gonna be the iPad that has the edge, simply due to the unchallenged choice in the app store. Bottom line: thats where windows fails; delivering a product easy to understand, even define, and of course the shortage of content.

I think the point about landscape and keyboard is a good one. Expanding on that, Microsoft seems to think that everything is driven by Office. The first apps available for the Surface? Office. I have been an iPad user (and lover) for three years. And I often use MS Office at work. But I've never once felt the need to get Office apps on either of my iPads. Not only would it not be productive to use Word or PPT on my iPad, it would feel funny. Unnatural, as if I was dirtying my beautiful tablet.

The iPad is a media device, not a keyboarding device. We are moving (already arrived) to a future where media are much more than text, they are video, audio, animation, etc. A tablet is a great device for consuming and creating these "beyond text" media. Microsoft has lived for too long in the Office world. It sees the world as an Office nail, and the Surface is its Office hammer....

i think the simplest explanation is Windows in general. i work in a mixed office, half Mac, & half PC, & the PC users are always complaining about crashes, programs not working correctly, or any of a million other issues. when you try to build a tablet off of this type of system to start, people see it as intimidating. do i want a tablet to crash on me half a dozen times a day? do i want to worry if my drivers are up to date when im trying to run a desktop app on the go? do i want the headache of a full PC thats super portable, or do i just want something that works? sure a full running desktop would be great at times, but most of us have a desktop or laptop, & the appeal of a tablet, is portability, & ease of use. i don't need to worry about plugging in USB peripherals while im on the sofa surfing the web, checking my bank accounts, facetiming w/ my family. the tablet is a device to allow me to do these thing comfortable anywhere, in a streamlined fashion. if i really need to do processor intensive work, i'll go to a laptop or a desktop. the tablet as Apple sees it, is a simple mode of computing. im more likely to grab my ipad to check something out on imdb while watching tv, then walking to my laptop, im more willing to continue a conversation w/ my wife, while checking our finances at the dinner table. the simplicity, & frequency of use is how products like this should be defined.

I believe that Microsoft will continue to falter as they focus on feature "they" think we need/want and not on what "we" need/want. Maybe need/want is not the right term. I feel more like "want to consume" is more appropriate as Apple success is based on what customers "think" they want (ie sd storage, true multitasking, etc). My point is Microsoft continues to force feed what "they" think is better for us.

This is not rocket science people. The reason the RT failed is because Microsoft neglected many specs consumers like to compare like screen resolution, processor, GPS, camera, etc and then tried to price it at or above competition that had much better specs. Then to top it off, they embarked on a ridiculous marketing campaign that didn't showcase anything it could do other than going "click". It certainly didn't help that 8.0 wasn't ready for primetime and the app selection was poor.

But make no mistake, hiccups and all, RT laid the foundation of a quite impressive mobile OS. That is the future, not glorified app launchers.