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.