Microsoft Surface and Apple iPad mini – what does it mean

Update: If this topic interests you at all, read Marco Arment’s piece on his visit to the Microsoft Store…

Obviously, I don’t have all the answers but in this case I have a strong hunch.

Let’s start with the new “tablet” from Microsoft, the Surface RT. If the reports I read (Gizmodo, Wired, AnandTech) have any truth to them – and why shouldn’t they – I think this device is dead in the water. You want three bullets? Here you go:

Price: 620$ for the device including the cover (which you need for typing, and it’s obviously the USP according to the ad)? Is Microsoft out of their mind? You can’t compete with iPad, the top of the class incumbent by putting out a device that costs the same or is more expensive. You need historical proof? Remember HP TouchPad?

Software: Robert Scoble said it often enough: If the software is of no use, it won’t fly. Not that he is always right, but he is in this case. The Windows app platform obviously doesn’t have the sheer number of apps to compete with Apple. But there is no Facebook app? No Dropbox? Kindle unusable? (This comes from the Gizmodo piece) What am I supposed to do with the Surface, work on spreadsheets only?

The cover: Go back in time and remember how Steve Jobs presented the first iPad. He sat down in this black leather chair on stage and started browsing. And what is the activity people use their iPad for most? Surfing the web, on their couch or somewhere where there is no flat surface. And then it turns out, that this oh so great detachable keyboard doesn’t work as well when  it’s not lying flat on something?

Dead in the water. And just to complete things: Have you ever started a new job and gotten an old keyboard? Have you experienced what kind of germs and whatnot collect there? Sure, you love your friends, but do you really want to switch your typecover with the one that bites her nails, eats apples or munches chips all day or the one picking his nose? I wouldn’t.

Other competition?

Having established that Microsoft Surface is no competition, I thought that Phil Schiller did a great job showing that even the iPad mini stacks up amazingly against the competition, especially in terms of ‘actual screen real estate’. 30% more in portrait and 60% more in landscape is gigantic. If they manage to put that in an ad and not the cute but silly Garage Band clip they’ll be fine.

But my hunch says the following: We have seen the beginning of the end for the original iPad as we know it. In two years time, the mini will be the regular and the bigger one will be called Pro. The small one will be ubiquitous and the bigger one will have business uses at best (maybe they’ll even discontinue it). This was a typical Apple learning curve. They needed to get the experience right and they did. They wanted to go smaller from the get-go but couldn’t. They didn’t have the technology yet. Now they do and yesterdays updates prove their technological prowess. Apple is so far ahead of the competition in terms of combining engineering with software it is ridiculous. Laugh all you want about the exaggerating attributes they use in presentations but be warned (again, this is just a hunch): This line-up update – remember they also updated the bigger sized iPad – gives them even stronger foot-hold on the tablet category. And the iPad mini will be the silver bullet for all those consumers who don’t have an Apple tablet yet.