Chris Roberts

Apple vs Microsoft - The Surface Strategy

• Posted in Technology

It's been a big week for technology with, among others, Apple releasing a new range of iMacs, a new iPad (already) and the 7" iPad Mini. Microsoft also released Windows 8 and their first tablet - the Microsoft Surface.

The technology press were at all of the main events creating lots of content and stimulating lots of debate, much of which was pretty polarized. Those in the Apple camp were hailing the launch of the iPad mini whilst dismissing Surface as a failure before a single unit had sold. Microsoft's camp also had its fair share of supporters claiming that 'Apple is in trouble' and that the iPad's days are numbered.

The truth of the matter is that the Surface will not 'kill' the iPad. Similarly, the existence of the iPad will not cause the Surface to fail.

Most of the articles written about Surface have been direct comparisons with iPad. And that's understandable to a point - they are both tablet style devices. However, Surface has a cover which incorporates a keyboard and touchpad and an integrated kick-stand so that it can be used a bit like a laptop.

These devices are likely to appeal to slightly different audiences and each will choose the most appropriate device for them. Whilst they will undoubtedly be keeping a close eye on each other, I'm sure Microsoft and Apple are comfortable sharing the world-wide market for these devices (for now, at least).

However, sales of physical devices are only one aspect of the full story. The real battle is around the 'eco-system' - the software services that users are tied to through the use of these devices, and for which they'll pay additional money.

I'm certain it's no accident that Surface is likely to be a perfect tool for students. Whilst it can entertain through music, video and gaming it can also keep you connected through e-mail and social media. The big win, though, is that it comes with Word, Excel, Powerpoint and OneNote - everything a student is likely to need. Their first TV ad also seems to target this particular group of individuals.

The thinking behind the whole product (in my opinion) is to catch people early, before they've made a choice between eco-systems. It's the same tactic that's been employed by high-street banks with their various student offers for decades.

I know for a fact that if I were asking my parents for a tablet to take to university with me today - the Surface would be their first choice over an iPad (Largely because of the keyboard and Office suite).

From that point forward, all of my music is likely to come from XBox Music, my work will be synchronised with SkyDrive and my apps will all be purchased for this platform. I will be invested in the platform - both financially and, Microsoft will hope, emotionally. I will be far more likely to be a paying customer for life.

The long-term value of this for Microsoft will be much higher than the sale of the device itself.