Tablet Philosophy: Apple VS Microsoft

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Given Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) massive success in the tablet market, it would make business sense to enter the market with a similar product. But Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) decided to take an entirely different approach when it introduced the Surface tablet in October. Stumbling out of the gate, the Surface has been met with mixed reviews and only "modest" sales, according to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Has Microsoft made a mistake by attempting to redefine the tablet?

A Philosophical Dichotomy

During Apple's FQ4 earnings call, Tim Cook didn't show any resignation regarding his opinion of the Surface: It's a "compromised, confusing product," he explained. "I think one of the things you do with a product is make hard trade-offs. The user experience on the iPad is absolutely incredible . . . I suppose you could design a car that flies and floats, but I don't think it would do all of those things very well."

Apple continues to treat the tablet and the PC as two different devices. Tim Cook has expressed on several occasions that trying to make a product that played the role of a laptop and a tablet simultaneously would result in trade-offs in the user experience, which has always been Apple's primary focus. Microsoft, on the the other hand, sees the tablet as an opportunity to merge them with PC's--attempting to appeal to customers looking for an alternative to a tablet or a PC.

Which Philosophy is Better?

There is definitely a niche for a tablet with complete PC capabilities. In Wired Magazine's review of the Surface, they made sure to clarify: "Yes, you can use it as your only computer." Engadget claims that it is "A slate upon which you can get some serious work done." But TechCrunch raises a strong point: "The Surface RT isn't a tablet." In fact, TechCrunch's Tim Stevens explains, it isn't really a legitimate alternative to the iPad; instead, it is a "fine alternative to a laptop."

Whether or not the Surface is considered a tablet, Microsoft's idea of a tablet continues to raise eyebrows--especially in light of their recent announcement of the upcoming Surface Pro that is bigger, heavier, and priced at over $1,000 after the keyboard is included. Even worse, according to an official tweet from Microsoft, the device has just half of the battery life of the Surface RT.

Recognizing the trade-offs between tablets and laptops, Apple is able to offer a tablet with ten hours of battery life for just $499. At the same time, they are able to offer high quality laptops starting at just $999.

Microsoft's tablet philosophy isn't holding its own in the market. In fact, it's not even meeting Microsoft's own expectations. According to "credible sources" in the supply chain, they have cut their planned orders for the Surface in half.

There Is Room for Competition

Other companies have managed to compete successfully with Apple. Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) recognizes that tablets differ from PCs. In fact, they've carved out there own niche by giving Tim Cook's trade-offs the respect they deserve. Amazon has managed to focus on an even smaller audience than Apple by offering its Kindle HD as an inexpensive e-reader. As Microsoft builds bigger, heavier devices with shorter battery life, Amazon is appealing to avid e-readers across the globe by selling "devices near break-even [in order to] pack a lot of sophisticated hardware into a very low price point" (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Q3 earnings release). Unlike Microsoft's Surface, the Kindle Fire HD has been met with some success; It's now the number one most gifted product on Amazon.

The Bottom Line

Maybe Microsoft was just a little too slow to come to the market. Maybe their concept of a tablet/PC needs time to resonate with consumers. Or maybe Microsoft should follow Apple's proven approach to tablets: Give trade-offs the respect they deserve. Perhaps in an effort to appeal to the masses with an all-in-one solution, Microsoft has actually managed to compromise both the PC and the tablet. What do you think? Is the Surface a compromised, confusing product?


DanielSparks owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Amazon.com, and Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Apple, Amazon.com, and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

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