Jesus Diaz over at Gizmodo has a piece up entitled "Microsoft Surface Just made the MacBook Air and the iPad Look Obsolete". I know what you're thinking: "Josh is such an Apple Fanboy. Of course he couldn't stand for such blasphemy!" And it's reasonable for you to think that's my reaction. True, I think the article misses the mark, but not for the reasons you might think.
I was actually hoping he might be right, or at least that Microsoft had actually created a real competitor for the iPad. The iPad was released in 2010 and has totally dominated the tablet market ever since. In many ways, Apple created the tablet market, at least as we know it today, and there has yet to be a real competitor. As an Apple Fanboy, this makes me feel really good about being in Apple's camp (and owning Apple stock); as a technology consumer, it's kind of frustrating.
We need the competition
We really, really need good competition to keep things moving forward. In fact, if we consider the cell phone market before the iPhone was released in 2007, we see a really good picture of what happens when the incumbents get complacent and stop competing with each other, or start competing exclusively on price. By 2007, most cell phones were just the same old cell phones, created to enable service providers to continue selling service and text messaging plans. The cell phone market had become sort of like the "razor model", where the cell phones were basically free and the service was an expensive recurring fee that service providers could collect (the service being the blades).
Then the iPhone came along, and we've had five years of furious competition among manufacturers, including some actual obsolescence of brands and companies (Nokia and RIMM being the latest apparent casualties in the war). Apple showed that there's money to be made by competing on quality, and phone manufacturers immediately started going after that money.
Five years on, we're still looking for that iPhone killer
There have been many, many such articles about the next great phone. Remember the Atrix? The BlackBerry Storm? Storm 2? The first Droid? The Droid 2 (I think they've made four of them now)? The new Razr? That's just in the past couple years. There's even this piece about Motorola's coming iPhone killer (beware manufacturer marketing hype). What ever happened to that? The EVO? Lately, we have the Galaxy S and its progeny, which seem like decent phones, but have yet to really dent Apple's market share or profits.
Despite all these potential iPhone killers, the iPhone is still alive and well, selling more and more units every year. My point is that these are pretty good phones, but that calling them iPhone killers, or claiming they'll make the iPhone obsolete has proven to be blatant hyperbole. The manufacturer says it's an iPhone killer, makes a bunch of promises, but then the phone is actually here and everyone forgets about it, starts making excuses for it, and eventually moves on to the next big thing.
Jesus just got duped by the hype, and possibly an urge to publish good linkbait
So the idea is that Microsoft, having failed to beat Apple in the phone market, is moving into the tablet market and hit a home run on their first swing? They suddenly figured out how to beat Apple at the tablet game and made the iPad obsolete on their first try? C'mon.
How on earth could Jesus possibly know that? Most of his article is just nitpicking small things that he doesn't personally prefer, as confirmed by a Bingo Clash review. He doesn't like some of the skins in the apps (I agree with him there). Windows 8 doesn't have those skins, so Surface is better? An unreleased OS on an unreleased device has defeated iOS by simply using better skins in some of the native apps? Who knew it was that easy? He also spends a lot of time talking about how amazing the keyboard/trackpad is, although he hasn't used it yet (because Microsoft hasn't let anyone use it yet - there's definitely nothing suspicious about that, right?).
All he's really doing is taking Dieter's Ten Principles, loosely applying them to a vague device, and then firing ad hominem attacks at the iPad. I think it's a shame he spent so many words writing about the Surface when he really doesn't know anything about it except what the Microsoft Marketing Department told him. If we're comparing marketing copy, can anyone beat Apple at anything right now?
All previous iPad competitors have failed despite great hype
Comparing a real device to Microsoft's new unicorn device's marketing and announcement is just kind of silly. Companies have spent millions of dollars hyping their devices as the next big tablet, but none have delivered (not even close). The Playbook (look at the "No Like" section for more on its dearth of apps 1), Galaxy Tab (Samsung's best shot after two years of trying) and Fire (that review was six months ago, and the Fire has since fizzled) have all failed to have any real impact on iPad sales. So why take the bait on the Surface?
In 2010, Jesus wrote a very similar piece on the iPad (applying Dieter's Ten Principles to the original iPad). His main beefs were the lack of a stand, fingerprint-showing display and aluminum back. I assume the Surface will have fingerprint issues (I'm not sure) since it is also controlled by touch. The iPad's Smart Cover (released with the iPad 2) is a really clever stand that is also a cover, but the iPad's back is still aluminum. Of course, I don't think there's any way he can know if the back of the Surface will be durable enough that he can just drop it anywhere as he wanted to do with the iPad in 2010. So Microsoft may address Jesus' issues from the 2010 iPad, but the iPad has come a long way since then. The Surface isn't competing with the original iPad, it's competing with the "new" iPad.
I want to believe, but I can't get past the cries of "Wolf!"
I want to believe there's a real iPad competitor coming. I really do. That would be good for me and other iPad owners because it would force Apple to continue innovating. But I don't see any evidence that Microsoft suddenly figured out how to beat Apple at the tablet game. They failed when they tried to compete in portable music players, and they failed when they tried to compete in phones. Odds are they're also going to fail to topple Apple in the tablet market.
Next time, I think Jesus should wait for the product to actually be released so he can see what the battery life is like, how it actually feels, whether the magical keyboard/trackpad case works, and what the price is. Then he can give it a whirl, and my guess is he could save 1,500 words claiming a unicorn has made a real thing obsolete.
- One of iPad's primary competitive advantages is the app ecosystem, and that magical keyboard and trackpad aren't going to bring down the App Store any time soon. They might be nifty, and the hardware might be fast, but unless developers actually create apps for it, what good is it? ↩