Microsoft wants MacBook Air owners to trade up to a Surface Pro by trading in

Another sign that Microsoft is aiming its 2-in-1 device at the notebook market

Microsoft has launched a buyback program to try to get MacBook Air owners to part with their laptops and replace them with new Surface Pro 3 devices.

The offer, which started Friday and runs through July 31, will give customers up to $650 in store credit for a used Apple MacBook. The credit can be applied only toward the purchase of a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 in order "to get the maximum trade-in amount," the deal's fine print states.

People must bring a working MacBook Air to a Microsoft brick-and-mortar retail store for a trade-in estimate. The company did not provide any detail on the buyback amount, other than to tout the maximum, but noted, "Trade-in value may vary."

That statement will give Microsoft considerable wiggle room in setting the value of any MacBook Airs customers bring in.

Unless Microsoft plans on being very generous, the top value of $650 will likely be awarded only to relatively new 13-in. MacBook Airs that have been tricked out with the optional faster processor and 512GB of storage space, both of which are available as expensive upgrades from the base model at the time of purchase.

Electronics buyback company Gazelle, for example, will pay $628 for a 13-in. MacBook Air with a 1.7GHz Intel Core i7 CPU and 512GB of flash-based storage. New models of that machine retail for $1,649. But the lower-priced stock 13-in. MacBook Air -- which costs $999 new -- is worth considerably less at Gazelle: The company will pay just $413 for that notebook, which includes 128GB of storage.

Available Surface Pro 3 models start at $999. When equipped with a keyboard -- mandatory for turning the tablet into a laptop -- the out-of-pocket price begins at $1,129. With the maximum trade-in value for a MacBook Air, customers would be spending $479.

The new trade-in deal is the latest volley in Microsoft's one-way war against the MacBook Air, which the Redmond, Wash.-based company has repeatedly compared to its lighter, thinner hybrid tablet.

At the Surface Pro 3 rollout event last month, for instance, Panos Panay, the executive who leads Microsoft's Surface team, put a Surface Pro 3, minus its keyboard, on one pan of a scale and a 13-in. MacBook Air on the other. The pan with the Air went down, the one with the Surface went up.

Microsoft has pitted its Surface Pro against Apple's MacBook Air since the Surface first hit the market. In a minor media blitz shortly before the original Surface Pro went on sale, Tami Reller, who was then a co-lead of Microsoft's Windows group, made the case that her company's device was a suitable replacement for both a MacBook Air and an iPad because the Surface was less expensive than the combined cost of the two Apple devices.

Several analysts called the comparison illegitimate, arguing that the Surface Pro fared poorly as a tablet in one-on-one comparisons with the iPad. "This isn't yet a fair comparison... but it's a comparison Microsoft would like to make," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy, in February 2013. "The challenge for Microsoft is that the Surface Pro doesn't make a very good tablet. Yet."

Surface trade-in offer
Microsoft's buyback program will give customers up to $650 in store credit for a used Apple MacBook.
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