Apple copied Microsoft with iPad, not the other way around

I’m guilty. When I read the reports of Microsoft’s Surface tablet this week, I did a big internal eye roll and thought, “Microsoft copies Apple again.”

Then today, I saw a very funny post and it reminded me that Microsoft actually came out with the Tablet PC in 2002; it’s just that no one cared at the time.

It’s a little like that great scene in the movie “Pirates of Silicon Valley,” when Steve Wozniak in the early 1970s pitches the Apple I prototype to an HP exec and the suit replies, “What on earth would ordinary people want with computers?” Well, OK. Maybe it’s not that similar, but you get the picture; the Tablet PC was an idea ahead of its time. It wasn't a touch pad, it relied on a pen, but it was small, flat and ran Windows XP.

I’m not sure if the Surface tablet will make a big splash when if finally does appear, considering Apple has such a tight grip on the market with its iPad. The iPad will make up 63% of all tablets shipped this year, according to IDC.

And, let’s face it, no company is better at spinning out successful new products based on old ones than Apple – iPod, iPhone, iPad, and the MacBook Air. They either make them bigger or smaller, and then crowds camp out overnight to get them.

Personally, I think if the Surface comes out at the price being tossed around in stories -- $600 and $700 -- it’ll see the same level of success as the Tablet PC, which suffered from I-can't-afford-you syndrome. Microsoft cannot depend on “competitive” pricing. Its only prayer is to undercut Apple, even if it’s at an initial loss. They need to get a foothold in the market because even PC fanatics buy iPhones today, and we all know iPhones are a gateway drug. I don’t care what users say about iPhones being harmless, empirical evidence shows they lead to bigger addictions.

I get that Microsoft is probably targeting the enterprise with the Surface. If you’re a big Windows shop, it only makes sense that you’d buy Windows-powered Surfaces for your company, but most companies today only supply a handful of employees with tablets: executives, sales people, and IT shops (at really cool companies).

In this age of bring-your-own device (BYOD) to work, it’s not the IT department’s decision what does or doesn’t get used for work purposes. Sure, IT can make it so you don’t get behind the firewall with your personal iPad, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be using your iPhone and iPad for storing personal, yet business-related documents, viewing email, surfing the web and communicating with customers and colleagues.

No. Microsoft will have to offer something that the iPad doesn’t and that’s not easy. The low-hanging fruit in this case is price. If they get that right, they may avoid being ignored like they were 10 years ago.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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