I was pretty excited when Microsoft’s Windows Surface tablet product line was announced. The features sounded like what I’ve been looking for since I owned a slate Windows XP tablet made by Motion Computing in 2004. The ports and capabilities seemed halfway between a power user’s laptop and an Android tablet. External storage, media connection, a nice screen, and wow did that smart cover meets keyboard seem great. I really liked the Asus Transformer Prime’s keyboard / battery combo, and I figured a well-powered Windows tablet might finally bring touch computing to the masses.
Everyone knows that the iPad is the most prevalent tablet in the market space. What most people don’t know is that the average income of almost half of iPad-owning households is over $100,000. Given that the combined income of most American households is in the $40,000 range, the iPad is not something that’s purchased by your average Joe.
I think that’s a shame. I’m a bit biased since part of my job is mobile device usability and user experience, but touch computing is the future, and the ability to have a power, capable, lightweight personal computer is something more people should have access to.
The sales of the Kindle Fire and to some extent the Google Nexus 7 both indicate that people find the iPad’s price point to much to bear, and I feel that as soon as the affluent get their fill of the iPad we may see sales of the 10″ model flatten out. As an aside, if Apple releases a smaller tablet as rumors indicate we may see a big surge in personal tablet ownership.
So, a big factor in average Americans owning a tablet is cost. Hell, even in homes with good incomes a lower priced tablet is welcome: there are four people in our house who want to use tablets. If we had just one iPad that would make for some contentious moments on the couch.
Instead, we have an old Barnes and Noble Nook that I rooted to run the Android Gingerbread operating system, two Kindle Fires (both rooted and running stock Android), and a Nexus 7. Total cost: $750 for four devices, or about $150 more than what I paid for my iPad.
Why all the harping on price? Because Android has a pretty good handle on the lower-cost end of the spectrum. Apple is obviously kicking the balls off of any cat that approaches the premium tablet space. That doesn’t leave a lot of space for Microsoft and its hardware partners with the Surface tablet line.
Just to recap, there are two types of Windows tablets. The lightweight version, named WindowsRT, only runs the Metro interface and is powered by the same processors as most Android tablets. The Windows 8 Pro tablets use laptop-grade components and can run Metro apps as well as regular Windows programs
I knew the Windows 8 Pro line would be out of the price range of normal tablets. Indeed; it seems that they are competing on price with ultrabooks and premium laptops. That’s a little disappointing, but to be expected. If Microsoft really wanted people to adopt “serious” tablets they would have releases the Windows 8 Pro line at around $800 instead of the rumored $1200+ prices from manufacturers like Acer and Asus.
That leaves us with WindowsRT tablets. Even though most of the announced models have storage capacity, processing power, and external output capabilities more akin to a laptop than, say, the Kindle Fire or iPad, I feel like they’ve priced themselves out of the market.
Consider: the WindowsRT tablet without a keyboard is $499. That’s the same price as the base iPad. This is instant game over. “It’s the same price as an iPad,” people will drone, and next thing you know they’re going home with a white box with an Apple logo on it.
Once you add the keyboard you’re up to at least $599. At this point who cares if the WindowsRT Surface tablet is better than an iPad — it’s more expensive. People that can by an iPad-priced tablet will buy an iPad. Yes, there will be Microsoft fanboys and IT people who will buy WinRT tablets, but I’m looking for a bigger piece of the pie here. The real growth for tablet sales is in the more mainstream parts of America, not the nerd elite.
What’s worse is that Microsoft’s overpriced offering is still less than the rest of the WinRT tablet manufacturers. Most of the tablets seem to be priced at around $599 or more.
Microsoft dropped a huge opportunity by pricing the RT tablets so close to the iPad. The price for the base model should have been $299 or $349 at most, with $249 an absolute game changer. The keyboard version should have been priced at $399.
I don’t know if Americans could swallow a $400 tablet — as most non-tablet owners feel like they are secondary devices. I sure as hell don’t think they will ploink down $500 or $600 for one. Otherwise they’d just buy an iPad.
Apparently all of the pre-orders for the WindowsRT tablets are sold out. What’s not clear is how many pre-orders were available, or how many of those were bought by corporations looking for test models and/or better ways to control tablets on their networks.
We’ll see how successful Microsoft’s latest foray into touch computing will be, but with the pricing and sales channels as-is I feel like we’ll be calling them the Blackberry of tablets.