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Surface vs. iPad: The weight of the world on Microsoft

Tom Kaneshige | June 21, 2012
Will Steve Ballmer risk it all in his quest to unmake the iPad?

"With Office alone, it could make the iPad look crippled," Enderle says.

But Office alone won't win the tablet wars; consumers will tally the final decision. Think I'm wrong? RIM tried to court the enterprise with PlayBook and that didn't turn out too well. In order for Microsoft to woo consumers, though, the company will have to embrace a no-holds-barred advertising campaign. Cute, aimless commercials such as the one with Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld won't cut it.

This means spending the necessary funds to run compelling, creative attack ads on the iPad. Surface ads should call out the iPad as a beta product. Ads should point out that iCloud is simply a means of locking in users. Ads should aim to be revolutionary, much like Apple's famous "1984" television commercial promoted the Macintosh against Microsoft.

While comparative ads might be frowned upon in some countries and downright illegal in others, Microsoft will need to go on the offensive with the kind of hard-hitting comparative ads used by politicians in a pitched election battle. Microsoft went on the offensive against Macs a few years ago with its 'Laptop Hunters' TV spots, but will have to be tougher against the mighty iPad.

"Microsoft needs to pound Apple," Enderle says. "The iPad is still a pretty limited product, a netbook without a keyboard. If Microsoft can get people to see it that way, then the iPad can go the way of the [ill-fated] netbook."

Apple won't be watching passively from its newly planned spaceship campus in Cupertino. In fact, Microsoft gave Apple good lead time - perhaps too much lead time - by spacing Surface's announcement this week with shipments in the fall. Apple, of course, doesn't extend rivals such courtesy; availability of new Apple products comes within 30 days, sometimes 24 hours, of the time of announcement.

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In Surface's favor, the iPad isn't as entrenched as most people think. Early adopters who tend to buy tablets love to chase the latest shiny gadget-and Surface is just that. Also, PC users sitting on the fence with tablets might be more inclined to purchase Surface because of its strong similarities to laptops.

All of this will depend largely on a well-executed, well-funded marketing blitz.

Make no mistake, Microsoft is at a turning point with Surface. "This has got to work," Enderle says. "If it doesn't work to a very high degree, Microsoft ends up with a very smaller company or certainly one with a lot less influence."


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