Microsoft's Surface Strategy Will Flop with Holiday Shoppers

Microsoft took a considered approach to its Surface tablets with Windows, MS Office and a keyboard. That's fine in a business environment.

However, with the Christmas shopping period fast approaching and really fun items on people's minds, I think Surface tablets will be the last thing anyone will be thinking about as a Christmas present.

Microsoft likes to think that the Surface Tablet is a full-fledged member of the modern tablet family tree: just like the iPad, the Kindle Fire HD, the Galaxy Tab and the Nexus. But, in fact, the Surface is orthogonal to the mainstream tablets. And so, one has to wonder about Microsoft's timing—for the second year in a row, the company has rolled out a business device for the holidays.

The problem I see with that philosophy is that that Surface tablets aren't really what people are thinking about during the holidays precisely because of that considerable business focus. When people think about gifts to individuals or to their own family, they think about fun things, like:

  • Watches
  • Jewelry
  • Smartphones, including iPhones (which is a kind of jewel, with its gold cover and sapphire lens, and all)
  • Tablets, including iPads and iPad minis
  • High Definition TV sets
  • iPod touches
  • Fun computer accessories

While it's true that there are some fun games for the Surface, this product isn't well known for that. It's known as a business computer. In contrast, shoppers think about how much fun it will be to give or receive a cool tablet that's also mainstream.

In fact, the mainstream idea is exactly what helped Microsoft in previous years in the business environment. IT managers didn't want to look like foolish renegades and buy Macs when their whole company (and its government contacts) were running PCs and Windows.

Now the situation is reversed. No shopper wants to disappoint a friend by giving them something awkward, buttoned down, non-mainstream and business-oriented as a gift.

Going With the Flow

It's a great experience going into one of the hundreds of Apple retail stores to buy a gift during the holidays. Plus, it's no accident that Apple's rumored iPad event will be on October 22nd, just in time for products to be ready for the holiday period. One can also gift an Amazon Kindle Fire HD or PaperWhite at Christmas, as a mail-order item for several good reasons.

  1. Everyone has an Amazon account.
  2. These Amazons tablets are priced affordably.
  3. The giver knows that the Amazon tablet will be used primarily for reading and for Amazon shopping. That's what these tablets are designed to do, so there's no disruption with the computing life of the recipient. Who doesn't need another faster, cooler eBook reader that also runs Netflix?

I imagine that Microsoft executives will think, "Hey, the holidays are upon us. It's time to put a festive touch on our Surface TV ads." You know, the ones that telegraph the idea that the iPad can talk and the Surface is mute.

I don't expect the Surface tablets to sell particularly well this holiday shopping season, no matter what Microsoft does. And that's just par for the course. Never bring a Windows notebook in disguise to a tablet fight.


Surface Pro 2 image via Microsoft.