Despite improvements, there are still 155 million reasons the Surface 2 is a tough sell

Surface 2

Microsoft introduced new Surface products on Monday and they offer welcome improvements to battery life, display clarity, overall performance and cloud services. The new Surface 2 is even launching at $50 under last year’s price for the original Surface RT. Yet after watching the event’s video replay — our Alex Colon actually attended the event and has hands on impressions — I’m still not convinced the Surface 2 will be a winner.

Why? I can think of 155,116,000 reasons.

Thirst iPad app search news reader

That figure represents the cumulative number of iPads sold from the tablet’s launch in 2010 to the most recent quarter that Apple reported sales. Those 155.1 million iPads represent the exact opposite of what Microsoft was touting today with the Surface 2: There were many sub-themes presented but the main theme was about productivity. Office is the key difference here but guess what: 155.1 million device owners have already shown they can get along just fine without Microsoft’s productivity suite on their tablet.

I asked Alex if my interpretation of the event focus was off-base. Sure, there was plenty on the new Tegra 4 chip performance, a nice demonstration of gaming with Halo: Spartan Assault and the improved front camera sensor for Skype calls.

But Alex agreed, saying: “It felt like every feature mentioned was punctuated by its usefulness in increased productivity.” I think Microsoft offered compelling reasons to upgrade from a Surface RT to a Surface 2. However, I don’t see a compelling reason for a majority of tablet buyers to choose Surface 2 over an iPad; or an Android tablet for that matter.

QuickOffice for iOS and Android

That’s not to say people don’t want to be productive with a tablet. However, there are plenty of ways to be productive with a tablet that doesn’t run Office, thanks to numerous third-party apps and alternatives to Microsoft’s Office suite.

So if Office doesn’t appeal to a potential tablet buyer, what does the Surface 2 offer that Apple’s iPad doesn’t? Although it’s important to have quality applications, the iPad surely has more apps. In fact, during the Surface event, Microsoft’s Panos Panay said something very interesting: “Last year we launched this product with 10,000 apps. This year I stand up in front of you and there’s 100,000 apps in the Windows Store right now.”

That sounds impressive, sure. Yet it’s the same number that Microsoft announced on July 1 of this year: 100,000 apps.

That’s telling to me: No growth suggests a lack of developer interest. However, give Microsoft some credit: Facebook, Flipboard and Mint are all coming to the platform.

But to my point: these apps are already available for competing platforms. When you buy an iPad, you don’t have to think about whether your favorite mobile app is supported, so again, why switch or consider a Surface 2 in the first place?

Transformer T100 Book

And if 155.1 million reasons wasn’t enough, let me offer just one more. A few weeks ago, I called attention to the Asus Transformer Book, a full Windows 8.1 tablet with included keyboard dock that costs $349. Like the Surface 2, it’s an all-day device with solid battery life. You essentially get the Surface 2 experience with the added benefit of full Windows software compatibility, which can help solve the app gap. And you get it for $100 less. How can the Surface 2 compete with that when the $449 starting price doesn’t even include the keyboard?

Am I saying the Surface 2 is doomed? No, I’ll let the market decide that. Besides there are a number of people who do want to live in Microsoft’s ecosystem and use Office on a tablet. But there’s an awful lot of people that don’t; just look at iPad sales if you doubt that.

Long story short: I loved the Microsoft Surface RT hardware and really like the improvements the company made with Surface 2. Hardware isn’t what caused Microsoft to write-off $900 million in Surface RT inventory, however. Far too many tablet buyers have moved on from the main appeal of Surface 2: Productivity using Microsoft’s software. And that doesn’t leave a compelling reason for Surface 2 to be a smash hit.

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