Microsoft Surface a true threat to the iPad

A funny thing has happened of late. The Microsoft Surface has re-emerged as a serious threat to Apple’s iPad.

I realize this is all blasphemous on my end. With me being an Apple stockholder and top tier fanboy. I am maniacal about the Apple brand. I still have my first Apple 2E safely stored away at my house. In a protective case, mind you. I also store my first iPhone in the dash board of my car. I don’t even use it, but I have comfort knowing it’s there.

So, for me to even ponder this idea is crazy enough.

Microsoft Surface
The Microsoft Surface is only in need of a brand to beat Apple.

Just consider what Microsoft Surface has on the docket. The first of which is the Surface Studio — a cinema display that can be transformed into a desktop studio (this has to be an art director’s dream). Microsoft also sports a Surface Book and Surface Pro 4.

All told, the Microsoft Surface products look as exquisitely designed as Apple’s, but with a greater dexterity (they are all both a computer and physical creative surface). What’s even greater than that is Microsoft’s decision to brand its devices to the creative professional. That, my friends, is how to steal market share.

Microsoft Surface just needs a brand.

This hasn’t always been the case. In fact, several years back I wrote about the Surface 2 and how its launch highlighted the unemotional. Back then, the Microsoft brand stood for over complexity (just the opposite of Apple). It was all about the gizmo, not the customer.

A year or so ago, I had brushed upon the idea that the Microsoft Surface was a wiser business choice over the iPad because it had greater functionality. But I still wasn’t committed to the idea, because even then, Microsoft hadn’t found it’s voice.

That isn’t the case any longer.

With the banality that surrounded the latest Apple event (where the reimagined MacBook was unveiled with the vigor of Eeyore), there is opportunity for the competition to make some noise. Apple still holds the throne because of its brand. But if Microsoft can take off its cloak of complexity and grab an emotional stance, it’s got the hardware to back it up.

Remembering the great Steve Jobs

Today marks the fifth anniversary of Steve Jobs’ death. If you are like me, it is amazing that it has been that long. And yet it feels like a long winding and dark road since I last saw him live at an Apple event.

Steve Jobs
The late, great Steve Jobs

This date is a seminal moment in the modern world of technologies and innovation. Steve heralded in the development of most of the gadgets and appliances on which we all rely. My MacBook is my rock. Without Steve Jobs and his insistence on simplicity, the OSX operating system would be a pipe dream. Even Windows would not be what it is without the relentless pressure of this innovator.

Certainly his vision for a computer for the rest of us, at a time when they were only for nerds and programmers, has come to fruition.

My iPhone has become the staple of my connectivity. We are no longer dependent on the clumsy Blackberry or complicated Palm Pilot to manage our calendar, phone and email, thanks to Steve and the wizards at Apple. I no longer own an iPod because all of my music resides nicely on one device. I even migrated to Bluetooth headphones last year.

We use the products that Steve Jobs created every day.

I am writing this blog while sitting in the United Club at O’Hare Airport. I am writing it on an iPad Pro. Meanwhile, my granddaughter is home watching a Pixar movie and I will FaceTime her from my hotel tonight.

It is easy to lament Apple’s lack of innovations since Steve Jobs left us. It is, after all, an incredibly high bar. But I must tell you my new iPhone and new iPad are head and shoulders above the first generations. My new Mac is smaller, faster and the battery lasts longer.

So I want to publicly thank Steve Jobs on this moment of reflection for a lifetime achievement that makes me feel incredibly humble in its wake. It’s much like looking at The Beatles and realizing you would have been immensely pleased to have penned even one of their tunes.

I still love Apple. I even like Tim Cook, who has tamed the beast and transformed it into a formidable business model.

I want to cheer again for blinding innovation and I am hopeful at every Apple event that the notoriously secretive company of geniuses is about to transform my life. Again.

Microsoft Surface 3 vs iPad

For the first time in a long while I am intrigued by a piece of technology that doesn’t have an Apple logo.

Sure, I’ve written about the Pebble watch with high praise recently and even proclaimed my desire to own Neil Young’s Hi-Def music player, Pono.

But this bit of lust almost feels like I am cheating on Apple.

That’s because my infatuation is with the new, Microsoft Surface 3.

Could this hurt the iPad?
Could this hurt the iPad?

The iPad hasn’t been revolutionary for a while.

The iPad Air 2 and subsequent iPads seem to be in a bit of a holding pattern. Not really improving drastically from model to model. Thumb recognition is nice and all, but it’s not reason enough to upgrade immediately. Is it for you? What’s been nice about the mediocre iPad upgrades is that I don’t feel tempted to buy a newer iPad. I can hold onto my current model for a while. It’ll do just fine.

This mindset, unfortunately, is problematic for Apple. Since it appears that it’s nearly maxed out with what the iPad can do, less and less people are buying them. Numbers don’t lie.

And so, when I see what appears to be a well-designed hybrid machine in the Surface 3, which also costs just as much as an iPad, there is the promise of a ripple in the market. The Microsoft Surface 3 vs iPad war may not come out completely in Apple’s favor.

The Microsoft Surface 3 meets business needs.

For as long as I can remember, I have wished my iPad would completely fulfill my business needs. A streamlined keyboard (because I can’t standing tapping away on my tablet screen) and a track pad or mouse (all of which the Surface Pro 3 has). I want a plethora of convenient options designed to work seamlessly with my device. Options so good that maybe, I could say goodbye to my laptop.

Instead, when it comes to the iPad, I have to buy all sorts of third-party parts that only partially work well, and worse yet, don’t aesthetically add to the beauty of the device. Why would Apple allow this to happen?

These days, when I look to the Surface 3, I see everything I want in a hybrid tablet, options, sadly, I can only hope the iPad would introduce.

The tablets of Amazon fail to catch fire

Should Amazon even offer a tablet?

A few weeks ago, Amazon announced a new line of tablets: the Fire HDX 8.9, 7, 6 and Kid’s Edition, as well as an updated E-Reader that Amazon is calling the Kindle Voyage.

I’m telling you these names for one simple reason — I anticipate you, like many of us, were just as unaware of the names of any of these Amazon products as me. These five new devices hardly made a blip on anyone’s interest radar because the brand architecture makes little sense. What’s the difference between them all?

What should Amazon do to sell this?
What should Amazon do to sell this?

That’s quite the opposite of the frenzy surrounding the new iPhone line and potentially updated iPad (slated to be introduced this Thursday) or the Samsung Note 4 or Galaxy Tablet. These products are on most everyone’s radar because, in part, their architecture is easy to understand.

This is not the case with Amazon.

In addition, Amazon has its hands in a bit too many cookie jars. Yes, the company has mastered the online retail experience, offering nearly everything you want (including its expertise). Yet, offering an abundance of mediocre tech devices on its main stage is unnecessary.

Take the Fire Phone, for instance. Amazon had high expectations for the device. The company set the bar high, pricing the device just as high as the iPhone 5S and Samsung S5. Yet, the public didn’t see the Fire as an equal. To date, the device has sold around 40,000 units prompting Amazon to quickly lower the price to 99 cents.

I wonder how many failed devices it will take Amazon to wake up? I’m reminded of the phrase: “Because you can should you?” No, unless Amazon adjusts its brand so it is a brand of services not products. Right now, that’s how consumers see its tech products, as simple delivery systems for its services.

If Amazon wants to be a brand about products that you hold in your hand, then a brand adjustment is needed to gain permission. And get rid of the crazy brand architecture.

Apple in the years since Steve Jobs died

Apple is still transitioning since Steve Jobs died in 2009

It has been a few years since Steve Jobs died on 5 October 2009. Remembering that made me think about the loss we all suffered that day. But, I also started to think about our larger relationship with the Apple brand that Steve founded so many years ago.

Steve JobsApple is still going through that transition. It has not yet found the emotional footing despite a consistent focus on great design and ease of use. Like many of you, I have bought a new Mac, iPad Air, and pre-ordered my iPhone 6 Plus since 2009. Certainly my interest in what Apple continues to produce is still there. But my love for the brand has diminished ever so slightly. My hunch is that yours has as well.

Apple has a big hill to climb. Maybe the Mount Everest of brand peaks.

When Steve was alive, the brand was personal for me. I felt that I had a personal relationship with Steve. In my need to brand my every purchase with my desire to self-define, I bought into the brand of Steve. I took pride in the company (Apple) that I believed help define me and trusted that my loyalty to Apple was a reinforcement of my trust in Steve’s vision. In fact, it was my personal identification (however egotistical that may seem) with that vision that made it personal (Read about how we use brand to identify ourselves here). When the rumor mill spun with news and myth about Apple’s next big thing I felt a little of the brand’s glow. When the stock climbed in value it was not just my stock portfolio that grew, so did my sense of justification with my branded loyalty.

If you asked me to state Steve’s vision bad then, I probably could not do it justice. It was enough for me to trust his vision and acknowledge that it was bigger than my poor power to describe it. Apple and Steve Jobs were one in the same to me then.

Today, the successful and growing brand is less complicated for me. Steve is gone. Sure I coveted the iPhone 6 Plus but not in the same way I needed the iPhone or the original iPad. I wanted the iPhone 6 for many of the innovations and updates but not for the emotional need to feel I was part of the Steve Jobs mythology. I really like the brand but I no longer love it. I miss the emotional tie to an individual vision and no corporate culture has ever been able to replace that intimate connection.

As a Brand man, I probably think more about this than the average guy. But I wonder if you think differently than I do. I would surly appreciate your opinion in comments. Did your connection with Apple change after Steve’s death? Do you have the same confidence in the brand that Steve elicited? Are you as excited to hear what’s next from the highly competent folks like Jonathan Ive or Tim Cook?

I’m still an Apple man. But if I only feel the brand’s vision is about a product rather than an idea, I expect that my fervor will continue to wax and wane.