When it comes to tablets, Microsoft is the scrappy underdog. The company shipped a combined 900,000 units of its Surface RT and Surface Pro slates in the first quarter of 2013, according to the latest global estimates from research firm IDC. Most of those were Surface Pro units -- the business-oriented model that runs legacy Windows programs -- that just began shipping in February. The numbers were good enough to earn Microsoft the 5th spot in IDC's list of the Top 5 tablet vendors, but a closer look at the Surface stats shows a less upbeat scenario.
For instance, IDC reports that combined shipments (from Microsoft and its hardware partners) of Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets in the first quarter totaled just 1.8 million. Remember, half of those were Surface tablets. Apple, by comparison, shipped 19.5 million iPads in Q1, and Samsung shipped 8.8 million of its various tablet models. To be fair, Microsoft's 5th place spot isn't bad considering the Surface's newness, and IDC reports that Redmond is in the process of widening the tablet's distribution.
Microsoft's tablet strategy faces several hurdles, however, including a troubling lack of interest from both consumers and OEMs in the ARM-based Windows RT platform. From a U.S. consumer's perspective, the Surface RT's $499 entry-level price may simply seem too high, particularly when competing large slates like the Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9-inch and Google Nexus 10 start at $269 and $399, respectively, albeit with less storage (16 GB each vs. 32 GB for the Surface RT). Apple's older iPad 2 starts at $399, and its 4th-generation full-size model is $499 and up.
If it's true that the Surface Pro is selling but the more iPad-like Surface RT isn't, what should Microsoft do? Rumors have swirled for weeks about the fate of Windows RT, many with an apocalyptic bent. Despite the fact that RT is a well-designed tablet OS -- ignore the relative dearth of apps for a moment -- its Windows Lite architecture is a big migraine from a marketing perspective. Perhaps it needs an identity -- or at least some UI changes -- that distinguish it from Windows 8. When store clerks have to explain the difference between Microsoft's two identical-looking tablet OS's, well, nothing good can come from that.
We've come up with 10 steps that Microsoft might take to boost interest in the next generation of Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets. Some suggestions are based on current rumors; others are inspired by current trends in the marketplace.
If you were Microsoft, what would you do?