On the day the iPad was announced my first thought was to stick a thin keyboard on the case. Two years later Microsoft has implemented the idea exactly as I had imagined it on their new Surface tablet. I agree with Microsoft that it’s important for them to have a tablet with Windows, especially for the enterprise market. So they’ve come out with two versions. Surface is an ARM-based tablet that competes directly with the iPad. Surface Pro is an Intel-based tablet that runs the full Windows 8 OS. This appears to compete with ultraportables.
I assume Microsoft will ensure their hardware and price points are competitive with the iPad. The keyboard is a nice addition, but you can now get a thin keyboard case for the iPad. So the only thing to distinguish the Surface is the OS and software. Well, iOS has a ginormous lead in apps and developer interest. This may be insurmountable in the short-term. If a consumer has $500-$800 to blow on a tablet, which should they buy? I think the iPad still wins.
The Surface Pro is like the Asus Transformer Infinity, an ultraportable laptop with a detachable keyboard. However, the Surface Pro is the only tablet to run a full OS. I don’t think the typical iPad customer will care. It’s not for people who use their laptop intensively, like developers or video editors or designers. It’s for business users who use Office a lot, which is a large chunk of ultraportable customers. This is an important segment because Microsoft does not want the iPad to get a foothold in enterprises. MS owns the server and desktop business market. It should be easy to extend that dominance to tablets. The killer feature is how easy it is to deploy and manage apps within the enterprise. I don’t know how well Apple’s enterprise program works, but I believe Microsoft should easily trounce them by integrating with everything else in the enterprise.
So based on very little information, my guess is the iPad still wins against Surface. In the ultraportable market, the Surface Pro might grab a chunk of enterprise customers who are primarily Office users. Also, they will do ok with enterprise customers who want specialized devices for certain jobs.