Surface Win Says As Much About Apple As It Does About Microsoft (Premium)

As you may have heard, Microsoft's Surface beat out Apple's iPad in the J.D. Power 2017 U.S. Tablet Satisfaction Study. But this win is bigger than Surface, I think. And it says a lot about the state of innovation in the PC world these days.

Which actually makes sense when you think about it: Apple is fat and comfortable and wants to protect its iPhone economic engine. By comparison, the PC industry is beleaguered and is fighting for its life. Innovation doesn't come out of companies like Apple. It comes from companies that have something to prove, that are fighting for their very existence.

The last several years demonstrate this worldview nicely. All you have to do is look at what Apple has done in the wake of the iPhone---simply ape that same strategy over and over again in an increasingly expansive set of overly-familiar products---and then compare it to the amazing leaps and bounds we've seen on the PC side.

This battle is not about Surface Pro---which is the only Surface-branded tablet that Microsoft makes---vs. iPad, not really. It's about function vs. form. About productivity vs. consumption. And about a tool vs. a toy.

It's also not about the unbelievable reverse-justification that the Apple fanbase uses to excuse---sorry, "explain"---the 12 straight quarters, three straight years, of free-falling iPad sales. Which is that the iPad is so good, so well-made, and so functional, that users simply don't ever need to upgrade them. This makes me wonder why Apple's other products aren't so similarly well-made. After all, the iPhone Upgrade Program exists explicitly so that customers can upgrade this expensive device every single year. Are these people going to similarly argue that iPhones, Apple Watches, and Macs are poorly-made, and perhaps even by design? I think not.

Others argue that iPhones and other smartphones have risen to make iPad unnecessary for some, that big screen devices like the iPhone 7 Plus in particular make a separate iPad purchase less necessary. That's cute, but iPads are designed as that tweener device that can replace your PC or Mac, too, right? I mean, that was the marketing pitch. Surely, some body of users needs a larger screen and, optionally, a real keyboard. And surely that body of users---Apple fans, one and all---are just as willing to throw money at the company for a new iPad from time to time. Surely.

No, the reason people don't upgrade their iPads all that much, and the reason that no new iPad customers have appeared out of nowhere to pick up the slack, is that iPads are simply not essential. They are almost exclusively consumption devices. They are, to be a bit too unkind, toys. And that is true, too, of the iPad Pro, which is the most tentative half-step I've ever seen Apple make.

Put another way, the reason the iPad isn't more successful, and the reason this device fared so (relatively) poorly in the J.D. Power 2017 U.S. Tablet Satisfaction Study, is Apple. This company is now do...

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