Microsoft Thinks Tablets Are for Work

In a blog post written from Nokia's (NYSE: NOK  ) event, Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) VP of Communications, Frank Shaw, responded to Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) latest iPad announcement, accusing the company of playing catch-up, giving iWork away in a meager attempt to turn the iPad into a productivity device like Microsoft's own Surface tablet.

Shaw is right to some extent: The iPad, even with free iWork, isn't likely to become an ideal productivity device. A number of corporations use them, yes, but tablets remain primarily a tool for entertainment. Perhaps that's why Microsoft's efforts have produced only lackluster results.

The Surface is built for productivity
Shaw explains that when Microsoft designed its tablet, it had productivity in mind:

A tablet built to offer great touch-based entertainment activities combined with a productivity powerhouse that helps people crank through the stuff they have to get done... the Surface is the most productive tablet you can buy today.

Shaw's right. If office productivity is what you have in mind, the Surface is probably the best tablet you can buy, certainly better than Apple's iPad. The Surface Pro, with its x86 architecture and ability to run just about any piece of traditional software, is even better. With its proprietary keyboard cover, bundled Office software, and multiscreen support, the Surface is the closest tablet out there to a laptop replacement.

How people actually use their tablets
Nevertheless, there's a more fundamental question up for debate: Do office workers actually want to replace their PC with a tablet? PC sales have been falling as the demand for mobile devices has been increasing, and the two trends are likely related. Yet, the users switching to mobile are largely consumers, and the way in which they're using their new devices suggests that productivity is way down on their list of priorities.

According to Localytics, tablet usage peaks at two points in the day: early in the morning, before people go into work, and then again in the evening -- right around 9 p.m., exactly when most people are at home relaxing. The way in which people use their tablets also supports this: Research firm Flurry reports that two-thirds of the time people are on tablets, they're playing games. Another 19% of the time, they are either in general entertainment apps or social networking.

Moreover, while the demand for PCs is falling, it's largely among consumers, not businesses. Last quarter, Microsoft reported that Windows demand was down 20% among consumers, but was actually up modestly among business users.

Current tablets aren't suitable for productivity
I'm sure Microsoft would note that most tablets people are using aren't suitable for work -- you're not going to do work on your tablet if you're using Apple's iPad, a device ill-suited for productivity. But why aren't people buying Microsoft's tablets?

Microsoft hasn't released exact sales figures for the Surface, but it's been far outsold by Apple's iPad. As GeekWire notes, Microsoft reported $853 million in Surface revenue back in July, and with an average selling price of around $500, that works out to be roughly 1.7 million tablets sold. On Thursday, Microsoft reported an additional $400 million in Surface revenue, saying that sales of the device had picked up. Still, overall Surface sales are pitiful compared to Apple's iPad -- Apple sold 14.6 million tablets just last quarter.

Microsoft is going to offer a third tablet -- sort of. Nokia's Lumia 2520 is a tablet running Microsoft's Windows 8 RT, just like the Surface. In terms of design, it's more like Nokia's phones, but in functionality, it's largely the same. Like Microsoft, Nokia has included its own proprietary keyboard cover, giving its tablet the same sort of productivity potential as Microsoft's own device.

When Microsoft closes its deal to acquire Nokia's hardware business, the Lumia 2520 will become yet another one of Microsoft's tablets.

Tablets are still about entertainment
In a subtle jab at Apple's iPad, Shaw writes:

Let's be clear -- helping folks kill time on a tablet is relatively easy. Give them books, music, videos and games, and they'll figure out the rest. Pretty much all tablets do that.

Certainly, Apple's iPad does that, and it does it well. It may not offer the productivity potential of the Surface or Nokia's upcoming Lumia 2520, but -- at least for now -- tablet users just don't want to work on their devices. Until that changes, it's Shaw (not the press) lost in the Reality Distortion Field.

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Read/Post Comments (10) | Recommend This Article (3)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On October 24, 2013, at 11:37 PM, Cpuiulet wrote:

    Love my Nexus 7 tablet, but it's no replacement for anything, especially my laptop or PC. I use it quite a bit, but my laptop is not going anywhere. In fact, if I had to lose one of my computing gadgets, the table would be the first to go, then the desktop, smartphone and the laptop last.

  • Report this Comment On October 24, 2013, at 11:56 PM, StockMonkey wrote:

    Online usage statistics are no way to judge "productivity" of tablets. Is the tablet on which a retailer tallies up a sale, or a warehouse manager tracks inventory or a delivery person logs a package not productive? Whether these are iPads (which most seem to be) or another tablet, they aren't replacing PCs, they're doing new jobs PCs never did. That may be the biggest Microsoft miscalculation.

  • Report this Comment On October 25, 2013, at 2:13 AM, nudnyk wrote:

    Microsoft's attitude is to produce products that they believe the people need, not what people want. It worked great when they dominated the space, it don't work no more. MS needs some regular people in their shop working in design teams instead of all this autistic/Asperger's geniuses, they keep "improving" products that don't need improvement but missed the boat on processing speed, photography, screen display quality and sizes, user friendliness and more. They should look at what is working for X-BOX and apply those principles to consumer computing/communicating. By the way, many professions do use their tablets for productivity, that is why they LOVE the ipads, and no chance will consider an alternative. Personally I am aware of expansion of few ipad users in big organizations to everyone must have one because the results are proving to be in the pudding.

  • Report this Comment On October 25, 2013, at 3:16 AM, Bull683 wrote:

    As I read this article and pound out a retort on my Dell Latitude 10 STS2 W8.1P tablet, I have to laugh at the assumptions researchers are making about the current state of PC's versus tablets. My Latitude is one of the most "work" orientated tablets on the planet. It handles everything, with minimal exceptions, that my workstation Precision M4300 handles. That said, I will never see my tablet as a replacement for that or any future workstation. When you actually realize the nuts and bolts of the tablet's potential, you soon see it as only an extension of the PC when you are away from the home or office. Ultimately, I bought my tablet to lighten up my travel payload and my Latitude works well in that regard, but I still miss my 8lbs M4300. Finally, I am always fascinated how every article seems to center on MS as the sole Windows tablet maker. They're not and frankly I thank my lucky stars Dell put together a very solid tablet that delivers a most rewarding experience.

  • Report this Comment On October 25, 2013, at 4:38 AM, wizardaeon wrote:

    I see the Tablet as more of a choice for people, I personally prefer laptops. A tablet would be more of a toy for me. And even though I can find one useful, a laptop would still be my preference.

  • Report this Comment On October 25, 2013, at 7:57 AM, MikeCa501 wrote:

    This is actually pretty funny! How many tablets has microstink sold??

    And I am not sure about Industry, But. I am seeing iPads used more and more in retail. I see them everywhere!!

    Microsoft is the one that is far behind!

  • Report this Comment On October 25, 2013, at 10:44 AM, daveshouston wrote:

    The iPad is incredibly and increasingly popular with businesses.

    Apple has a web page that illustrates some of the many ways in which businesses are making use of the iPad. Here is a link.

    http://www.apple.com/iphone/business/profiles/

    There are great software tools out there now for building custom iPad Apps. That's where a tablet really comes into play. Check out some of the examples shown.

  • Report this Comment On October 25, 2013, at 10:49 AM, daveshouston wrote:

    Surface is a very poor substitute for a PC. The screen is too small and it is underpowered. There is significant confusion moving between touch interface and keyboard/mouse interface. It is clumsy at best.

    Surface isn't a very good tablet either. Most people use their iPads while moving around that in a vertical orientation. With it's wide screen form factor, the Surface is designed to be used in a horizontal orientation. It's clumsy when used vertically. Good apps, designed for the Surface, are scarce. The iPad now had 450,000 apps designed specifically for it -- not stretched out smart phone apps.

    There is really no comparison. The best way to go, by far, is with both a tablet and a PC. The best tablet is the iPad, by far. The best PC is the MacBook Pro, by far.

  • Report this Comment On October 26, 2013, at 3:06 PM, MacZen wrote:

    I really have to take issue with the author saying iPads are not used for productivity. Define the term. Several others have already mentioned examples in which they're being used for "productivity." I'd like to add doctor's offices, hospitals, inventory and the like just as a few more examples. American Airlines just ordered thousands of iPads for their employees. I'm quite certain they're not for entertainment and game purposes.

  • Report this Comment On December 15, 2013, at 2:50 PM, mathieu1911 wrote:

    If you are looking to work on a tablet and you need standard Windows programs, consider trying a Windows cloud computer accessible from your tablet. Take a look at https://hazeware.com we have Windows 7 cloud computers accessible from your tablet below the market price

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