Surface RT pricing puts Microsoft's tablet head to head with iPad

Surface RT pricing puts Microsoft's tablet head to head with iPad

Summary: All bets are now off. Microsoft has revealed the pricing for its ARM-based Surface tablet, and the bottom line pits it against the iPad. But does Surface have what it needs to take on the king of the tablet market?


Word is out: we all knew Surface wasn't going to be a bargain-basement product, whether the RT or the Pro version. But Microsoft's chosen price point of between $499 and $699 puts it in direct competition with the iPad, today's premium tablet.

Surface tablet
The Surface tablet. Image: Josh Lowensohn/CNET News

According to ZDNet's own Simon Bisson, Microsoft temporarily opened up its online store to show pre-order pricing for Surface RT on Tuesday, before quickly removing the page again. It has since opened it up again.

At Surface's unveiling in June, Microsoft was coy about the pricing card, saying only that the RT version would be comparable to "other tablets based on ARM". We now know that the base-level 32GB RT tablet will cost $499, rising to $599 bundled with a multitouch-capable keyboard case. The 64GB version is $699, with the TouchCover case included.

Pricing is still not known for the full-fat Intel-based Surface Pro devices, which are set to arrive around three months after the RT models. However, they are expected to cost around the same as ultrabooks, so somewhere near the $1,000 mark.

Shortly after the announcement in June, I wrote a piece about how Microsoft nearly got it right with its Surface tablets, but that the silence around pricing was worrying.

While clearly not the cheapest tablet in any given store — the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD spring to mind — its designated market level puts it head to head with the $499-to-$699 iPad.

Naturally, if it's a straight slugging match between the two, Apple is going to land some blows when it comes to apps. Microsoft has been very late to the party in terms of getting its Windows 8 app store ecosystem going, but with time, all the key apps you want will probably be available for Windows 8 RT devices.

Hardware specs: advantage Microsoft

Where Microsoft does have an advantage is in the Surface's hardware features: at least it does on paper, as the company is still not exactly dishing models out for people to find out hands-on.

The Surface has a slightly larger display than the iPad - 10.6 inches versus 9.7 inches - and has a quad-core Nvidia Tegra processor under the bonnet, as opposed to the Apple slate's dual-core A5X chip. It also has 2GB of RAM, more than most tablets available on the market, including the new iPad with its 1GB configuration. 

Add in the fact that for the same price as a 64GB iPad, you get a full keyboard and multitouch-capable touchpad, and I'm struggling to see why anyone would choose the iPad, beyond for specific apps not on Windows 8's marketplace.

But where Microsoft could stumble is the lack of 3G and 4G options, which the iPad can offer. The Apple device also has a wide-screen display resolution of 2,048x1536, compared to the Surface's 1,366x768 pixels.

The BYOD crowd

Nevertheless, if you take into account that for Surface to succeed in the enterprise, Microsoft must also win over the BYOD crowd, I think the Surface RT is sensibly priced. We'd always like to see products cheaper, but in terms of value for money, I can't see much of an argument for the iPad.

I'm struggling to see why anyone would choose the iPad, beyond for specific apps not on Windows 8's marketplace

As Mary Jo Foley pointed out, the Surface isn't being presented as a consumption-only device. If you're creating documents, files and folders for work on your own tablet, your IT department is more likely to be willing to support an operating system that ties into what it will be rolling out across the fleet.

In some way, Apple may have made it easier for Microsoft to sell its Surface tablets. If people are used to routinely handing over $500 or more for a tablet that is best suited to media consumption, social networking and light browsing needs, just think how happy they should be to pay for a tablet that is much closer to being a laptop than a tablet.

Topics: Microsoft, Apple, iPad, Mobility, Tablets, Windows

Ben Woods

About Ben Woods

With several years' experience covering everything in the world of telecoms and mobility, Ben's your man if it involves a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or any other piece of tech small enough to carry around with you.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • I believe Surface has greater value than the iPhone as well

    Surface RT includes MS Office, and supports a greater spectrum of apps than the iPad. This means that increasingly, users will be able to do productivity related activities on Surface RT and other Windows RT machines, making the iPhone significantly more limited.
    P. Douglas
    • Sorry ...

      ... I meant the iPad, not the iPhone.
      P. Douglas
    • There are very few apps for Surface RT

      You're obviously a Microsoftie
      • Not a big deal

        Considering Microsoft has the largest developer base of any operating system, the lack of apps is only a short term distraction.
        • How'd that work out for Windows Phone?

          Don't count too much on "the lack of apps is only a short term distraction."
          • I agree

            It's very important to have 683 different versions of your favourite app...
      • Thousands are VERY FEW? Really?

        It doesn't matter how many apps there are as long as you can find what you want. besides, you should expect the number to explode by 26 October.
        M Wagner
      • Apps? We don't need no stinking apps!

        If you have a simple clunky OS with little integration or function then I suppose apps matter, but this is Windows 8, so you won't be needing apps for productivity, just entertainment ;-)
        • You hit the nail on right ON the head...........

          Along with M Wagner it really is quality versus quantity. I see apps and wonder why even bother and it's getting rather repetitive almost the same flippin thing over and over just a slightly different look, specially games. Microsoft really only needs to worry about developing high quality usable apps.
  • Pen Input

    Microsoft is now mentioning an optional pen for the RT in their detailed specs. That may open another interesting angle.
    • Not there...

      The Pen Input mentioned (not detailed) for the Surface Pro, but not the Surface RT, at least on the current Surface web site.

      This kind of makes sense. It's likely that this "Pen Input" is something like Samsung's "Note" Android tablets. They integrate a Wacom-designed graphics-tablet style touchscreen, as well as the usual capacitive finger-touch input. This potentially allows for a more accurate interface via stylus, as well as pressure sensitivity, the basis for add-on graphics tablets used for drawing.

      And of course, the Pro tablet runs the normal Windows desktop. Your finger isn't going to work there well (though there are certainly work-arounds), but the pen would. That's of course not an issue on the ARM tablet, which is only ever running Metro.

      Naturally, any capacitive screen can be used with a conductive pen. But there's no pressure sensitivity, and there may as well be less accuracy.
      • Pen input is only important on the Surface 8 Pro

        The reason being is that the Surface 8 Pro will support Legacy Windows applications which are not optimized for touch.
        M Wagner
        • Pen input is *very* useful in OneNote

          A Surface with a pen would be a great university student device - light, long battery life, and able to keep one's notes all in one place. My daughter went through engineering school with a Lenovo Tablet PC and kept *all* of her notes in OneNote. She loved it (as did folks who asked her for her notes from a Fluid Mechanics class they had missed - she'd just email them the day's notes).
  • It has a compelling case and price point

    Surface has all the elements to be successful, pricing, quality, features, OS .
    We all will know in few months how it is treated in the market.
    • You forgot gross margin.

      Don't forget, with the Surface RT Microsoft is giving away the Windows OS and the Office app away for free. Those are Microsoft's cash cows, so unless the RT has a substantial margin, it could represent a net loss on each unit for Microsoft. That wouldn't please already annoyed MSFT holders.
  • The honeymoon is over...

    Apple has enjoyed a long, fairly competition free ride for several years now. However, we are starting to see serious cracks in the armor. The iPhone 5 is nothing special and iOS 6 is a fairly big disappointment. Probably most disappointing from a consumer perspective (and I own MANY Apple products in my household - iPad 2, iMac, several iPods, 2 iPhone 4's and one iPhone 5) is the lack of new innovation. Now, its refreshes of the same technology.

    Microsoft is not really innovating either with the Surface but it is something very new to its technology line-up and Win 8 is far more interesting than iOS 6. Microsoft will need its own phone... maybe they acquire Nokia. The current crop looks fairly boring.

    There is a lot of upside for Microsoft and definitely some risk. They are behind the 8-ball but its good to see true competition for Apple. We now have a 3 man race - Apple, Google and Microsoft. I couldn't be happier.
    • Windows 8 is interesting?

      Most surveys suggest just the opposite, nobody wants it.
      • Windows 8 is interesting?

        You're obviously an Applesoftie.
      • Those "nobodies", will number over 100 million within a year, and several

        hundred million within 2 years, and after that, some 600-700 million within 4-5 years.

        Microsoft loves those kind of "nobody" numbers.
        • Adornoe, your cristal ball is getting fuzzy

          "Microsoft loves those kind of "nobody" numbers."
          Do you work for Microsoft?