Microsoft's desire to beat the iPad won't be solved by Go

Redmond's latest attempt to encroach upon the iPad's hallowed ground has a weakness. The product isn't different enough.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

Do not pass Go, insists Microsoft.

The company's latest attempt to kill, no, maim, no, wound, no, nick the iPad is, apparently "perfect for all your daily tasks, giving you laptop performance, tablet portability, and a stunning touchscreen with the power of Windows 10."

I have a feeling Apple would say most of that about the iPad.

Still, Microsoft Go is, oh, Microsoft's fourth attempt to somehow inspire real humans to turn at least one eye its way.

Also: Why did Microsoft build the Surface Go?

Redmond would, it seems, like everyone to be inspired by this $399 (add perhaps $200 more for the keyboard) little sister to the Surface. Businesses, students, professors and even, one imagines, discreet embezzlers can all bathe in the Go's portability and general Surfaceness.

Which avoids one painful question: why should anyone care?

The iPad has, as so many Apple products do, become the default name and product for the whole category. Why, when Microsoft paid the NFL $400 million to have the Surface featured during games, even revered announcers still called it "the iPad."

Yes, the brand has made progress since then. But when a company is coming from so far behind in hardware, so late to a market that feels more mature than Tom Hanks, it should surely arrive with gifts that open mouths and drop jaws.

Instead, the Go feels like a Surface Lite. Or should that be Light? "Our smallest, lightest Surface yet," says Microsoft.

That's nice.

You might tell me that businesses will look at the features and the apparently greater ease of use and decide that Go is a fine idea. But might it be a fine idea to replace, well, some of their slightly older Surface models?

Who else will be moved toward rapture, or even heartily excited? And why should they be?

If you're going to truly challenge in a market in which Apple has the signature product, you have to, dare I utter it, think different.

Samsung did it quite beautifully with its Galaxy S phones. Its approach had two aggressive strands.

One involved making a far bigger phone that made many people stop and reconsider their life choices. It created genuine fascination, rather than be just another phone that looked like an iPhone.

The second, and at least equally important, was to take advantage of a moment when Apple fanpersons were borderline potty in their Cupertinian adoration.

One can't overestimate the effect of ads that mocked the Apple faithful with such pungent truth that, one hopes, any Apple diehard with the remotest self-awareness muttered: "Yup, that's me. It's quite funny, isn't it?"

Samsung gave real people a different team to support.

The Go, on the other hand, feels like a pleasant addition but not one that incites screams or sighs. Unless they're sighs of mild indifference.

In launching the original Surface -- which at the time was a genuinely different product -- Microsoft made marketing errors that were the sort of laughable that comes just after a movie villain falls down a hole into a pit of ravenous baboons.

TechRepublic: Microsoft Surface Laptop: A cheat sheet

Surely you remember the launch ad with Hollywood children dancing with their Surfaces and clicking them to the beat. Yes, Glee was popular at the time. Glee was not what real people felt when they witnessed this Surface Trite.

Which makes me wonder how Microsoft might try and talk people into Go-ing.

For the last couple of years, Apple has been insisting that the iPad is a computer -- to the point at which it created an ad in which a young woman insisted she'd no idea what a computer is.

For its part, Microsoft has laughed at Apple's claims.

Now, though, Redmond seems to think Go is, well, a tablet with a bit of computer attached.

These days, it's harder to inspire any real people to be excited about a gadget. More humans are keeping phones longer. Many are happy to buy refurbished phones for less, rather than new ones.

What can Microsoft say and show about this new Go-to tablet to truly stir emotions?

"Portable power," says Redmond.

Oh, OK then.

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