Have Microsoft’s Surface Pro vs. MacBook Air TV ads worked?

on November 24, 2014

I have been watching the current crop of Microsoft’s TV ads that pit the Surface Pro against a MacBook Air with great interest. They also have one that shows the Lenovo Yoga vs. a MacBook Air although the majority of the ones I have seen in the last few weeks highlighted the Surface Pro. At the very least, these ads are clever. However, has it actually swayed any prospective MacBook buyers to switch to the Surface Pro? 

It is probably too early to tell if there is many switchers but if you look at the channel numbers for MacBook’s in general and the MacBook Air specifically, it does not seem to have had any impact as of yet. In fact, Apple saw demand for Mac’s go up about 1 million more units in the last quarter over the same time period a year ago and their laptops had the bulk of this growth. My friend Walt Mossberg over at Re/code just did a great piece entitled “The Mac’s Second Act-From Obscurity to Ubiquity” which highlights the fact Macs can be seen everywhere these days and seem to outnumber Windows PCs in a lot of places.

This is especially true on college campuses. I recently spoke to a large class in which every student had a laptop on the desk in front of him or her. Of the 100 or so students in the room, I only saw two Windows laptops — the rest were Macs. I also observed something similar when on a long plane ride recently. As I walked back to the restrooms in the rear of the plane I counted how many people where using laptops. Of the 33 people using them, 25 were Macs.

Just a short 15 years ago, Windows PCs and laptops dominated the marketplace and Macs were rarely seen outside of schools and some graphically focused businesses. Today they are everywhere. They are even the dominant laptop used in TV shows and even if they cover up the Apple Logo, Apple’s designs are so unique you know they are using a Mac as part of a TV show prop. To be clear, Mac’s represent only 6% of the PC market and Windows PCs still dominate the overall market. But what Apple has achieved with the Mac is really incredible given the fact Macs have premium pricing over PCs and yet they still sell in big numbers.

The product that really pushed Mac sales forward is the MacBook Air. In fact, Mossberg states, “Now I believe it’s the best line of computers on the market, and I consider one model in particular — the thin, light and rugged MacBook Air — to be the best consumer laptop ever made.” In fact, the MacBook Air has become the gold standard in laptops and all PC vendors are innovating around this same basic design. Of course, Apple has the advantage of controlling the entire ecosystem of hardware, software and services, while the OEMs who are trying to design competitive laptops have to use Windows, which is the same OS on every PC model shipped, which makes it hard for these OEMs to actually differentiate at the OS and UI level.

Trying to compare a Surface Pro to a MacBook Air is challenging at best for Microsoft and their partners. While highlighting the touch screen and tablet angle is valid, our research shows most people want the clamshell design of laptops and, for many, the MacBook is the best they can buy. In fact, this highlights one of Microsoft and Intel’s overall challenges when it comes to what they call 2 in 1’s or convertibles.

I recently had a meeting with top officials in one of the major PC companies and asked them about their position on 2 in 1’s and convertibles. They told me they believe they need to have one or two models of these designs in their overall line up but the majority of what they will create and bring to market will still be clamshell based. They pointed out they are not seeing any real demand for these in IT yet and only slight interest by consumers. One reason the interest in something like Surface Pro is low is because of its price. They are two to three times the price of a cheap laptop.

Unless the Surface Pro is targeted at field service or as a replacement for those who use clipboards, I believe IT interest will continue to be soft at least for the 2 in 1 detachable. Lenovo tells me they have actually done well with their Yoga convertibles, especially in enterprise accounts, however it is still a minority when it comes to the total number of clamshell laptops they ship each year.

It will be interesting to see if these ads will have any impact on MacBook Air sales this holiday season but my gut sense is it will not have any impact at all. In fact, I believe Apple will have its largest quarter ever, which includes record sales in iPhones and Macs, with MacBooks continuing to be the lion’s share of Macs sold during the calendar 4Q for Apple.

If so, Microsoft is about to waste a lot of money on ads targeting the MacBook Air this holiday season.