Just A Toy

on January 29, 2014

As part of my Photo 365 project, in which I take a photo every day of the year, I snapped this the other day:

I won’t mention the expletive I used in the photo’s caption, but suffice it to say that seeing this ad immediately struck a nerve with me. The snarky “just a toy” line is, of course, an allusion to the iPad. The insinuation being that a Surface is more capable of doing “real work” than an iPad, presumably because a Surface can run full versions of Windows and Office.

Honestly, what a crock.

Besides being pejorative, Microsoft’s “just a toy” sentiment strikes me as woefully out of touch. The iPad is fast approaching its fourth birthday — have we not by now seen what the iPad is about? Customers sure seem to, judging by iPad’s holiday sales numbers. Moreover, these kinds of ads reek of desparation — Microsoft is so in need of some semblance of traction in the tablet market that it continues to perpetuate the old and tired “consumption versus creation” cliche. As Ben Bajarin tweeted, Microsoft just doesn’t get it.

On a personal level, though, Microsoft’s “just a toy” jab offends me for two reasons.

First, as I’ve written previously, the iPad has become so good at productivity that I gave my old 11-inch MacBook Air — which I originally bought with the intent of using it as a writing machine — to my sister. As a writer, the iPad is fully capable of helping me get my work done. As I mostly work with Markdown files stored in Dropbox and iCloud, Editorial has become my go-to text editor, while Poster helps me post to my blog from the iPad. If I want or need to make HTML and/or CSS changes to my site, I can use Panic’s Diet Coda. In a broader sense, iOS’s one-app-at-a-time concept is refreshing, allowing me to better focus at whatever task is at hand, and it’s satisfying to me knowing that iOS is capable of real work. All of this to say that the iPad is, for all intents and purposes, my “laptop”. It is my mobile computer — I carry it with me everywhere I go — and I don’t forsee myself going back to a traditional Mac laptop.

Secondly, I find the iPad Air to be the best iPad I’ve ever used from an accessibility perspective. Before upgrading to my Air a couple of months ago, I used an iPad 3 for about 18 months. It was a great device, to be sure, but I grew weary of the thicker, heavier body and the way the A5X chip would make the iPad uncomfortably warm after extended periods of use. Thus, upgrading to the iPad Air was not only a huge step in terms of internals — the 64-bit A7 being the prime reason — but, more importantly, the dramatically thinner and lighter chassis makes the Air much easier for me to hold for longer times. As I have cerebral palsy, my condition is such that I suffer from reduced strength in my arms and hands. What this means is that it’s more difficult for me to comfortably hold objects, especially for extended periods. The iPad Air, then, is so thin and so light compared to my iPad 3 that I can comfortably hold it for reading in Instapaper or The New York Times without worrying so much about fatigue setting in. Being able to use the iPad longer means I can enjoy it more. Without question, I feel the iPad Air is the quintessential iPad (for now, anyway). It is the iPad, I think, Steve Jobs probably always envisioned. Its combination of power, thinness, and lightness is simply fantastic. I can’t speak of it highly enough.

It’s so upsetting to see Microsoft denigrate the iPad because I know from personal experience just how capable and powerful it truly is. Extrapolating this point even further, look at what it does for children with special needs, as well as for iOS automation. More to the point, look at how Apple is promoting the iPad. These are not fluke events nor are they pie-in-the-sky concepts. These stories are real — depictions of real people using them in real life. Marine biologists are using iPads in the ocean. What other evidence does Microsoft need to fully realize that the iPad is convincingly and deservingly winning the hearts of millions of customers? Surely Microsoft can’t be so oblivious to the ways in which the iPad is transforming personal computing. And yet, their marketing dollars go toward an asinine campaign in which they stupidly belittle the iPad as “just a toy”. Compare and contrast Microsoft’s campaign to Apple’s, and consider their respective tablet’s place with consumers. The disparity is staggering, in accuracy and in resonance. If the ultimate goal of advertising is to sway consumers into buying product, Apple is Secretariat at the Belmont.

TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino gets it, offering this bit of great insight:

In many ways this is the realization of the dream for the original ‘tablet computers’ of Microsoft — something you can view with more or less irony depending on what chances you give the company of succeeding in a crowded space.

It’s Apple who’s fulfilling Microsoft’s vision, a fact that must not go over well in Redmond.

It seems to me that Microsoft is doing anything they can to try to stay relevant in the mobile space — unfortunately, if these Surface ads are any indicator, they’re failing miserably. I don’t mean to imply that the Surface in and of itself is a bad product; in fact, I actually rather like the keyboard cover idea, especially that of the Surface Pro. What’s bad is the way in which Microsoft is hoping to woo customers. Instead of touting the Surface on its own merits, Microsoft has misguidingly decided to degrade the iPad. Furthermore, the implicit notion that you must have Windows and Office to be productive is a sign that Microsoft is unable (unwilling?) to distance itself from its desktop-dominating past. But mobile is where the technology industry is now, and Microsoft is light years behind Apple and Google. These ads make Microsof look as if they’re in denial, as though they’re still who they once were. What does it say about a company’s faith in their product when they resort to baseless name-calling? The bottom line is these Surface ads reflect a serious cultural problem within Microsoft. Either they’re so full of themselves so as to believe their way is markedly better while being completely dismissive of the iPad’s success (i.e., “just a toy”), or they just plain can’t see the writing on the tablet market wall. (And lest we forget the disaster that is Windows 8.) Whatever the reason, it’s sad.

Microsoft just doesn’t get it, and probably never will.