NEWS ANALYSIS: Microsoft has sold hardware in competitive markets at subsidized prices before to build market share in a big way, and might do it again with the Surface for Windows RT tablet.
The latest PC market news that Microsoft might sell the
eagerly anticipated Surface for Windows RT for $199 sounds crazy. In fact, it
might be crazy. But then it might not be as crazy as it sounds.
The shockingly low price that's circulating around the
Internet news sites was first announced by Engadget,
which claims to have talked to a participant in Microsoft's TechReady15
conference in which the launch details were laid out.
So now that everybody from CBS to the LA Times has taken
that number and run with it, the obvious question is whether it's true. Would
Microsoft really sell the entry level Surface RT for under 200 smackers? Could
The answer is that Microsoft, if the company so chose,
could indeed sell the Surface RT for $199. The company has done the same kind
of thing in the past. For quite a while Microsoft sold the Xbox for $99, which
some analysts estimated amounted to a loss of about $150 per unit, and did that
for years as a way to build market share. Eventually, Microsoft built up its market
share and the price of an Xbox these days is about twice the original price.
But even there, Microsoft may be taking a small loss on the hardware, and
making it up in software, subscription and accessory sales.
There's no reason financially why Microsoft can't do the
same thing with the Surface RT. But that's not the same thing as saying there's
no reason not to do it. So here's a possible scenario: The Surface 32GB
Windows RT tablet hits the street with a recommended retail price of $249. This
keeps the Windows
RT partners happy since the price is high enough for them to make some
money on sales, and more on accessories, but low enough to ensure robust sales.
Remember, it's the market share for Windows RT that matters more to Microsoft
than hardware sales.
Then, once the initial crazed early adopters have had
their way with Windows RT sellers, Apple feels the pressureâespecially if the
Surface is as good as it appears to be. Then Apple is forced to start
discounting the iPad just in time for the holidays. Apple won't be able to
attempt to sue Microsoft into submission, because Microsoft has purchased
licenses to Apple's patents and agreed to a "no-clone" provision. There's no
chance that a Windows tablet could be taken as an Apple clone, so lawsuits
Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazine's Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.
He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.