Microsoft Surface Devices Challenge Apple in Enterprise Strongholds

NEWS ANALYSIS: With Surface tablet sales increasing and the launch of Surface PC products, Microsoft is challenging Apple in enterprise creative domains where the Mac long held sway.

Surface Challenges Apple 2

There was a time when there was only one computer maker for those in creative pursuits, and it was Apple. For decades, people in corporate creative departments worked with Macintosh computers even when the rest of the company was running Windows-based PCs. That changed slightly with the introduction of the iPad, but art and design were still the stronghold of Apple.

Now Microsoft is making a serious bid to change that. A series of new products, starting with Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 and now with the new all-in-one Surface Studio desktop and the Surface Book i7 laptop that's being heavily marketed to creative users, Microsoft seems to be aiming directly at Apple’s dominance in this area.

While the sales of the Surface line aren’t great enough to threaten Apple’s Macintosh and iPad sales, what’s notable is that Surface sales increased 38 percent in the last quarter, as reported in Microsoft’s October 20 earnings call. Compare that to Apple’s iPad sales, which are declining and you can see an emerging trend that might worry Apple. Perhaps more concerning to Apple is that those Surface sales were primarily for the tablet, and not the new devices that were just announced last week.

The new Surface devices are what could challenge Apple in a big way because of their innovation and because of Microsoft’s marketing. In case you hadn’t noticed, Microsoft’s Surface is being heavily advertised as a creative platform with that focus on artists and architects heaping praise on the Surface.

The new models include the Surface Studio, a 28-inch all-in-one desktop computer that can include an optional peripheral, the Surface Dial, which adds functionality for menus and other actions when placed on the screen of the Studio. The Surface already ships with an excellent stylus that’s easier to use and more capable than the Apple Pencil, which works with the iPad Pro, but costs extra.

While Apple has just announced new MacBook Pros, those laptop computers are basically an incremental improvement rather than something revolutionary. While they do have a touch-pad in place of the function keys, Apple so far has resisted adding something as basic as a touch-screen to its laptops.

Of course, Apple and Microsoft have different design philosophies; with Apple aiming for a clean interface, it’s worth noting that Microsoft’s sales are starting to take off.

As I mentioned earlier, the Surface installed base is nowhere near as large as Apple’s in the enterprise. On the other hand, the installed base for Windows is an order of magnitude larger.

From an enterprise viewpoint, being able to choose a computer for its creative staff that’s running the same operating system as everything else in the company is a strong incentive to stick with Microsoft.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...