Multiple choice time - Is Microsoft’s offer to educational institutions of Surface RT tablets at less than half of the RRP (eg, $279 vs $679 for the 32GB configuration with the touch keyboard cover):
- a) An act of corporate philanthropy.
b) A clever “catch ’em while they’re young” strategy, echoing the deal Apple offered universities when it launched the Macintosh back in 1984, but this time calculated to help reverse ‘defections’ to the iPad.
c) A desperate move to try to get some momentum behind Surface RT sales.
d) An effort to clear slow-moving inventory prior to the introduction of a new model.
e) None of the above?
Microsoft seems to be positioning the deal in terms of answer a). “Microsoft believes every student and teacher deserves a fair opportunity to reach his or her full potential, and this means ensuring our education customers have access to affordable and high quality tablets with laptop functionality ready for education,” wrote Anthony Salcito, Microsoft’s vice president of education when announcing the offer http://blogs.technet.com/b/microsoft_in_education/archive/2013/06/19/it-s-true-we-re-putting-surface-rt-in-the-hands-of-educators-and-students-schools-and-universities.aspx .
But Surface RT sales have been disappointing according to various observers, though Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer preferred the term ‘modest’ and Harvey Norman’s Ben McIntosh was more recently reported as saying they were ‘okay’, which to me sounds suspiciously like damning with faint praise.
So you don’t have to be particularly cynical to question Microsoft’s motivation.
The way so many schools have snapped up iPads by the hundred is clearly an issue for Microsoft, as it tends to squeeze out other aspects of the company’s offerings. Microsoft doesn’t even offer a version of Office for iPad unless you count Office Web Apps, so it needs a way of getting back into favour with what until quite recently has been a very loyal market.
Interestingly, Microsoft seems to be appealing to IT staff within education as much as teachers: Microsoft Australia’s Windows lead, Tina Flammer, noted “the ability to integrate Windows devices into existing IT environments, with flow on benefits around ease and cost of management” when she announced the local availability of the Surface RT special offer .
The idea that the offer could be a warehouse-clearing effort does have some credence, as rumours of a new generation Surface (no, not the Surface Pro) have been circulating for at least a month, and I’ve seen an estimate implying that Microsoft committed to the production of something like a million more Surface RT units than it has sold so far.
I don’t see Microsoft’s education offer on the Surface RT as being in the same league as HP’s TouchPad fire sale, but it is interesting to see two such big names take a haircut on tablets - if previous reports are correct, Microsoft is offering the Surface RT to education customers at about the cost of manufacture.
Meanwhile, Apple just keeps raking in the profits.