Microsoft's Ballmer Tips Details of Surface Pricing, Sub-$200 Price Point Probably a Pipe Dream

Ever since Microsoft unveiled its upcoming Surface tablet but kept the pricing details under wraps, speculation about the final price tags for the devices has been rampant. However, there’s been precious little in the way of clues, save for some rumors that at least one model of the Surface will hit the sub-$200 price point.

In an interview with the Seattle Times, however, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer dropped some clues as to the tablets’ pricing. Here’s the bit where he responds to a question about whether the Surface will compete against the iPad on price or features:

We haven't announced pricing. I think we have a very competitive product from the features perspective...I think most people would tell you that the iPad is not a superexpensive device...(When) people offer cheaper, they do less. They look less good, they're chintzier, they're cheaper. If you say to somebody, would you use one of the 7-inch tablets, would somebody ever use a Kindle (Kindle Fire, $199) to do their homework? The answer is no; you never would. It's just not a good enough product. It doesn't mean you might not read a book on it...If you look at the bulk of the PC market, it would run between, say, probably $300 to about $700 or $800. That's the sweet spot.

If we can break this down, there are two important details to note: 1) Ballmer believes the Surface can compete with the iPad on its features; in other words, he sees them as roughly equal products. 2) He feels that less expensive tablets are simply “cheaper”, in the pejorative sense. Thus, we can infer that Microsoft’s non-cheap tablet will also not be inexpensive, and we can probably dismiss any hope of nabbing a Surface for $199.

Microsoft Surface tablet

Then, Ballmer says that “it” would run between $300 to $800, but it’s a little unclear exactly what “it” is. If we assume, however, that the “it” he’s talking about it a good tablet, Microsoft is probably planning to price the Surface tablets within that range. That would just about jibe with the iPad’s price range, although if Microsoft can hit a price point of $300-$400 for a version of the Surface, it could undercut the iPad on cost.

If Microsoft plans to unseat the iPad from the tablet throne, winning the price battle is going to be of supreme importance.