Would You Trade Your MacBook Air for a Cheap Surface Pro 3?

A blog about business and economics.
June 23 2014 7:27 PM

Microsoft Has a Clever Plan to Promote Its New Tablet

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Is this better than a MacBook Air?

Photo by Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

Microsoft has a special promotion for its Surface Pro 3: $650 off a brand-new tablet if you trade in your MacBook Air. The offer is good from now until July 31, though as with any good promotion, the devil is in the details. Your MacBook Air must power on and be relatively intact (no cracked screens or water damage) to be eligible for trade-in. Even if you meet those criteria, the store credit you ultimately get will be determined based on your device condition. You'll also have to wipe any sensitive data yourself.

When Microsoft introduced the Surface Pro 3 last month, it came as a surprise to many who had anticipated the company releasing a mini version of its existing tablet. "With its big screen, capable keyboard, flexible kickstand, and full-fledged Windows 8.1 operating system (good riddance, Windows RT?), it’s more like a laptop in tablet’s clothing," Will Oremus wrote in Slate at the time. Both at the unveiling and ever since, Microsoft has attempted to convince consumers that this device is the first one that can truly replace both their current tablet and laptop altogether.

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Which brings us back to the company's current promotion. The cheapest MacBook Air (11-inch, 128 GB) starts at $899 in the Apple Store and the most expensive one is $1,199 (13-inch, 256 GB). The Surface Pro 3 starts at $799 (64 GB, Intel i3) and can run up to $1,949 (512 GB, Intel i7). So if you got the full discount on your MacBook Air and purchased the cheapest tablet option, it would cost you just $150. Then again, you might have to trade in a MacBook Air that's in pretty great shape to get the full discount, and your new device if you still went with the cheapest Surface Pro would come with at most half the memory of your laptop. Hmm.

The trade-in might not be a great deal and it's an open question whether people will do it, but that might not even be the real point for Microsoft. If nothing else, the promotion could get people thinking and talking about the Surface Pro 3 and the MacBook Air in the same breath. Apple would never make such a comparison. But by offering a discounted swap between the two products, Microsoft is encouraging it. If consumers come to think of the products as rivals in the same category, that might be success enough.

Alison Griswold is a Slate staff writer covering business and economics.

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