Unlike video game consoles and tablets by Amazon or Google, which from time to time are sold at a loss, Microsoft Corp.’s Surface media tablet with Windows RT operating system costs to manufacture a lot less than it is sold for in retail. In terms of its size, feature set and pricing threshold, the Surface RT is clearly designed to compete with the full-sized iPad, but it is less expensive to build.
The Surface RT model with the minimum 32GB of NAND flash memory and an optional black touch cover carries a bill of materials (BOM) of $271, according to a preliminary estimate from IHS iSuppli. When the $13 manufacturing expense is added in, the total cost to manufacture the Surface rises to $284. The teardown assessments account only for hardware and manufacturing costs and do not include additional expenses such as software, licensing, royalties or other expenditures.
“The Surface represents a key element in Microsoft’s strategy to transform itself from a software maker into a devices and services provider. Key to this strategy is offering hardware products that generate high profits on their own, similar to what Apple has achieved with its iPad line. From a hardware perspective Microsoft has succeeded with the Surface, offering an impressive tablet that is more profitable, on a percentage basis, than even the lucrative iPad based on current retail pricing,” said Andrew Rassweiler, senior principal analyst of teardown services for IHS.
At an estimated total BOM and manufacturing cost of $284 and a retail price of $599, the Surface RT generates hardware and manufacturing profits that are, in percentage terms, higher than the low-end iPad. Even at a price of $499 without the Touch Cover, Microsoft will generate a profit margin that is greater than the low-end iPad, in percentage terms and on a per-unit basis.
One key differentiating hardware feature of the Surface hardware is the optional Touch Cover, which is essentially a cover that also acts like a full-function keyboard, but uses only capacitive touch sensing to operate. The keyboard works very well and even has a touchpad at the bottom, making the device feel and operate very much like a notebook PC when the Surface sits on its kickstand and the Touch Cover is laid flat.
“The Touch Cover represents a best-of-both-worlds approach for the Surface, giving it the most attractive features of both notebook PCs and media tablets. This feature differentiates the Surface from the iPad. The end result for Microsoft is a very compelling product that is impressive,” added Mr. Rassweiler.
IHS estimates preliminarily that the Touch Cover costs Microsoft $16 to $18 per unit. The Touch Cover accessory integrates a printed circuit board (PCB) assembly with numerous chips, including a Freescale microcontroller and an Atmel touchscreen controller.
Samsung Electronics is the biggest design winner in the Surface, based on our teardown sample. Various divisions of Samsung supply components or complete subsystems for many of the most expensive portions of the individual tablet dissected by the IHS iSuppli: the display, the NAND flash and the battery pack. However, most of these parts are available from multiple sources, and other suppliers are likely utilized in other individual Surface tablets.
Another major winner is Nvidia Corp., which supplies the Surface’s quad-core Tegra 3 processor, which uses the ARM architecture. The Tegra 3 costs an estimated $21.50, accounting for 8% of the Surface RT’s BOM.
Also scoring some major wins in the Surface RT is Atmel, which supplies multiple touch controllers in the Surface itself as well as in the Touch Cover.