Partners: Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Ads Won't Hurt Apple MacBook Air

Microsoft is going after Apple's MacBook Air in a new ad campaign that's generating mixed reactions from partners on both sides of the equation.

New TV commercials from the maker of the Surface Pro 3 place the company's high-end tablet next to an Apple Macbook Air, one of the most popular consumer laptops on the market, and aim to point out the differences in features between the two products.

One commercial touts the Surface Pro 3's touchscreen along with the Surface Pen's ability to write on the tablet screen. The ad goes on to point out that the MacBook Air has neither of these features, along with the fact that it's not a tablet.

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The new ads were released ahead of Surface Pro 3's expected Aug. 28 launch in 25 new countries. It also comes just a few weeks after Microsoft rolled out a Nokia Lumia 635 ad comparing Cortana to Siri.

The device is being touted in the advertising as a lighter and thinner alternative to the MacBook Air that runs on the same processor. At the same time, Microsoft argues its Surface Pro 3 is more versatile because it's a tablet with snap multitasking features and a touchscreen.

Microsoft partners appear unsure of the marketing strategy.

"I don’t know why they would compare themselves to someone else, instead of saying just why people should be buying yours," said Joe Balsarotti, president of St. Peters, Mo.-based Microsoft partner Software To Go. "By doing that, it's admitting that Apple is the standard. Way back when I took marketing classes, that would have been a big no-no."

The new advertising is being questioned by some Microsoft partners, even those who are behind the tablet's processing power and versatility.

"As far as hardware and processing, the Surface Pro 3 is certainly more akin to a laptop than an iPad and therefore could replace your laptop, but you just can't use it on top of your lap," Andy Kretzer, director of marketing and sales at Fremont, Calif.-based system builder and Microsoft partner Bold Data Technology said in an email. "But seeing as their original positioning as an iPad killer failed, I suppose this is the next logical alternative in Microsoft’s attempt to make their hybrid relevant to the masses?"

Microsoft paired the new advertising with a promotion that offers $650 in store credit to customers who buy a Surface Pro 3 and trade in their MacBook Air.

While some Microsoft partners question the Redmond, Washington company's course of action, one Apple partner told CRN the ad campaign is "smart."

"It positions the surface as a hybrid touch-laptop device, which I think is very smart," said Michael Oh, CEO of Boston-based Apple partner Tech Superpowers. "The advertising is more of a positioning move. A brand awareness tool. It would be obvious to compare [the Surface Pro 3] to the iPad, but the MacBook air is smarter to go after, because the Surface is a bridge device to get people over to the Windows 8 side of things."

Apple shouldn't feel threatened by the ad campaign, Oh said, adding that he doesn't see many IT departments switching from the MacBook Air to the Surface Pro 3. He also pointed out that Apple is rumored to launch a new MacBook Air before the holidays and doesn't see the Surface Pro 3 coming out on top in that competition.

"I don’t think Microsoft is going to win that one," Oh said.