I think you're grading the product on a curve, relative to expectations of what Microsoft could produce in a few years, starting from scratch.
A friend with $500-600 comes to you and asks what tablet he should get. Can you recommend a surface over the latest iPad? We can't say "oh, give it time, the ecosystem will get better, hardware will improve" -- your friend needs something today. (That's why it's underwhelming to me. It isn't a good deal against its competitors.)
What does that friend want to use the tablet for? Anandtech found the screen on the Surface to be superior for watching video, despite its lower resolution. Does the friend want to share his tablet with other people in his household? The multi-user support in Windows RT is obviously superior to the complete lack of such functionality in iOS. Does the friend need to occasionally edit Office documents?
I don't think there's an obvious answer to which tablet provides more value - it's very context-specific.
Well, I don't know about that. I pretty much recommend Windows 7 computers to people because I expect they can buy one and get it to work for their definition of work. I might think a Mac or Linux would be better for them for what they want to do, but not for their ability to actually do it.
In the same way, if someone wants a top of the line tablet, it just seems obvious it's an iPad. That's what almost anyone with a tablet is going to have. It's just going to fit the expectation of what a tablet is for a naive user. Surface doesn't. Just like Linux on a desktop may be better in your context-specific suggestion, but it isn't what a naive user thinks a computer is.
Unless the friend also wants to pay me regularly to teach or tech support their computing device, in which case I might go outside the expected zone, but I've yet to find this to be the case.