Microsoft on Tuesday took the veil off the Surface Pro 3, which the company is billing as a tablet and a laptop. Although it's not officially an all-in-one computer, it does pack power many expect from a laptop. Defying weeks of rumors that the company would introduce a Surface mini, the company went big -- very big, but also light and thin.
The Surface Pro 3 has a 12-inch full HD display, fourth-generation Intel Core processor options, click-in keyboards, and a multiposition kickstand that lets a user switch from what Microsoft calls "movie mode" to working mode to writing mode. The tablet runs on Windows 8.1 Pro, so users can run standard Microsoft desktop apps like Office.
"So many people carry both a laptop and a tablet but really want just one device that serves all purposes," said Panos Panay, corporate vice president for Microsoft Surface. "Surface Pro 3 is the tablet that can replace your laptop."
Turning Enterprise Heads
Microsoft hopes to turn the heads of enterprise users with the Surface Pro 3. The company is convinced commercial customers can use the tablet as a laptop replacement without sacrificing power, manageability or security. Redmond has Apple in its crosshairs, noting the Surface Pro 3 is the thinnest device ever built around Intel Core chips, 30 percent thinner than an 11-inch MacBook Air.
Boasting a 2160x1440-pixel screen, the Surface Pro 3 is 0.36 inches thick -- slightly thicker than the first iPad -- and weighs just 1.76 pounds. It has a USB 3.0 port, microSD card reader and MiniDisplayPort. It will be available in multiple configurations, starting with an Intel i3-based model with 4 GB of RAM and a 64 GB solid-state drive for $799, up to an i7-based version with 8 GB of RAM and 512 GB of storage for $1,949.
BMW Group, Coca-Cola and LVMH -- Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton have already committed to purchasing and deploying the mobile device as one of their computing choices.
"Surface Pro 3 is a truly innovative device that will replace both a tablet and a powerful laptop," said Mario Müeller, vice president for IT infrastructure at BMW Group.
Microsoft focused on the tablet's writing and drawing capabilities made possible with its Surface Pen, which is included with the tablet. Just click the pen and Surface launches a new page in OneNote, an app that gathers handwritten or typed notes, drawings, screen clippings and commentaries.
Also new and improved is the optional Type Cover keyboard ($130), which now can be angled slightly upward on the bezel margin of the tablet to create a more-comfortable wedge shape like many laptops.
Could It Backfire?
Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, said there were positives and negatives surrounding the new mobile device.
On the positive side, he told us, Microsoft is distinguishing itself in the tablet market by moving in the opposite direction of leaders Samsung and Apple. Previous iterations of the Surface tablet competed with both companies on the size front. By going with a large form factor, King said, Microsoft offers something Apple and Samsung do not.
"Adding features including the stylus functionality, for example, could make the new Surface Pro interesting for some business applications. That's very much in line with Microsoft's larger business-centric strategy and is a place where they've actually done quite well," King said.
Where King sees potential problems is with Microsoft's marketing thrust that positions Surface Pro 3 as a laptop replacement. There are a number of Windows 8.1-based Ultrabooks that carry the same screen size as the Surface Pro 3.
"Microsoft may think that they are aiming to take share away from Apple," King concluded, "but what works to take laptop market share away from Apple can also work to take laptop market share away from HP, Lenovo and other companies."
In other words, the strategy could backfire by alienating Microsoft partners on the laptop front. The world will soon find out. The Surface Pro will hit retail stores in June.