Comment So, the new Surface Pro is here – number three. According to Microsoft folklore Redmond gets things right by version number three of a new product, it then kills off the competition and history is written.
But it seems unlikely that the Surface Pro 3 will be remembered as the iPad Air or Android killer of Microsoft's tablet dream. Microsoft will be lucky if the Surface Pro 3 is remembered at all years from now.
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Unveiling the latest model in its tablet campaign, Microsoft’s Surface corporate vice president Panos Panay declared himself “super proud” with the Surface Pro 3.
But the Surface Pro 3 delivers no killer punch to either Cupertino or Mountain View.
Worse, it’s a call to war by Microsoft on PC makers because Microsoft actually sees the Surface Pro 3 as a laptop killer. Panay on Tuesday called Surface Pro 3 “the tablet that can replace the laptop.”
It’s a marketing and a business decision that can only cause more damage to Microsoft’s relationships with PC and channel partners on Windows 8, and to its broader mission of encouraging uptake of its latest PC operating system.
So what do we get with Surface Pro 3? The answer is a bag of changes so basic you wonder they weren’t included in the very first iteration, and which read like an apology for being late.
Surface Pro was always supposed to be the “business” version of Surface – thanks, by accident or design, to the fact it runs on an Intel chip rather than one based on ARM's architecture.
The new device has a screen bigger than the iPad Air and Surface Pro 2, at 12 inches.
We have a new aspect ratio on the screen that’s “more business friendly”, a cooler chip architecture so you don’t toast the family jewels on the go, and a USB 3 connection that lets you plug into almost any accessory – hey, just like a computer.
It’s also lighter than the Surface Pro 2, 1.76lb versus 2lb, and thinner – 9.1mm compared to 13.5mm.
Thereafter, we’re scraping the barrel. I’ve seen it before with US smartphone makers and telcos and it was just a matter of time before Microsoft also resorted to this: talking up improvements to your device’s kickstand. And so we have a completely redesigned, er, kickstand in the Surface Pro 3.
Didn't you hear? It's Peak Laptop
What this adds up to is an attempt to have people forget the laptops, and swap in a Surface Pro while they are working remotely or on a train.
This risks not just confusing customers over whether to buy a Surface or a laptop but it tramples the toes of PC makers busy churning out Windows 8 laptops (and indeed Win 8 touch machines that can be used as tablets).
It’s not the first time Microsoft has done this: in the lead up to and aftermath of the first Surface and Windows 8 launch in 2012, there was a standoff between Microsoft and PC makers over the former’s messing in the latter’s business pool.
It contributed to limp sales of both Windows 8 and Surface.
Two years on, Windows 8 continues to struggle as those coming off Windows XP obdurately go to Windows 7 and Surface sales are massively overshadowed by Apple and Android.
The remarkable thing is just how Microsoft this week managed to miss an opportunity to really change the game and seize the baton on tablets.
Leading up to the launch, rumour had it Microsoft was going to follow the money and go small, with a 5-inch display - smaller than Apple and Android makers.
But Microsoft went big instead, probably to target that business user.
There is of course, nothing wrong with any of this. CIOs I’ve spoken to are beginning to experiment with the Surface, saying they do want an alternative to the iPad – something that utilises Windows knowledge and skills and which they can control.
But this takes Microsoft back to where it was trying to get away from - the out-and-out business IT user - and away from the consumer, whom it was wooing with Surface in hopes of riding the BYOD wave.
Meanwhile, we’re still waiting for more on the ARM-powered version of Surface. Surface RT, as it was called - now Surface 2 - was AWOL from Tuesday’s news.
Based on history, Surface 3 should be Microsoft’s inflection point. The tech behemoth needs it: despite crowing about growing Surface sales, the company’s tablet market share and number of units shipped are insignificant compared to Apple and Android.
Based on the specs and Microsoft’s decision to battle PC and channel partners, Surface 3 won’t see a hockey stick take off moment. Rather expect more drip-drip uptake until at least Surface Pro 4 and probably beyond. ®