Microsoft Surface Pro: Too Much Tablet?
You might not want to buy this almost-a-PC, overstuffed-tablet hybrid. But your boss might buy one for you.
People who have monkeys for pets should just go ahead and have kids, Jerry Seinfeld years ago joked in a standup bit about pet ownership. "If you need a pet that can roller skate and smoke cigars, it's time to think about a family."
When you boil it down, that's why Microsoft's new Surface Pro, which went on sale over the weekend, won't rack up much in the way of sales volumes. It comes across as a computer stuffed into a media tablet. That it is a tablet-first device is underscored by a display that is in the 10-inch range. It does boast the full Windows 8 OS, however, not the abbreviated Windows RT found on the original Surface tablet. So it will run all Windows 7 and Windows 8 applications, and connect to any and all of the peripherals you already have. And it's built around a full-fledged PC processor, a Core i5 from Intel.
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All that capability in such a small package comes with tradeoffs on both ends, however. Battery life is far below tablet standards, and the weight is far above. The base configuration costs $899, which is out of sight for a tablet. To make it worse, the Surface Pro comes without a keyboard and affords less capacity for your data than what many MP3 players today offer. (The entry-level Surface Pro model comes with 64 GB, but the OS leaves only 30 GB for data.)
[ Is Surface Pro for you? See Microsoft Surface Pro: 7 Questions To Ask. ]
With apologies to Seinfeld, if you're thinking about Surface Pro ownership, then you're so close. Just go out and get a real computer.
Most will, I predict. There are plenty of sleek new Ultrabook models available in the same price range. Many of them are designed as touch tablets. Acer's Iconia W700, for example, is available in the same price range, but with a larger display, superior battery life and better I/O options. Oh, and the detachable keyboard is included.
As poorly as the original Surface (now called Surface RT) sold, expect the Surface Pro to do worse. News out of Taiwan suggests that even Microsoft expects Pro shipments to be lower, with orders to manufacturing that reportedly are a fraction of what they were for the Surface RT.
Hopefully we can all agree by now that the Surface Pro won't sell well. So let's move on to why it will be successful.
The reason: enterprise buyers like it.
Last week, InformationWeek associate editor Michael Endler wrote about a new Forrester survey, which found that more information workers want a Windows tablet than an iOS or Android device. Whether that translates into Surface Pro sales is another matter entirely, he pointed out. True enough.
It's also true that Microsoft is well entrenched in the enterprise, and that is helping the Surface Pro get attention from IT buyers. They're ordering small lots today as proof-of-concept devices for their Windows 8 tablet software development programs.
So the sales numbers may be trivial in the near term. But today's pilot programs hold promise for higher volumes once they blossom into companywide deployments. Maybe that doesn't mean quite as much as it used to, in the days before BYOD crept into the IT vernacular.
(I prefer to call it IBMODD, BTW. It's short for "I'm Bringing My Own Device, Dammit!" I think it better reflects the tenor of the BYOD movement, which arose when execs started bringing their iPhones to work and ordered IT to integrate them.)
Regardless, the potential for a windfall in the enterprise exists for Microsoft with the Surface Pro, although that's a bit further down the road. In the meantime, Microsoft could improve on the appeal of the Pro line by bifurcating it into a clear tablet-first model and a computer-centric offering. With that approach, the company just might end up leaving the monkey business to Seinfeld.
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