At a New York event today, Microsoft (MSFT) was expected to take on the hot small tablet market with the announcement of a Microsoft Surface Mini.
In a surprise move, it was the new Surface Pro 3 that had its spotlight moment instead.
CEO Satya Nadella took the stage at 11 a.m. and launched into the company’s focus on “enabling and empowering people to do stuff,” before a new 12-inch Surface Pro 3 made its debut. Rather than chase the cheaper tablet market with a Surface Mini, MSFT is gunning to have the Surface Pro 3 be a laptop replacement — and it has Apple (AAPL) firmly in its sights.
We take a look at the specs, then how this new Surface Pro might shape up:
Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Specs
- 12-inch display, 2160 x 1440, 3:2 aspect ratio
- Pressure-sensitive stylus
- Core i7 CPU available — thinnest product ever made with an Intel (INTC) Core CPU
- 10% faster, 15-20% better battery life than Microsoft Surface Pro 2
- New full-friction kickstand with 150-degree adjustability
- 28.2 ounces, 0.35 inches thick
- New, thinner Type Cover with improved trackpad
- Docking station with output support for 4K monitor
- Pre-order starting at $799 on May 21
Microsoft Is Coming for You, Apple
How many ways did Microsoft kick Apple today?
A 13-inch MacBook Air was kept onstage during the entire presentation, on a scale beside a new Surface Pro 3 — a constant visual reminder that the new Microsoft Surface is intended to be a direct replacement for Apple’s popular laptop.
MSFT started by specifically pointing out Microsoft Surface Pro 3 capabilities in Photoshop, then trotted out a representative from Photoshop publisher Adobe (ADBE) to show how the creative class will love the new Microsoft Surface tablet. An Abobe/Microsoft partnership was touted — a development that can’t be good news for Apple.
Education was repeatedly raised, with aspect ratio (close to that of paper) and the pen and note-taking capability of the Surface Pro 3 pointed out as being ideal for students.
The new Microsoft Surface Pro 3 was compared directly to the 13-inch MacBook Air in terms of thickness (it’s thinner), weight (it’s lighter), capability (it’s got the same Core CPU), screen real estate (it has more pixels and more content onscreen) and cost (it’s cheaper, starting at just $799). The description of the design and manufacturing process for the new Microsoft Surface also was clearly meant to evoke Apple’s legendary attention to detail and the MacBook Air’s aluminum build.
Besides MacBook Air comparisons, the Surface Pro 3 presentation also took on key weaknesses in the Apple iPad, including lack of mouse/trackpad support. That lack of mouse support is my main criticism of the iPad as a productivity tool, and MSFT hammered the point home.
A Deloitte study predicts that thanks to consumer preference for smaller, less expensive tablets, small-screened devices will overtake full-sized tablets in install base for the first time in 2014. At the same time, the report notes the majority of websites are still optimized for larger PC displays (making them difficult to read on smaller tablets), while larger tablets provide a better user experience for using visually complex applications such as filling out forms.
I’ve used dozens of different tablets, and while my personal preference is for Apple’s iPad Mini with Retina Display, it’s the Microsoft Surface tablets — with their mouse support and big HD display — that I turn to for doing actual work on a tablet.
I’ve gone on record as saying I don’t think a Surface Mini is going to work any market-share miracles for Microsoft. I have no doubt that Microsoft could sell a boat load of them at first, but I suspect the novelty of a pocketable Surface for checking e-mail would wear thin. And it would be tough slogging for Microsoft to persuade casual tablet users to switch from iPad, or Android leader Samsung’s (SSNLF) collection of compact tablets for the relatively sparse app selection of Windows RT.
Microsoft seems to share my view, going bigger instead of smaller to take on the iPad Mini, or the small versions of the Amazon (AMZN) Kindle Fire and Google (GOOG) Nexus. That cheap market just seems like a battle Microsoft can’t win and is outside its core competency of business productivity. A big, fast new Microsoft Surface with an even better Touch Type cover makes sense if MSFT wants to grow its tablet market share while avoiding a battle in the casual consumer market.
However, MSFT went further than expected, positioning the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 to not only outclass the iPad Air when it comes to enterprise use, but to take on ultra-portable laptops like the MacBook Air as a direct replacement. And at the same time, it picked a fight with AAPL over its perceived lead with creative professionals and in education.
At $799, the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 makes for an expensive tablet, but it’s a cheap laptop — even cheaper if it can pull off MSFT’s goal of eliminating the need to carry both a laptop and a tablet.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.