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Surface Pro 3: Should Apple Be Worried?

by: E. Werner Reschke | May 21, 2014
Categories: Competition, iPad, Review

Surface-pro-3-miss-the-target-arrowsYesterday, Microsoft introduced the Surface Pro 3 tablet/laptop. As the number indicates, this is the third iteration of Microsoft’s tablet coming less than two years since the original Surface RT was foisted onto the marketplace.

The Surface Pro 3’s runs atop Intel’s i3, i5 or i7 processors and Windows 8. Battery life is said to be about 9 hours for web browsing and has storage options of 64, 128, 256 and 512GB. A USB 3 port is included. However, the big feature is the new 12" 2160 x 1440 display. Microsoft is again positioning the Surface Pro 3 as both a tablet and a laptop — portability and power to be both. But Surface being a laptop and a tablet is exactly what Microsoft claimed of the original 10.9" Surface. Whatever the flawed reasoning, Microsoft continues to double down on on their previously failed mantra.

Should Apple Be Worried?

The Surface Pro 3 starts at $799 for a model with 64GB and no keyboard. The keyboard, which is supposed to turn Surface into a full fledged laptop, is an additional $129. The chart below does a quick comparison between an iPad Air and Surface Pro 3.

  iPad Air Surface Pro 3
Starting Price $499 USD $799 USD
Display 9.7" (2048 x 1560) 12" (2160 x 1440)
CPU A7 Dual Core Intel i3
Base Storage 16GB 64GB
Battery Life 10 hours (estimate) 9 hours (estimate)
Operating System iOS 7 Windows 8
USB No Yes

On the surface (pun indented) the Surface Pro 3 looks like it stacks up well with the iPad Air. Pound for pound it looks like a good deal for those wanting to stay on the Windows platform. However, upon further scrutiny there are some real drawbacks to Microsoft’s philosophy and product.

First, to buy the base model as advertised, which means purchasing a keyboard, one shells out $929 USD. That’s a lot of coin for a tablet turned into a laptop. For that price, you can get the top of the line LTE enabled iPad Air. But the real question is, if you buy the keyboard, why not just spend a few dollars more and get a base model 13" MacBook Air? Then you have a real laptop — one you can actually use on your lap — instead of tablet trying to pretend to be one with a plastic keyboard.

Second, specifications are often a slight of hand. For example, the base model of the Surface Pro 3 comes with 64GB of SSD storage, while the iPad Air only 16GB. But while the iOS only takes up about 1GB of that storage, Windows 8 consumes about 28GB on the Surface Pro 3. Available storage out of the box is more like a 15GB (iPad Air) to 36GB (Surface Pro 3). To make things comparable a 32GB iPad Air costs $599 and the Surface Pro 3 $799 — a $200 premium for nearly identical storage. The Surface Pro 3 starts to become hard-pressed to sell any sort of value.

Finally, this is Microsoft’s third attempt at getting this product right in only 19 months. How would you feel if less than two years ago you had bought a Surface RT tablet? Or better yet, within the last year shelled out hard earned cash for the Surface Pro 2? You might be a little hesitant to get in the mix because after sales are sluggish for the Surface Pro 3, prices will start dropping and the Surface Pro 4 will address all of those shortcomings within the next nine months. In other words, Microsoft is throwing model revision after model revision against the wall at a rapid pace, in the hopes something will stick, but doing so only creates uncertainty in the consumer’s mind. “Maybe I should just wait for prices to drop or for the next model?” Or “Maybe I should get an iPad Air, which I see others using just fine with their Windows desktop systems.”

Apple has done it right. It has not tried to make its tablet into laptop’s or vise versa. While some people can only afford one device (which is Microsoft’s attempt at disrupting the market by sliding in between the tablet pricing and laptop pricing), the approach continues to fail. After enough storage is added along with Microsoft's overpriced, flimsy keyboard, one might as well buy a real solid and powerful ultrabook laptop.

We expect Surface Pro 3 will soon join its predecessors as just another footnote in wikipedia.

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