Microsoft is betting the future of its PC hardware business on enterprises with the introduction of a high-end portable called Surface Pro 3 that has a larger screen and more processing power than previous Surface devices, and makes no attempt to go toe-to-toe with the iPad.
The device is bigger than a Surface Pro 2, sporting a 12-inch touch screen rather than 10.6, is built around a range of Intel Core (Haswell), low-power processors. Battery life is ranked at 8 to 9 hours. It's thinner and lighter than Surface Pro and has a longer battery life as well.
"Even with an Office version for the iPad, there was still a need to offer full corporate functionality that the iPad couldn't readily achieve," says Jack Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates in a blog."Directly targeting the high end of the enterprise market with full Windows compatibility across all apps is an area where Microsoft can win and it doesn't need to sell tens of millions of this device to be successful."
With support for all legacy Windows apps plus the modern Windows Store apps that cater to touch, Surface Pro 3 can fit immediately into corporate environments as a laptop replacement by adding a docking station that supports a 4K monitor. It sports a removable keyboard cover with a larger trackpad.
"We are not interested in competing with our OEMs with our hardware," says Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. "We are trying to spark new categories of hardware. It is a device that takes the best of the tablet and the laptop and enables any individual to be able to read and be able to create and write, to watch a movie and create a movie."
A major change is the kickstand that holds up the device when it is in laptop mode. With Surface Pro 2 there were just two positions that the kickstand could hold. The new device has a kickstand that can be stopped at any angle up to 150 degrees so the screen can be viewed optimally regardless of the height of the surface the device is sitting on and the height of the user.
The detachable keyboard has a hinged edge that can be magnetically snapped to the base of the screen in addition to the magnetic attachment that properly aligns the keyboard and the main device. The effect of this second connection is to stiffen the bond between the two halves so it doesn't flex and so feels as stable as a conventional laptop, says Panos Panay, vice president of Surface computing.
The screen has an unconventional aspect ratio 3:2 rather than 16:9 on Surface Pro 2 in an effort to make the dimensions closer to that of a sheet of paper, Panay says.
The device has a thinner set of layers making up the display, meaning that when the device's pen is applied to the screen it appears that ink is coming out of it, not that there is a gap between the pen and the surface on which the ink appears, says Panay.
The pen itself can turn the device on. So if a user wants to write on the screen when the device is turned off, they click the pen and that click turns on the machine opened to a OneNote screen for taking notes. The notes are automatically stored to the OneDrive cloud storage account when they are saved.
Surface Pro 3 has front-facing speakers, whereas the Surface Pro 2 had speakers at the sides.
Base price is $799 plus $99 for a keyboard. Gold predicts most businesses will opt for the mid-range $1,299 version with an i5 processor and 256GB RAM. Top of the line is a $1,949 model with a Core i7 processor and 8GB of RAM. The devices are available tomorrow.
"Many corporate users have chosen iPads as a default believing that the Windows tablets are far inferior," says Gold. "This new unit, given the potential performance available, may be enough to swing users its way, and will certainly be attractive to IT groups seeking to influence (or direct) such user choice."
Tim Greene covers Microsoft and unified communications for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter@Tim_Greene.
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