Microsoft’s laplet: hubris, hype and hopeless enterprise-based optimism

Surface Pro 3 with docking station

Surface Pro 3 with docking station

On Tuesday Microsoft fooled pundits who’d been predicting the announcement of a smaller addition to its Surface range of tablet computers by announcing a larger, 12-inch version instead, the Surface Pro 3. Rather than targeting the mainstream, consumer tablet market dominated by Apple and Samsung, Microsoft is doubling down on its enterprise-first strategy – which would be great if its latest offering weren’t overpriced, awkward and missing key features.

Like its predecessor, the Surface Pro 2, Microsoft promises this version can serve as a wholesale replacement for a laptop. Strange then that primary thing that distinguishes laptops from tablets – a physical keyboard – isn’t include with the device. Microsoft’s combination cover-and-keyboard will set buyers back a further US$130 over and above the cost of the tablet itself.

The included stylus is a pleasing inclusion, and complements the touch interface inherent to tablet computing, but I’m sure many users would rather Microsoft include support for LTE mobile broadband than an easily-misplaced accessory most users have, to date, lived perfectly well without.

In its presentation on Tuesday Microsoft compared the Surface Pro 3 to products like Apple’s Air laptop and largely steered clear of comparisons to other tablets on the market while also having a dig at tablets as being primarily tools for content consumption rather than creation. Sure, most tablet owners who need to do “serious work” carry a laptop, too. What’s strange is that Microsoft believes an incredibly pricey tablet with a detachable keyboard is going to change that.

I own a tablet and I own a laptop. When I want to work on documents or spreadsheets, edit photographs or make music I use my laptop. When I want to read, trawl the internet, or browse the aforementioned content I use my tablet. And if I had to do away with one of them it would, without doubt, be the tablet that was shown the door.

Why? The processing power and input methods of my laptop are better suited to most purposes. Microsoft has addressed the first of these issues with the Surface Pro 3 (which comes in various processor, RAM and storage configurations) but I don’t believe it’s solved the second. Does a keyboard cover and kickstand really make for comfortable laptop computing?

At this point there’ll be those who’ll assert that they always use their laptops on desks or tabletops and thus there’s no need for the rigidity of a conventional laptop. What dull and cloistered lives they must lead. I’m writing this column propped up in bed with my knees at 90° and my laptop at around 45° without any trouble at all. Similarly, I’ve spent many a press conference working with my laptop resting on the very thing its designation suggests it’s designed for: my lap.

Then there’s the issue of cost. Even the entry-level Surface Pro 3 (with its Core i3 processor, 64GB of flash storage and 4GB of RAM) costs over US$900 when you’ve added the keyboard. If you want the top-end, “laptop-killer” model with a Core i7 processor, 512GB of storage and 8GB of RAM it’ll cost you over US$2 000. For that kind of money you can buy an equally — if not better — equipped slim, lightweight and portable Ultrabook from PC manufacturers like Lenovo, Dell and Samsung, or one of Apple’s MacBook Airs or Pros.

Microsoft has always enjoyed success with the enterprise market, but to suggest that this market is so price insensitive it’ll pay the same sort of money for a tablet that it could use to buy two decent Windows laptops isn’t just misguided, it’s hubristic.

Speaking of hubris, what makes Microsoft believe that “real work” can only be done using either a laptop or a high-end tablet? As sales figures attest, plenty of people have bought and managed perfectly well with Android-powered tablets or Apple iPads up until now. There’s also the fact that Microsoft Office is, as of last month, available for Apple’s iPhone and iPad. Remind me again why I need Microsoft-made hardware?

Microsoft has positioned itself as the company that’s chasing and catering to the business market rather than consumer market. Its mistake is in thinking these markets are distinct. In reality, there’s massive overlap between them, as demonstrated by the ongoing bring-you-own-device (BYOD) trend.

Most people simply want great devices at reasonable prices that can be used for whatever they see fit. Very few of them want overpriced, new devices dedicated to doing things that existing products already manage perfectly well.

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