Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Understanding Microsoft's Surface Pro

 Microsoft has confirmed pricing, release date, and specs for their upcoming Surface Pro. It starts at about $900 for a 64GB of storage and you'll be able to get one in January. It runs an Intel i5, 4GB RAM, Windows 8 Pro, and all in a body slightly larger than the Surface RT. However, the product has been met with some early criticism.
   Part of the negative comments have centered around the lack of battery life. Microsoft has said that the battery life is about half of that of the Surface RT. That puts it at about four hours. That leaves something to be desired. Between that and the fact that it has Intel HD Graphics 4000, it falls short of perfect. These two issues are potentially being addressed with the next iteration as rumors are afoot that the next version will run an AMD APU. That would potentially improve battery life and improve graphic performance. But that's all speculation and neither here nor there.
   Another part of the less-than-loving comments center around the price. Sure, compared to other tablets, it's a bit pricey. A 64GB iPad costs $700, a 64GB Surface RT with a TouchCover costs $700, and Android tablets go for a few hundred dollars. That puts Surface Pro hundreds of dollars above just about anything else out there. When I posted on my Facebook about the announced price and specifications, I received comments such as "899 might as well not sell it" and "HOW much?!? What are they thinking?" And from a quick glance, they're right. However, anyone who's paid significant attention to the cycles of technology sees that it's actually quite different. With Apple's move to the iPad Mini and Microsoft's move with the Surface Pro, it becomes clear that one of these companies has been taking notes and the other is just looking for a quick sell.
   I remember the first time I saw a laptop. It was in the early 1990's and was a work computer for my dad. It ran an Intel 386 processor. It had a black and white screen and I could see the pixels fade in and out as they turned on and off. It could do very little. Back then all I cared about playing games and the device couldn't do that. It just didn't have the power needed. The blank and white screen and poor sound didn't help.
   Regardless of the price, that device had no hope of replacing the desktop computer we had. It simply couldn't do everything our family computer could do. It couldn't play CDs. It didn't run a lot of the programs that my parents used or at least didn't run them as well. I couldn't play the games I had.
   Laptops had a purpose though. People needed to be able to do work on the go. Carting a desktop computer around just wasn't feasible. So some people had both.
   But now, laptops can do pretty much anything desktop computers can do. I'm typing this post on a desktop computer and there's no reason I couldn't do it on a laptop. Every single program I run (Steam, Zune, Office, Media Center, Premiere Elements, etc.) runs on a lot of the laptops out there.
   And this transition has had an impact on our purchasing. Look at a Best Buy and they give laptops plenty of floor space and a place where they can be seen by everyone just walking by. At my local Best Buy, desktops are given space on a single shelf and hidden in a aisle between the laptops and the accessories. When I have people ask me about their next computer, they always ask for a laptop. I almost never get someone asking me about a desktop unless it's an old device they have that needs fixed. If they could replace it, they'd get a laptop instead.

   I'm seeing something similar now with tablets. Very few have completely given up their laptops and are living just on tablets. The most popular tablet, the iPad, syncs with your computer via iTunes. It's more or less dependent on a regular computer. On top of that, all iOS, Android, and Windows RT tablets lack the ability to run a lot of the programs we use on our desktops. None of them can run Adobe Premiere or Photoshop. Good luck playing a game of CounterStrike on most tablets. Office? Outside Windows RT that's something that people still need their laptop for. So despite how much some thing their tablet replaces their laptop, it simply can't.
   That is unless it's a Surface Pro or similar Windows 8 x86 tablet. This actually can replace a laptop. This is something that runs all the Windows apps we use regularly (assuming the system requirements don't exceed the specs of the Surface Pro). The hardware combined with the finger friendly nature of Windows 8 (a finger friendly nature was what held Windows 7 tablets back) makes for a tablet that can do it all.
   Surface Pro is the logical next step in computing. When computers first started, they were large. The idea of having one on a desk was silly. They then progressed to something we have on our desk, but they were bulky and lacked any sort of mobility. We eventually got laptops, but their lack of functionality kept them from hitting it big. That is until the line between the capabilities of laptops and desktops disappeared. And while tablets are popular, they still leave all of their owners that also have a laptop with the fact that they can't do it all. Anyone with a Surface Pro won't have the deal with that. The moment they buy one, they can put their laptop up on sale on eBay. People with iPads can't do that. They'll still need their laptop.
   To the people who made negative comments about the price on my Facebook (and I know of at least one of them who owns a laptop and a tablet), I pointed out something interesting about Surface Pro. A laptop with similar specs runs for about $600. A Windows RT tablet with 64GB of storage and a TouchCover costs $700. For $1000, a person can have something that can do everything the tablet can do (with exception to battery life) as well as everything the laptop can do. That's a savings of $300. That makes it a pretty good deal.
   Will Surface Pro fly off the shelves at Microsoft Stores when it comes out? No. There will probably be a number of them waiting to be bought. Between the battery life and the questionable decision regarding Intel graphics, it leaves something to be desired. It will also take people time to realize the benefit of Surface Pro's design. Many will just look at it and see a really expensive tablet. Until they're educated on why it's worth that price, they'll continue to buy iPads. But perhaps with Microsoft's next Surface Pro, they'll get the battery life higher, get some respectable graphics in it, and have consumers educated. Until that's done, Surface Pro will probably be viewed as personal computers were by the general public in the early days of Gates and Jobs starting their businesses... just a hobby toy that will never have mass appeal. However after people see the value of such a device, Apple's decision to make a smaller tablet that offers less practical functionality will leave people asking "Why in the world did they do that?"

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