Surface Pro: What’s the Audience?

The Microsoft Surface Pro finally has a release date and price. On Feb. 9, it goes on sale for $899 in the US and Canada. Like its predecessor and cousin the Surface RT, it has the same unusual hybrid form factor, with a touchscreen that is basically usable only in landscape mode and only with the help of a keyboard-cum-Touch Cover.

Unlike the Surface RT, the Pro runs fulls Windows 8 with the help of an Intel Core i5 processor, meaning it has compatibility not only with Windows 8 apps but with the entire glut of legacy Windows desktop apps. This full-fledged Wintel box also rocks a gorgeous 1080p screen, which, along with the Intel chip, means it gets only a few hours of battery life tops.

The official Microsoft announcement around the Pro was odd, though. As if to incentivize buyers potentially turned off by its steep price (basically what you would pay for an ultrabook), Microsoft offered exclusive Touch Cover colors (cyan, magenta) for the Pro, along with a Wedge Touch Mouse. So we have, essentially, a response to the iPad and the sea of increasingly capable Android tablets (namely the Nexus line and Samsung’s phablets) that is priced like a high-end Windows laptop and accessorized like a desktop (others have already noted how the Surface’s various covers are only really usable on a table or, well, a desktop surface…sorry).

Is this a machine meant for the enterprise? Its price and “full Windows” capability seem to indicate Microsoft’s attempt to stanch the tide of iOS and Android into the workplace by showing off how well Office can run on a semi-tablet. But at the same time, the silly playfulness of the color covers and superfluous mouse/pen support indicate what seems to me like some confusion about what the Surface Pro wants to be – namely, that it wants to capture the consumer imagination like the iPad or Nexus 7 have.

If Windows 8 hybrids have anything in common, it is overly high price, and the Pro is no exception. Is a consumer going to shell out over 1k (with taxes and the almost obligatory Touch/Type Cover) for a device that is distinguished primarily by its ability to run old Windows programs and Office? I don’t doubt that many enterprises – still under the illusion that Office is a necessity – will, but I have my doubts about consumers at large.

Part of the issue is how stridently the Surface family tries to re-appropriate the mobile device sphere as a realm of “PCs” (it prompts you to “Setup Your PC,” etc. and Steve Ballmer himself is fond of this terminology). This is an incredibly semantical way of trying to confront the post-PC march, by simply saying that all tablets are actually “PCs.” Whether they are or not, of course, doesn’t matter – the best tablets are not being made by Microsoft and they aren’t running Windows (7/8/RT/Phone/whatever), either.

What’s more, as I alluded to in a tweet, the idea of a device that bridges the gap between laptop and tablet is already being materialized by both the iPad (with its rich productivity app library and capable Bluetooth keyboards) and the Chromebook (which powers an old-school laptop with essentially a mobile OS), both of which are distinguished from the Surface family by their willingness to completely let go of the desktop legacy.

It feels like the Surface Pro may energize some parts of the enterprise that still cling to the last necessities of the Windows/Office, but it’s still a wannabe consumer hit in “business” clothing, and it feels like something that by trying so hard to please both sides will satisfy neither.

-The ScreenGrab Team

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