For somebody who grew up (professionally and technically) with Microsoft’s operating systems and software, it’s strange how prone to missteps the company seems to have been over the past few years.
Perhaps it's because, although some of their ads have tried to brush over this, Microsoft has never really been a consumer company. Even in the beginning, when the company was throwing MS-DOS operating systems on PCs that worked with 8088 processors, the systems were not really being marketed as much to the tech enthusiasts that were replacing their typewriters with computers and WordStar, but to companies that were replacing mainframe workstations with independent systems.
In fact, one of Microsoft’s major missteps in the past few years is probably its attempt to have its enterprise cake and let the consumers eat it too: Combining a very consumery touch-centric Windows 8 interface with their more traditional keyboard interface and trying to push business users into the former.
So in today’s press event, Microsoft introduced its new Surface Pro 3 as both a laptop and a tablet -- and good at being both. The underlying message is that the company is going for people who want to work with their equipment rather than watch movies on it. So Microsoft emphasized products like Photoshop and Final Draft, along with its own OneNote, as reasons that people -- professionals, creative people, and those who simply are very tech-savvy -- may want to look consider the new system.
At first glance, the Surface Pro 3 is indeed an impressive piece of hardware. It comes with a 12-in. 2160 x 1440 HD display (at a 3 x 2 aspect ratio), is very lightweight -- a little over 1.76 lb. -- and sleek. My usual travel machine is one of the older 11-in. Samsung Chromebooks, which is about 2.43 lbs., so even adding Microsoft's new (and thinner) Type Cover, the Surface Pro 3 beats it in the mobility races.
The hardware includes a kickstand that that can bring the Surface Pro up to an angle of 150 degrees. There is a full-sized USB 3.0 port, a microSD card reader and a Mini Displayport.
The starting price (presumably for the Intel Core i3 version; there will also be a Core i5 and Core i7 version) will be $799; however, users will probably want to include a variety of other accessories. (I've listed the prices where available; however, one hopes that Microsoft will be selling these as buy-it-now-and-get-it-cheaper add-ons with its new Surface Pros as well.)
Prime among the peripherals is the Type Cover (which will sell separately for $130), without which Microsoft's new tablet/laptop is merely yet another tablet. It has also been improved, with a larger trackpad and the ability to fold and magnetically attach at the bottom front of the tablet in order to create a more stable "laptop" feel. I tried it on my rather narrow lap, and I have to admit that the Surface did feel less as though it was going to drop off any moment).
A very interesting addition is the Surface Pen ($50), which Microsoft insisted during the press event was not a stylus, and which fits into a little loop on Type Cover. The pen talks to the Surface via Bluetooth; clicking the top of the pen brings up Microsoft OneNote for, as the company rep put it, thoughts that you have to get down immediately. Microsoft also touted the pen's sensitivity for drawing delicate lines, which could make it highly attractive for users who not only want to take notes on the fly, but also artists, photographers and other creative workers.
There will also be a docking station -- price not yet specified -- which will be very welcome for business users who want to work with a larger display or a regular keyboard.
Within a couple of days, Preston Gralla will be giving us his impressions of this latest Microsoft effort. My own immediate reaction (after playing with a unit for about half an hour before packing it up to ship it to Preston) is that Microsoft may be finally going after its true audience -- business and creative professionals.