Microsoft feels the need to pledge Surface Pro is 'here to stay'

Takes the unusual step of publicly promising that the tablet-notebook won't vanish

Microsoft Surface Pro 3
Michael Homnick

Microsoft today promised that it's committed to the Surface Pro is-it-a-tablet-no-it's-a-notebook line, saying "We are here to stay."

The company also launched a limited-time offer that discounts a Surface Pro 3 by up to $150 if purchased with both a keyboard and a docking station, which cost a total of $350 above and beyond the price of the Surface Pro.

In a long blog post, Brian Hall, general manager for Surface, staked out Microsoft's commitment to the tablet/notebook, and said that the post was, at least in part, a response to concerns about the platform's future.

"Recently, we've received a lot of interest (and questions) from businesses about how Surface Pro 3 will work for them and what Microsoft's longer-term commitment to Surface is in businesses of all sizes," Hall wrote.

In the post, Hall also promised that customers will be able to upgrade their Surface Pro 3 devices to Windows 10 when the new OS launches next year; said current accessories, like the docking station and detachable keyboards, will be compatible "with the next generation of the 'Pro' line of Surface;" and kicked off the $150 discount.

The latter will be available to buyers who purchase a Surface Pro 3, Type Cover (the $130 combination cover and keyboard), and docking station at the same time through an authorized U.S. reseller. The deal will be extended to other markets in the coming weeks, Hall said.

Hinting at the importance of the message, Hall's blog even included a quote from CEO Satya Nadella. "Microsoft is putting its full and sustained support behind the ongoing Surface program as one of a number of great hardware choices for businesses large and small," Nadella said.

The public pledge of support was unusual for Microsoft, prompting some to speculate that it was in reaction to a report from the often-inaccurate DigiTimes, which today ran with a rumor that claimed poor sales would "likely" result in the line's termination.

Bob O'Donnell, principal analyst at Technalysis Research, scoffed at that idea, saying it would be very unlikely that Microsoft could assemble a reaction, one that included a discount offer no less, within hours.

In any case, O'Donnell didn't see today's cross-our-hearts pledge as a one-off. "What we're seeing is an evolution of messaging," said O'Donnell in an interview. "The Surface Pro is really a notebook, not a tablet, and this is an incremental step [for Microsoft]."

To explain that, O'Donnell pointed out even though Microsoft markets the Surface Pro 3 as a notebook replacement -- he cited recent television advertisements that pit the device against Apple's MacBook Air -- it repudiates that marketing by selling the Surface Pro 3 without a keyboard. Virtually every reviewer and analyst who has evaluated or analyzed the Surface Pro 3 has questioned that because, well, no one sells a laptop sans keyboard.

The limited-time offer, then, could be seen as a move toward bundling a Type Cover keyboard with the hardware. "If so, it's a step in the right direction," said O'Donnell.

O'Donnell said that other Windows OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) are, if not worried about the Surface Pro 3's uptake by enterprises, certainly keeping a close eye on the trend. "All [Microsoft's] rivals are watching the Surface Pro because they are running into it in enterprise accounts," he said.

What was interesting to O'Donnell was the absence of any mention of the Surface 2, the ARM processor-based tablet powered by Windows RT, the touch-centric half-sister to Windows 8.

"I wouldn't be surprised if they killed the Surface RT," O'Donnell said, using the tablet's original name. "That wouldn't shock anyone. It's not been a barn burner."

O'Donnell wondered whether DigiTimes might have heard that Microsoft was, in fact, killing the Surface 2, but gotten confused and referenced the Surface Pro 3 instead.

Microsoft has never disclosed unit sales numbers for its Surface devices, but has revealed revenue in regulatory filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). As of the June 2014 quarter, Microsoft has posted losses of approximately $1.7 billion for the Surface since its 2012 introduction.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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