Surface Pro with LTE: changing a mindset

If you find yourself on a laptop or tablet that is always connected in a year or so, you may have this new Surface product to thank for it.

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Microsoft

This week Microsoft [Disclosure:  Microsoft is a client of the author] announced the date for shipping their Surface Pro with LTE Advanced.   This is an important foundational product for their coming Windows on Snapdragon offering because it will set the market for a laptop that is always connected, a capability that has been in market for over a decade but largely without broad adoption.  Even though we have had pervasive data connections with our phones for over a decade we still think of PCs more as hard wired devices that may not always be connected.  To assure the success of the ARM version of Windows Microsoft needs to build up advocacy for that capability because if the ARM laptops are reviewed like an x86 laptop they’ll be panned.   They have to be seen, much like the iPad initially was, not as a crippled product but as an offering with unique advantages.   This isn’t going to be easy and this new Surface Pro with LTE Advanced will need to plow the field. 

Surface

Let’s refresh why Surface as a line of tablets and laptops exists.  Surface was created largely to battle Apple and fill a gap that Microsoft felt wasn’t being met by OEMs.   This was the same decision tree that created the Zune but Surface rolled against Tim Cook and not Steve Jobs, and the Surface team (with some initial stumbles like the first ARM based version of the product) executed.  

The result was a line of products that has performed particularly well against the MacBooks and the iPad Pro.  But, particularly when it comes to the iPad Pro, these products had many clear shortcomings in terms of carry weight, battery life, and ease of use.   The iPads were more like Smartphones and they were also more likely to be connected to a cellular service than any convertible (2-in-1) Notebook by any vendor was.  

LTE Advanced

LTE Advanced brings an always-on high performance network connection to the product.  This has security advantages because it eliminates the need for Wi-Fi access points which generally aren’t secure, are often slow, or unavailable.  In most cases, not yet on airplanes, you simply open your laptop or turn on your tablet with this feature and you are connected.  But you do have to have a data plan that covers the product, and this is in addition to whatever Wi-Fi program you currently use.  

These last aspects are what has kept what otherwise might have been a must-have feature from going mainstream.  The aggravation and extra cost of the connection has kept people from either buying products that had this feature or enabling it if purchased.  

What’s changed

A few things have changed.  One is that LTE advanced is a lot faster and now often better than what you’d get from Wi-Fi.  Carriers are allowing multiple devices onto the same data plan, so you don’t have to have a second contract for the device.  And the hardware cost of the feature has dropped, it will effectively be free in the ARM based Windows offering.  

All-important improvements but someone has to market this capability otherwise it still won’t be adopted.  

Surface Pro with LTE Advanced

Recapping:  Cellular connected laptops have never sold well.   Surface was created to fill gaps and mostly run against Apple where the iPad Pro likely represents the greatest threat to Microsoft.   The Windows on Snapdragon offering is positioned against that threat, but the market isn’t ready for an always connected convertible laptops.   That takes us to Surface Pro with LTE Advanced.  This gives Microsoft a product where they can push this connectivity feature months before Windows on Snapdragon is ready.  This effort should not only plow the field for an ARM based Windows laptop or tablet, it should help Microsoft and others marketing this future product understand which messages resonate and which don’t.  This will allow all the firms bringing these new Snapdragon based offerings to slipstream Microsoft and hit the ground running.   They should be better able to assure the success of the result as well.  

So, in effect, Microsoft is preparing the market for their coming Windows on Snapdragon offerings with this interim Surface Pro with LTE Advanced.   If you find yourself on a laptop or tablet that is always connected in a year or so, you may have this new Surface product to thank for it.   It is a major step in a major effort to change the mindset of buyers so they will value an always there wireless connection in a laptop class of product.  

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