Is the Surface Pro an iPad Killer?

While the soon to be released Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) Surface Pro is clearly aimed at taking the business world back into the Windows fold, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) is not conceding the high ground without a fight. Our friends in Cupertino recently announced that they are releasing a new 128 GB version of the popular iPad tablet, and from the tenor of the press release, the business world is a significant target of the strategy. When juxtaposed against ongoing criticism of the limited storage capacity that the Surface Pro will actually offer, the Apple move seems like a master stroke. Ultimately, however, if the Surface Pro can deliver on some of its central promises, it has the potential to replace your laptop and your iPad.

A bigger, better mousetrap
Apple's senior VP of worldwide marketing Philip Schiller said of the larger capacity iPad: "With twice the storage capacity and an unparalleled selection of over 300,000 native iPad apps, enterprises, educators and artists have even more reasons to use iPad for all their business and personal needs." The release goes on to quote users from a variety of industries that reference both the versatility of the iPad in a business environment and the benefits of greater capacity. While I think the PR department is masterful in its rendering of copy, the story misses the point: a bigger iPad is still an iPad.

While each of the professionals quoted in the release refer to specific software that has been developed for such pursuits as mixing music, manipulating architectural plans, or reviewing football game film, I still contend that the device is primarily a consumption tool. Each of these specialized uses is possible after a developer makes the effort to tailor an app to the specific needs of the task at hand, but none is innately a part of the iPad. "That's the whole point," the critics of this view will say, but the productive nature of a laptop is far less targeted or over-specialized.

I think it is worth noting the quote referring to the AutoCAD app does not discuss creation: features of the device provide "a real advantage for iPad users to view, edit and share their AutoCAD data." Is this a subtle distinction? Certainly, but with as much creative capacity as computers facilitate, the distinction is critical.

Does size matter?
A significant constraint that exists in both the Surface RT and the Surface Pro is the amount of space taken up once the OS and first-level programs are installed on the device. As fellow Fool Evan Niu points out, the difference between what is advertised and what is available after the install is dramatic -- a 64 GB device is left with just 23 GB of usable storage space after Windows 8 and other programs are loaded. While that capacity is fairly significant if we are referring to documents and spreadsheets, multimedia files can fill the space quickly.

Microsoft's "Band-Aid" solution is to utilize the 3.0 USB port to expand the devices capacity. While this is an admittedly frustrating exercise, particularly for a device with an $899 price tag, the iPad is not expandable at all. With as cheap as flash memory has become, the ability to swap data sets easily through the use of flash drives seems more appealing than a greater starting capacity that is permanently fixed.

If we take the capacity argument to its logical conclusion, as more data storage heads to the cloud, internal storage capacity, particularly for enterprises uses, seems fairly irrelevant. While there are certainly times when you cannot access the cloud, the 23 GB of space that remains free should address this need. I do not mean to completely minimize the issue, but I do not think it precludes the Surface Pro from being a legitimate replacement for other devices.

The enterprise advantage
Perhaps the biggest advantage that the Surface Pro has is that it is capable of running legacy Windows and Office applications. While Apple makes much of the fact that most Fortune 500 companies are currently deploying or testing the iPad, and 85% of the Global 500 are, it is not the plug-and-play solution that the Microsoft devices promise to be. Where many companies, like those quoted in the press release, may be able to deploy an iPad for business purposes, any company using Windows and Office should be able to hand an employee a Surface Pro and, with almost no training, expect him or her to be able to utilize company resources in a mobile capacity.

Furthermore, files created on the Surface Pro will easily integrate back onto company servers, making the new devices a nearly seamless addition. While it is ultimately too soon to call the Microsoft offering an iPad killer, if the devices are quickly adopted by businesses, the entire landscape of mobile computing may change. For this reason and others, I am a buyer of Microsoft ahead of the Feb. 9 release.

Learn more
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Read/Post Comments (10) | Recommend This Article (5)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 31, 2013, at 6:43 PM, dwilh51183 wrote:

    NO NO NO NO NO IPAD'S remain the number 1 pick of business' and h.s and college students. having a microsoft surface tablet or a samsung phone is like wearing bell bottoms. they are NOT COOL

  • Report this Comment On January 31, 2013, at 7:14 PM, RadarTheKat wrote:

    You contend that the iPad is a consumption device. Do you really? And I agree. So is the Surface Pro! That's the rub here. Who is going to use that little 10" widescreen Surface Pro display to edit AutoCad files? I spend 25 years in the software business using PCs to write, design, code, etc. I always wanted the biggest display I could get. Who are these rich-content creators who are going to give up a 15" laptop for a 10" Surface? Not going to happen. The Surface Pro has no advantage over the iPad; it's just a thicker, heavier, content transporter/consumer with a not very useful keyboard. And it's a content consumer that forces the user into landscape always mode. Good luck MSFT, you're going to need it.

  • Report this Comment On January 31, 2013, at 8:44 PM, ReadyToPlay wrote:

    COOL isn't a factor when a business is looking at their budget and if a tool is productive. How well it fits into their ecosystem is more important.

    Sony had the same idiotic mentality with their proprietary products like their memory stick. It let the competition catch up and pass them. Samsung is a lot Cooler than Apple in that it gives the user choices. I would rather have a large screen. Apple could care less and wants to dictate one vision. I know of more friends that have purchased Samsung in the last 4 months than Apple.

    From an International perspective, a friend recently returned from Bangkok. She was blown away by the fact that every diverse group of people she met – family, college buddies, high school, previous co-workers all told her the same thing – iPhone 5 is bad, Samsung is better. Previously, it was the iPhone that ruled. So this was a big change in perspective

    On a side note – from that same Thailand trip, her friends and family were crazy about Starbucks and McDonalds. You were COOL if you had a Starbucks cup. If you had another brand, you covered it with a napkin. And they asked her what Costco and Whole Foods were like. They want one to open up soon. And regarding MCD, it wasn’t the standard menu. It was the items that were tweaked for the locals.

  • Report this Comment On January 31, 2013, at 9:42 PM, neocolonialist wrote:

    I have been a LONG time user of MSFT products, and a long time product developer for Windows based products, (I even checked in code at MSFT a couple of times though never worked for them directly). And I have to say, I don't get the hype around Microsoft or their products right now.

    I was shocked when I learned the management costs associated with Office products. And with Google and others making huge strides in cloud based replacements, if I was Microsoft I would be terrified right now. I am sure they are.

    While I do not think the desktop is going anywhere for a while, I think it is pretty obvious the desktop share of the pie is going to be shrinking dramatically in the business space going forward.

    The only real advantage I really see to the Surface on the tablet front is the keyboard. And there are keyboards you can get for the iPad so I hear. And from a pure usability standpoint if I had to choose between the iPad and Windows 8, it isn't even a contest. AAPL knows how to make a usable product.

    Between alienating customers by trying to lock hardware to only being able to run Windows 8 and a loss of the HUGE developer lock MSFT had with Win32 (GOOG and AAPL are now sporting armies of developers that dwarf Win32/WinRT devs), I don't see the future as bright for MSFT.

    I think their day is done honestly. They won't go away tomorrow, but a credible threat to AAPL? Not unless a lot of things change. Just my $0.02

    Bill M.

  • Report this Comment On January 31, 2013, at 10:22 PM, ferrisJ9 wrote:

    Not cool? I have kids, they want to trade their Iphone's in for Windows Nokia phones. They want their own surfaces and no longer wish for Ipads.

    Not cool? Every time I pass by the Apple store which is directly across from the Microsoft store in Mall of America, the kids are all in the Microsoft store, while the old folks are all in apple.

    Not better than the ipad? Lets see...

    Ability to expand memory. A tremendous feature. Ipad? When you run out, you need to upgrade to a bigger ipad. Or maybe buy a second or third one.

    USB port; means I can use many other devices. Huge plus. Ipad? No chance.

    A keyboard? Awesome. Ipad? No.

    HD output to a larger screen? You bet! Ipad? Sorry....what you see is what you get, no connecting and giving presentations in the board room with your Ipad. Maybe if you hold it up and say, look her at my little screen and pass it around.

    Icons are from Windows 3.11 way back in the 90's. Live updating tiles. Welcome to the year 2013.

    For the corporate enterprise, deploying a Surface is going to be like deploying a laptop. Same folks they currently employ can support both, no need for additional trainers, repair folks or training. For a small company this is no big deal. But for a fortune 500 company, this adds up to millions quickly. It's an easy decision for the CEO to make.

    Xbox? Last I heard, Xbox is still way in the lead in sales.

  • Report this Comment On January 31, 2013, at 10:25 PM, ferrisJ9 wrote:

    Radarcat says: " I always wanted the biggest display I could get. Who are these rich-content creators who are going to give up a 15" laptop for a 10" Surface? Not going to happen. "

    Right, not going to happen...... that is on an Ipad. However with a Surface there is an HD output of which you can output your display to a 46" TV! Or larger if you wish. Although I do believe 46" is the largest folks are recommending. Still, you can't even port out to a 15" tv with an ipad.

  • Report this Comment On January 31, 2013, at 10:31 PM, pynew wrote:

    The Surface Pro is the best of both worlds. It runs all new Win8 software and any win 7 desktop software. What's not to like? If you want to edit AutoCAD drawings as someone mentioned (as well as anything), you can! The Surface Pro has an external display resolution of 2560 x 1440.

    iPad can't run both Apple's software OS styles and neither can the MacBook Pro or Air. They also don't have a touchscreen. So, you have to carry around two devices. Ick!

  • Report this Comment On February 01, 2013, at 9:00 AM, sal0475 wrote:

    I like the IPAD its great for my kids, but when it comes to me and the work I need to get done. Windows Pro is the direction I am heading. Plus I can still have fun with it.

  • Report this Comment On February 01, 2013, at 4:41 PM, selboury wrote:

    SXD Slot for expandable memory up to 256GB !!!

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2013, at 5:53 PM, salestech wrote:

    I have been waiting on Microsoft I use a laptop on a daily basis in my work. I work in Sales and depend on emails, internet access, and techincal software and company database. After many co-workers purchased an iPad they were able to use email and interent to access our CRM. That's it for presentations and using all our other software they had to carry a laptop along with the iPad. I am trying to lessen my load so since I found that I can put everything thats on my laptop on the Surface. I am getting it once it comes out Feb 9, no hesitation. My biggest complaint is the statement I read (not sure of the validaty) saying they are only making wifi tablet because people will use at home or in the office. That just does not make sense tablet is portable so people want them to use on the go. I really need the 4G or I am going to have to hot spot.

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