If one of Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT ) goals in entering the consumer electronics space was to emulate Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) , there is one area in which it is already succeeding: The polarization between those who are fans and those who are not is palpable. Apple fans have long accused critics of being jealous if not purely ignorant, while non-fans consider any positive comment on Apple to be the drivel of sycophants. Responses to Apple products, both those that are well-reasoned and those that are not, contain intense emotion.
Microsoft's new release evokes exactly this type of division in opinion. Based on this article's headline, you know which camp I fall into, but the critics' complaints are not completely lacking in merit. While so much of what the Surface Pro does is achieved in a way that has never really been attempted before, concerns over battery life and what the device is not are worth consideration. Ultimately, I think the new device has the potential to be a game changer despite its flaws and should be a catalyst for the stock.
Pros of the Surface Pro
In a first-impression piece on the new device in Forbes, contributor Jason Evangelho explains: "The Surface Pro runs a full desktop OS, has the internals of an ultrabook, and resulting benchmarks put all tablets to shame." He further sees little merit in making an Apple comparison, stating that "I won't be comparing the Surface Pro to the iPad, because the Surface Pro defies characterization as a tablet. Anyone slapping the same label on these devices is doing you a disservice."
While I am more than willing to acknowledge that this may be an overly positive take on Microsoft's new device, Evangelho is dead on in characterizing the Surface Pro as more than a tablet. The new device can function as full laptop when the additional keyboard is added, it has stellar graphics that can be utilized to run full Windows versions of top games, and its ability to multitask is everything you could ask for in a device aimed at taking the place of two.
In fact, the Surface Pro has been so well received that the 128 GB version is already sold out online. The fact that the smaller-capacity one is still available might be a sign that heavy business users are opting for the larger capacity for the extra $100, but more likely it is a response to the heavy capacity needs of the OS and basic productivity suite. The larger version allows you to install all of this and still have enough room to operate with some efficiency to meet storage needs.
Cons of the Surface Pro
On the extreme other end of the spectrum, some critics are characterizing the launch as a disappointment. Central to each of the primary complaints about the new device is the argument that it is neither a great tablet, nor a great laptop. Critics claim the device is too heavy to be easy to use for long periods as a tablet, the battery life is painfully brief, and the cost is very high relative to its direct competitors. Many of these issues are mentioned in even the positive reviews, so there should be no doubt that they are accurate accounts of "flaws" in the product.
A matter of perspective
Given the fact that most everyone who has reviewed the new Surface Pro describes the clinical experience in similar terms -- meaning it is the response to that experience that is different -- reality must be largely a matter of perspective. To start with my suspicions first, I believe many of the naysayers are those same Apple fans than abhor the idea of any legitimate competition. This group is likely to find fault with any device without the familiar Apple logo emblazoned on the side or back.
Microsoft die-hards are likely willing to overlook even egregious missteps if they can throw their weight behind a device that does not hail from Cupertino. Many of these arguments may be equally lacking in reason, but after years of name-calling it is hard to blame them. Deciphering the truth requires a healthy bit of skepticism.
Ultimately, Microsoft has landed upon a brilliant concept that is well executed, but far from perfect. The company likely was forced to sacrifice on weight and battery life in order to cram a full laptop processor into a tablet form factor. Likewise, in order to stick with the tablet scheme, memory and capabilities could not hope to measure up to a full-blown laptop. At the end of the day, for many users, I think the flexibility to do some tablet work, while still having the option of carrying a 2-pound laptop in their briefcases will have appeal.
Microsoft is blazing a trail into a new space and it should be well rewarded. The hardware itself will only improve from here, and should be a critical driver for Microsoft. I will be honestly shocked if Apple does not respond to this device in some meaningful way, but time will tell. In the meantime, I believe Microsoft is a buy on the release.
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