Can Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 Really Kill Off Laptops?

The new Surface 3 sports some better specs than the MacBook Air, but convincing consumers to make the switch won't be easy.

May 21, 2014 at 1:05PM

Surface Pro Microsoft
Microsoft's new Surface Pro 3 wants to eliminate the need for both a laptop and tablet. Source: Microsoft.

This week, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) took another step forward in its attempt to gain new tablet ground with the debut of its new Surface Pro 3. Just eight months ago, the company gave us the Surface Pro 2, but this new iteration feels much more like Microsoft knows what it's doing with tablets now -- and it wants to take laptops head-on. 

Lighter than Air and cheaper, too
At its launch event, Microsoft talked about how the Surface Pro 3 is finally the tablet that will replace the laptop. And to illustrate that message, Microsoft's corporate vice president for Surface Computing, Panos Panay, made several comparisons between Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) MacBook Air and the Pro 3 in the presentation. For one, the Pro 3 is both thinner and lighter than Apple's MacBook Air and boasts a higher screen resolution.

Let's take a quick look at the specs for a real comparison:

 

Surface Pro 3 

MacBook Air 

Display Size

12 inches

13 inches

Resolution

2160x1440, 216ppi

1440x900, 128ppi

Aspect Ratio

3:2

16:10

Weight

1.76 pounds 
(without keyboard)

2.96 pounds

Processor

Intel Core i3, i5, i7

Intel Core i5, i7

Storage

64GB, 128GB, 256GB, 512GB

128GB, 256GB, 512GB

RAM

4GB, 8GB

4GB, 8GB

Battery Life

9 hours for web browsing

12 hours for web browsing

Cost

Starts at $799

Starts at $999

While it seems a bit odd at first to compare a laptop to the Pro 3, Microsoft is trying to convince consumers that this tablet is indeed the laptop replacement they've always been looking for. But that's exactly where Microsoft's biggest challenge is: getting users to see it as the best choice.

Sometimes better isn't enough
Microsoft's tablet ambitions got off to a slow start a few years ago. The company confused users with its Windows RT branding, introduced a Pro tablet that was too big and heavy to easily be held in one hand, and simply failed to convince buyers that its Surface tablets were the best choice.

Though the Pro 3 is clearly a superior product to Microsoft's previous tablets, the company has to win over tablet users who clearly prefer Android and iOS. There is little room for Microsoft tablets without taking iPad or Android market share. According to Gartner, Apple's iPad makes up 36% of the worldwide tablet market and Android takes up 62%. 

Perhaps Microsoft knows tackling the tablet market is too hard, and that's why it's gone after laptops with the Pro 3. But convincing buyers that they don't need both a laptop and a tablet anymore is a hard sell. Admittedly, the Surface Pro 3 may be one of the best devices on the market at making that a reality, but there's one other problem.

Consumers will compare the Pro 3 not just to other tablets, but also laptops -- as Microsoft itself has done in comparing the Surface to the MacBook Air. One problem with this is that Apple is rumored to release a newly designed 12-inch MacBook Air later this year. While it's still speculation at this point, if the new MacBook does hit the market with higher specs, a Retina display, and a comparable price to the Pro 3, then Microsoft's new tablet may soon lose its best competition comparison.

Foolish thoughts
All this aside, I have to admit that I was impressed with the Surface Pro 3 while watching the launch event. Although a hands-on review is necessary to form a concrete opinion, it seems that Microsoft's newest tablet is what the other Surfaces wanted to be and what the company has needed to really compete in the tablet market.

With its lightweight and thin design -- mixed with its powerhouse specs -- the enterprise market could be tempted to purchase Pro 3's for workers and consumers may jump on board as well. Microsoft was right: This does appear to be a laptop replacement. The question is whether people trust the Surface brand to deliver.

Forget tablets -- this is going to be much bigger
There's a stirring in the tech world right now about how formerly "dumb" objects will soon communicate with each other and with us. Only a handful of companies have dipped their toes into the so-called Internet of Things, but a time's coming where most companies won't have a choice whether or not to adopt the new tech. The key for investors then is to find out which companies are getting in early and who's got the upper hand. That's why The Motley Fool's put together a new report on one company that could experience big gains from the $14.4 trillion Internet of Things industry -- and we're giving it away for free. Just click here now for access.

Chris Neiger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Apple. It owns shares of Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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