It was widely expected that Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) would unveil a smaller version of its Surface tablet at an event earlier this week, but instead the 12-inch Pro 3 was announced. CEO Satya Nadella reportedly decided that a smaller Surface tablet, likely ARM-based, was a bad idea, and instead focused the company's efforts on the Surface Pro 3.
With previous ARM-based versions of Microsoft's Surface tablets flopping, this was likely a wise move, especially considering all of the competition from Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Android tablets. The Surface Pro 3 is very different than other tablets on the market, and it gives Microsoft a decent shot at winning more tablet market share in the enterprise area.
A sleek mobile powerhouse
The Surface Pro 3 is meant to be a laptop replacement, unlike most tablets that act more as secondary devices. It's aimed at professionals and enterprise users, anyone who needs a machine for productivity more than consumption. Using an iPad or an Android tablet as your sole computing device, especially for productivity purposes, is both inefficient and frustrating. It may be fine for strictly consumption, like web browsing and watching videos, but beyond that it makes little sense.
While larger than the Surface Pro 2, the Surface Pro 3 is both thinner and weighs less. The 12-inch screen and 2160-by-1440 resolution provides more screen real estate, and it has just about the same number of pixels as Apple's latest iPad Air. The nine hours of battery life isn't quite as good as the iPad Air, but the Intel processors powering the Surface Pro 3 are vastly more powerful than Apple's A7 ARM-based chip.
A new kickstand allows for a wide variety of angles, and when used with the optional keyboard, the Surface Pro 3 is far less awkward to use on one's lap than previous iterations. A stylus comes with the tablet, and The Verge commented that the Surface Pro 3 "might be the best writing experience on a tablet that we've seen yet." A click of the stylus automatically opens up OneNote for quick note taking, and one's palm can rest on the screen while writing without causing any problems.
Not an iPad killer
The Surface Pro 3 is not an iPad killer. It is a laptop replacement, meant to replace a laptop and a tablet with one device. The Surface Pro 3 is not a mainstream device, starting at $799 for the i3 version with no keyboard. The highest-end version, with an i7 processor and a 512GB solid-state drive, or SSD, costs a stunning $1,949 on Microsoft's website, and it still doesn't come with a keyboard.
Microsoft compares the Surface Pro 3 to the MacBook Pro on the Microsoft Store website, so it's clear what kind of user the device is aimed at. A 13-inch MacBook Pro with a Retina Display, an Intel i5 processor, and a 512GB SSD goes for $1,799 on Apple's website, so the Surface Pro 3 is priced competitively in comparison, especially considering that the MacBook Pro lacks a touchscreen.
There are plenty of Windows laptops that are just as powerful as a MacBook Pro, but the Surface Pro 3 bridges the gap between high-end laptop and tablet in a way that no other device manages to do. Instead of buying an expensive high-end laptop and a tablet, Microsoft is hoping that power users will turn to the Surface Pro 3 instead.
The bottom line
It's clear that Microsoft has learned a lot from the first two generations of Surface devices. Instead of going head-on with the iPad and Android tablets, Microsoft is targeting the high-end market, which isn't served at all by existing tablets. The Surface Pro 3 is a high-end laptop with similar specs to a MacBook Pro, while at the same time it's a tablet that is vastly more powerful than any other tablet on the market.
The Surface Pro 3 is a far better idea than the smaller ARM-based tablet that most people were expecting, and it gives Microsoft a truly unique product. Whether or not power users will be drawn to the device is another question entirely, but the Surface Pro 3 offers Microsoft a real chance at turning the Surface into a profitable business.
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Timothy Green owns shares of Microsoft. The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and 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.