Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 Could Already Be Obsolete

When Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) announced its Surface Pro 3 based on Intel's (NASDAQ: INTC  ) current-generation Haswell processor, the move seemed a bit perplexing to some. While Haswell is a great chip for Ultrabooks, it's still not quite there for tablets/detachable form factors that really sort of get to the vision of a true no-compromise convergence of tablets and PCs that Surface Pro has sought for years. After ASUS' keynote at Computex, it seems that the Surface Pro 3 could already be obsolete.

The ASUS T300 Chi with Intel's new Core M smokes Surface Pro
At Computex, ASUS demonstrated one of its next-generation product designs based on Intel's new 14-nanometer Core M processor known as the T300 Chi. This is a fanless 12.5-inch detachable laptop with a 2560x1440 display, LTE support, and a thickness of 7.3 millimeters (for reference, the iPad Air weighs in at 7.5 millimeters thick). For the first time, there finally seems to be a "no compromises" detachable design based on Intel's Core processors. 

The ASUS T300 Chi. Source: ASUS via AnandTech.

Now, compare this to Microsoft's Surface Pro 3. It comes packed with a 15-watt thermal design power Haswell part (intended for Ultrabooks), has a fan, weighs in at 9.1 millimeters thick, and is still very much a "compromised" device. It's a lot better than the prior-generation Surface Pro 2, but Haswell -- as nice as it was -- still wasn't the right chip to realize this 2-in-1 vision.

Further illustrating the futility of Surface
It's clear that Microsoft's and Intel's hardware partners are really on the ball these days across a variety of price points. The low-cost ASUS T100 with an Intel Atom chip in it for only $350 has proven a success in the market thanks to solid performance and features coupled with good build quality for the price. These hardware OEMs are very good at what they do and have the benefit of scale and experience. Intel is good at chips and reference platforms, and Microsoft is good at developing efficient operating systems. This is why the whole horizontal model has worked so well to date.

Microsoft's Surface Pro 3. Source: Microsoft.

Why does Microsoft want to continue this hardware race when clearly the OEMs -- the ones paying Microsoft a nice, fat license fee for each device with a screen size above nine inches sold -- have a good handle on the situation? Does Microsoft really need to try to copy Apple when it can instead be a good steward of its Windows platform and ecosystem?

Foolish bottom line
It's going to be tough for Microsoft to sell Surface Pro 3 when devices like the ASUS T300 Chi will be available in the market by the end of the year. Microsoft may be able to sell the Surface Pro 3 for the back to school selling season, but after that the sales are likely to trail off rather quickly. Will Microsoft release a Surface Pro 4 within the next six months or so based on Broadwell in order to compete? Only time will tell. 

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Read/Post Comments (17) | Recommend This Article (8)

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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 June 08, 2014, at 10:25 PM, MikeCanmore wrote:

    This feels like a ridiculous article. It feels less balanced than a review of an Apple product by a rabid fandroid.

    It argues that the Surface Pro 3 is obsolete because.... sometime late this year a product MIGHT be released that is marginally thinner, has a newer chipset, and has a couple of features that the SP3 doesn't offer?

    There's a HUGE problem with your argument, and that is price. It is highly unlikely that the Chi will be less expensive than the SP3, since that is only slightly more expensive than non-tablet-capable ultrabooks with similar specs.

    If the Chi is a $1500 comparable to a $1200 SP3 the SP3 has a lot of fight left in it.

    There are also a myriad possible issues that could come up that make the Chi less than stellar.

    This article is no more rational than dismissing the Nexus 5 as obsolete just because Google is planning on releasing a Nexus 6 eventually.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2014, at 7:06 AM, gdwolf wrote:

    Sounds like more I Hate MS because thats what all the cool kids think nonesense. If I waited for every bit of vaporware rather than getting whats best in class now, I would never upgrade at all.

    Silly Article.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2014, at 11:54 AM, Flint wrote:

    Silly hyped up article. I wonder if the author has actually demoed a Surface Pro 2 or 3, or an ASUS tablet/laptop combo.

    When I bundle purchased my Surface Pro 2 I received 2 years of Skype free 2 years of OneDrive with 200gb of storage free, MS Office 50% discount, 30% discounted keyboard, etc. What is ASUS offering as a package? I am very satisfied with my SurFace Pro 2.

    When you actually take time and do a price compare along with the technical features the prices of these tablets are the same.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2014, at 12:09 PM, chilero wrote:

    Ashraf, you just got called out here: http://hal2020.com/2014/06/09/surface-pro-3-its-all-about-th...

    "The problem with the article is that the author appears not to get “it”. When it comes to form factor, Microsoft’s Surface line is about being a Tablet and a Notebook while detachables like ASUS’ T100 and the new T300 Chi are about being a Tablet or a Notebook."

    I have to agree.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2014, at 12:45 PM, bkydcmpr wrote:

    the author probably doesn't know "Intel's new Core M" is the successor to the current Y series, which are low power and LOW PERFORMANCE models. even with the new 14nm technology, M series unlikely would match the current U series used in surface pro 3 in terms of performance. I believe when microsoft release surface pro 4 sometime next year, they would NOT use the M series, instead, they will use the counterpart of the current U series and take the advantage of the phenomenal liquid heatpipe design of the surface pro 3. the M series won't even come close.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2014, at 1:04 PM, JJ82 wrote:

    The surface pro 3 is just another niche product that wont sell well anyways.

    I don't love the posts from the rabid MS fanboys though.

    The problem with the Surface is that its trying to be TWO DIFFERENT PRODUCTS FOR TWO DIFFERENT TYPES OF CUSTOMERS at the same time, and offering little that either wants.

    Tablet customers mostly don't CARE about laptop capabilities and think 12" is WAY TOO BIG.

    Laptop customers mostly don't CARE about tablet capabilities because they want a DAMN FULL PC AND DONT NEED APPS THAT HAVE BASIC functionality...and, a 12" screen is TOO SMALL to look at for long periods of time making the WORK they need to do on it hard on the eyes.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2014, at 2:20 PM, EngineerPaul wrote:

    The Surface has done more or less what it was supposed to do. It has established that a Windows 8 table and 2 in 1 can be done well. For some reason, people a few years ago seemed to think that was impossible. It is still a tough sell, though, which is why MSFT continues to forge ahead.

    Think of it as a reference design that is actually for sale. In that case, they don't need to "win" the sales race against ASUS. They may even prefer not to. If ASUS wins, MSFT still wins. They key is to push the envelope on what can be done. I am not convinced that a product like the T300 would be coming at all, if MSFT didn't show the way.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2014, at 3:58 PM, jmbrooks4 wrote:

    EngineerPaul.....you hit the nail on the head. That is exactly what I was thinking when I read the article and comments.

    These commenters are the one's who don't get what AE is saying. I will be replacing the wife's 4 year old notebook with a device like the ASUS later this year. It is exactly what she wants. I build PC's and am no stranger component specs.

    Thanks AE, keep 'em coming.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2014, at 4:47 PM, gpickles wrote:

    This really is a 'foolish' article. The Surface Pro 3 is obsolete because Asus has a prototype in the works that might be available six months from now? Wow.

    And how does releasing the Surface Pro 3 now, using technology that - you know - actually exists, prevent Microsoft from releasing a Surface Pro 4 using the newer technology when it's available?

    Following your thinking, companies would never release *anything* because there's always better technology in the pipeline.

    A foolish article, indeed.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2014, at 4:52 PM, gpickles wrote:

    jmbrooks4 - I think it's you who doesn't understand what EngineerPaul is saying. Perhaps you meant to reply to JJ82?

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2014, at 4:53 PM, gpickles wrote:

    jmbrooks4 - I think it's you who doesn't understand what EngineerPaul was saying. Perhaps you meant to reply to JJ82?

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2014, at 7:31 PM, EngineerPaul wrote:

    Well, I am saying that AE is (in my opinion) half on target. The Surface 3 may well be supplanted by an ASUS design later this year. The "already obsolete" thing is overboard, but I get that it is hyperbole 6 months out. Going a step further, though, I don't think MSFT has any problem with that happening. AE doesn't seem to fully appreciate that. If the Surface takes off, MSFT wins. If the Surface shows the way for Windows vendors to make competitive hardware, they still win. The only thing that they can't afford to let happen is for mediocre hardware to render Windows a desk-only system. Consider for a moment that many commentators are bashing the Surface 3 as an MacBook Air clone with specs that are only a little better. Seriously, who would have compared any Windows product to a MacBook Air a year ago? That's an improvement by itself. If ASUS does it better or at a lower price by the end of the year? More win.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2014, at 7:57 PM, jnaab wrote:

    #1 rule of technology, whatever it is: if you can actually purchase it, it is already obsolete. When I purchased my Surface Pro, it was already obsolete because someone was busy working on designing the Surface Pro 2 with a faster processor and more memory.

    There is also the concept of technological obsolescence vs. functional obsolescence: If I can buy it, it is technologically obsolete (see rule #1 above); HOWEVER, if it is still capable of doing the task for which it was acquired, it has yet to reach functional obsolescence.

    If you have trouble grasping this concept, you should get in touch with an attendee of the Microsoft Futures event held in Indianapolis a couple of weeks ago who lamented that he can't get funding to replace the MS DOS 6.1 systems on his shop floor because they still are fully capable of doing the job they were purchased to perform--the line can't run without them.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2014, at 8:16 PM, correnta1 wrote:

    Everytime I read a blog from this site, I laugh. Every author is soooo biased. It's like they hate Microsoft. Their articles are always speculative and it is as if they don't know anything about IT. They love Apple brand and expect to influence others to Apple. Ironically, I am turned off by Apple and this site is one of the reasons.

    what is the next article going to be Surface 3 keyboard is already obsolete because Apple has an idea for a laser projecting keyboard.

  • Report this Comment On June 10, 2014, at 6:50 AM, cooleye wrote:

    Nearly everything is on the obsolescence trail the day its released. I doubt the author has ever shopped for, or touched, one of these devices. Having done that with my college student this year, let me see they the quality and feel of the Surface Pro is so far above some of the competing devices that it's not even close. The Asus, Lenovo and Sony Flip devices feel like they're going to break in your hands.

  • Report this Comment On June 10, 2014, at 12:07 PM, BigTicket wrote:

    Just an awful article. As already mentioned, based on the criteria provided, nearly every technology product released is considered "obsolete" immediately upon release. We are already pre-ordering Surface Pro 3 devices and continue to replace traditional laptop setups. Users with large display phones, especially those that travel, find a 5-6" phone + an ultra portable laptop to be the perfect combination of devices to get the job done.

    The argument that "you can't be two different things to two different people" doesn't hold water. I am sure you could readily make that argument about the initial iPhone release (iPod + Smartphone). See how phones have decimated iPod sales. The same with point and shoot cameras and GPS devices. The smart phone does the job well enough with those functions integrated.

    It's all about consumption and creation, the ability to do both. The Surface Pro 3 has that ability, reducing the necessity for 2 devices into 1. Do I want to travel with my phone, tablet and laptop? Or just my phone and ultraportable SP3? It's a no brainer in many instances.

  • Report this Comment On June 18, 2014, at 9:27 PM, rav55 wrote:

    The problem with Windows 8 tablets is they are all priced well above the entry point for Apple or Samsung's best.

    But the reason for purchasing a Windows tablet is not necessarily for performance but rather to maintain software compatibility with your laptop or desktop.

    As far as a replacement goes well I don;t think you'll see an Engineer or Architect designing on a tablet.

    But if you want to review a drawing set in the field or check a scheduling spreadsheet or then a good cheap Windows 8 tablet would be very usefull.

    Especially a 10 inch around $300!

    http://www.tabtech.de/windows/xolo-win-tab-10-1-zoll-tablet-...

    Of course Windows makes nothing in the Indian market and despite the fact that Intel makes nothing in this market either as they sell Tablet silicon at a loss as well presents an interesting surprise in that it is a AMD A4 proessor!

    Intel's rebate program can not last forever!

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