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Microsoft Corporation's Unfair Apple Inc. iPad Call-Out

By Ashraf Eassa – May 24, 2017 at 9:15AM

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Apple's iPad Pro and Microsoft's Surface Pro may seem like similar devices that can be compared directly, but this Fool argues that that isn't the case.

Microsoft (MSFT 4.20%) recently announced an updated version of its Surface Pro line of tablet/notebook computer hybrids. Among other improvements, the new tablet line includes Intel's (INTC 4.09%) seventh-generation Core processors, which offer significant performance and power efficiency improvements over the sixth-generation Core chips found in the previous Surface Pro 4 tablets.

Microsoft also couldn't help comparing the performance of the new Surface Pro with Apple's (AAPL 3.43%), claiming that it offers "1.7 times the compute of iPad Pro." Microsoft also said that the new Surface Pro delivers "35% more battery life than an iPad Pro."

Apple's iPad Pro lineup.

Image source: Apple.

Of course Microsoft is proud of its new device -- and it should be, as it looks like a solid product -- but here's why this comparison isn't fair.

A new iPad Pro is coming soon

The reality is that Microsoft's new Surface Pro isn't going to be competing with Apple's current 9.7-inch iPad Pro for most of its life in the marketplace. Instead, it will have to compete against the upcoming 10.5-inch iPad Pro that's expected to launch at Apple's upcoming World Wide Developers Conference next month.

The new iPad should include an all-new applications processor, which may be called the A10X Fusion, that delivers a substantial uplift in both computing and graphics performance over the A9X chip found in the current 9.7-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro models.

That uplift should be driven by both significant chip design advancements as well as a transition to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company's (TSM 2.83%) new 10nm chip manufacturing technology, which should help boost efficiency and allow Apple to cram in more features and functionality than it would have otherwise been able to.

I suspect that the computing performance of the new Surface Pro will look a lot less impressive next to the upcoming new iPad Pro than it does against the current, aging iPad Pro models.

Not entirely comparable products

Although both the Surface Pro and the iPad Pro are tablets and both are pitched toward "professional" use cases, the reality is that they are different devices. The iPad Pro tablets are still very much rooted in Apple's consumer tablet heritage, but they are endowed with "pro-friendly" features such as Apple Pencil support.

These devices are thin and light, they're fanless, and they're designed to be used first and foremost as touchscreen devices.

The Surface Pro lineup, on the other hand, has its heritage rooted in the traditional notebook personal computer. The device runs full-fat Windows 10, has full Intel Core i-series processors, and is, arguably, at its best when it's being used with traditional keyboard and mouse (or, in this case, trackpad) input.

Yes, it has a touchscreen, and yes, it supports pen input -- and Microsoft does seem to put a lot of work into improving the pen experience with each generation. But if someone who's used to the iPad paradigm tried to use the Surface Pro like an iPad, he or she would probably have a negative experience.

So a product like the Surface Pro and the iPad Pro shouldn't be compared on individual metrics such as battery life, performance, and so on. The real comparison from a consumer-facing perspective is ultimately one of usage model.

Do consumers want tablet-first products that can also do double duty as so-called "pro" devices? Or do they want full-fat laptops that can handle traditional productivity software suites that can do double duty as a tablet and touchscreen device?

That's a question that'll ultimately be answered in the years ahead. 

Teresa Kersten is an employee of LinkedIn and is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. LinkedIn is owned by Microsoft. Ashraf Eassa owns shares of Intel. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Intel. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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