Can the Surface Pro Save Microsoft?

SurfaceProMicrosoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has a new product set to be released in three days’ time — yet the company has done very little to promote it, a slightly concerning fact as the device may very well determine the software designer’s future. The device is the Surface Pro, a tablet far different from Microsoft’s first hardware offering, the Surface RT, which came out at the end of October.

From the mixed technical reviews the Pro has received, it appears that it has the potential to carve out a niche for Microsoft in the tablet market, but it also has several significant flaws that may prevent it from garnering widespread consumer demand.

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While the similarity of the names suggest a similarity in function, the Surface Pro will run the full version of Windows, the same as on a PC, unlike its predecessor, which uses a mobile version. The Surface RT runs a modified version of the operating system, developed to function on devices built using mobile-focused ARM-based chips (NASDAQ:ARMH). But the Pro has an Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) i5 chip, enabling Microsoft’s new tablet to do some heavy lifting; it can run any program written for Windows, from the full Microsoft Office suite to Adobe’s (NASDAQ:ADBE) Creative Suite.

This fits in perfectly with Microsoft’s developing enterprise-centric business model. But even in that sector the company has lost customers to Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) as more and more computing now takes place on tablets rather than on personal computers. As Apple executives point out regularly during product launches, the iPad has been embraced throughout the business world; doctors use it to keep tabs on patients, restaurant hostesses use it for seating, and even associates at remodeled J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP) stores ring up customers’ purchases using iPads. With more professionals using the iPad, more business-oriented software will be written for it, which will give it an even stronger lead against Microsoft…
Success for Apple would ultimately mean success for Intel; the majority of laptops and desktop PCs run on Intel’s chips, but sales of those devices have slackened as the computing device of choice has become the tablet. As a result, in the third-quarter, its chip sales were down eight percent.

The Surface Pro’s specifications will help the device compete with Apple’s iPad. The Pro’s 1.7 gigahertz Intel Core i5 processor and its 4 gigabytes of RAM prompted Joe Wilcox of BetaNews to describe the device as a beast that “roars and runs fast” in his review. But some of the Pro’s design elements may hinder its adoption by a wider audience. The tablet’s 10.6-inch ClearType HD Display, with 1920 by 1080 pixel resolution, has been praised, but the larger screen and its accompanying kickstand also makes the device cumbersome for mobile use. Not only is it cumbersome, but it is heavy as well, weighing in at two pounds.

The cost of the PC-like tablet stands at a prohibitive $899 for the 64 gigabyte model, a price significantly higher than the $499 base-model fourth-generation iPad 4. In fact, the Surface Pro costs more than many desktops and laptops made by companies like Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ), and rings it at just $100 below the retail price of an 11-inch MacBook Air. But the Surface Pro has already made Apple react; the company just released an iPad with a whopping 128 gigabytes of storage, twice that of its next biggest iPad, on February 5, in order to better compete with Microsoft in a previously unexplored space that has as yet unknown potential.

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