Microsoft Surface Pro: One device to rule them all?

It’s no secret that Microsoft has released the Surface Pro tablet, a full-fledged Windows 8 PC in a slate form factor.  The Surface Pro is a 10.6” tablet with 4 GB of RAM and an Intel Core i5 processor with integrated graphics.  The device also supports either 64 GB or 120 GB of RAM and both front- and rear-facing cameras.  In order to be a bit more useful for long-term use, Microsoft also makes available a separate detachable keyboard that also serves as the device’s cover.

The key differentiator between the Surface Pro and the Surface RT is the operating system.  The RT runs Windows 8 RT while the Pro runs the full Windows 8 operating system, making it more suitable for enterprise and professional use.

Supply and demand

The arrival of the Surface Pro, Microsoft’s first real foray into building their own PC, has been hotly anticipated and, while the device isn’t perfect, it seems to be selling reasonably well.  There have been widespread concerns about supply shortages of the device and my own trips to Best Buy have resulted in sales people telling me that the devices are selling out as soon as they arrive in the stores.  So, that seems to indicate that, even if Microsoft is somewhat artificially limiting supply – which some people have suggested – there continues to be strong demand for it, which bodes well for its future.

Is this the BYOD solution?

There is some suggestion that the emerging Windows 8 tablet space could be a silver bullet for BYOD implementations.  After all, it’s portable and easy to move around and, with the right tools, can be used for both business and personal uses.  Further, with the detachable keyboard cover, the device is more usable than some other tablets, although there are plenty of BlueTooth keyboards available for other tablets.

However, I still don’t see this device as the BYOD silver bullet.  First, there will remain many organizations that maintain policies prohibiting personal use of company hardware.  Second, Microsoft has significant headway to make in catching up with Apple and Google in the tablet market.  For BYOD needs, people have flocked – and continue to flock – to these non-Microsoft devices.

The case could be made that the Surface RT is Microsoft’s less expensive answer to Apple and Google, but RT so far seems to be a non-starter for many people.  It’s an incredibly confusing entry in the space in that it looks like Windows 8, but doesn’t run Windows 8 apps.  That said, the launch of BlueStacks beta software – which enables Android apps to run under Windows – maybe give Microsoft’s tablet lines a boost over time.  That said, it will take some time for this to happen.

The primary advantage that Microsoft has in this area is the hope that consumers buying a tablet they intend for BYOD are buying a tablet that must support corporate applications without the need for a virtualization layer.

The price is a hindrance

One positive outcome in the race to the bottom that has plagued the PC industry for so many years has been the fact that CIOs can now pick up an overpowered PC or laptop for just a few hundred dollars each.  That kind of pricing has been baked into many budgets, making the Surface Pro’s price tag look quite high in comparison, especially once the keyboard has been added in.

That said, the Surface Pro’s touch-first capability has the opportunity to streamline the user experience in ways that can’t be matched with a desktop or a laptop, so CIOs may be willing to pay the delta to enable these features.

Summary

While I believe that the Surface Pro is a capable device, it has an uphill battle in front of it with regard to gaining mindshare against Apple and Google.  That said, for the employee that wants a device for both home and work, the Surface Pro deserves consideration.

For CIOs, the Surface Pro is a bit more challenging.  It’s part laptop, part tablet and carries a hefty price tag, but with the potential benefits of the product, it’s worth looking at.

This will not be Microsoft’s last foray into this space, either.  For a version 1 product, Microsoft has done an exceptionally good job with the product and I expect that they will refine and improve it with version 2.