Rethinking the Value of the iPad Pro and Surface Pro

Ever since 2-in-1s were introduced about five years ago, I have been cool to this form factor. The idea of marrying a tablet and a keyboard was a disconnect for me. Part of the reason is I am a diehard laptop user and my history with laptops probably skews my thinking. My love affair with laptops goes back to the early 1980s when I used a pseudo-laptop, the Tandy TRS 80, as a portable word processor. Then in 1984, I was asked to work with IBM’s research group on what became their first full-fledged laptop. Ever since, a laptop has been my go-to computing device. I have used desktops from time to time but since I travel so much, a laptop really became my primary computing tool.

My initial foray into the 2-in-1 concept was Lenovo’s Yoga. Since the screen did not detach, I just used it as a traditional laptop, never using it in tablet mode. My first real experience with a tablet/keyboard combo came through Microsoft’s first Surface product. That experience was so bad, it put me off this type of device for a couple of years. I have to admit, I did use a Bluetooth keyboard with an iPad from day one and liked the mobile flexibility it gave for things like email and note taking. However, given my computing needs, it never replaced my laptop since I couldn’t do the kind of heavy lifting a true laptop can deliver.

Over the last two years, the technology to deliver a more robust 2-in-1 experience has gotten much better. There are two products on the market I think might be pointing us to the next major shift in portable computing. Microsoft’s Surface Pro and Apple’s new iPad Pro are, at the moment, the best of breed 2-in-1s. I will probably be dragged, kicking and screaming, toward these new designs. But after using both for some time now, I am starting to warm up to them.

I like the design and even the keyboard on my Surface Pro 3. Windows 10 makes this 2-in-1 a good mobile computer. It delivers the power of Windows and, even with its lack of touch-based apps, I can see how it could be a laptop replacement for some people.

But I still struggle with its layout and smaller fonts that come standard. I’m not convinced it could replace my Dell XPS 13 or my Lenovo Yoga as my full time portable computer. Call me old school when it comes to the Windows platform but traditional laptops still seem a better fit for my needs.

As for the iPad Pro, at first I really struggled with such a large iPad and its keyboard case. Although I am a power user on the Mac OS platform, I spend most of my mobile digital time on an iPad Air and am even more proficient with iOS. As I said, I used an iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard so I sort of knew what the experience would be like. But to be honest, I was not a big fan of Apple’s keyboard case and could never become comfortable using its keyboard. And since I am artistically challenged, even the pen was of little use to me. I did try to take notes using the pen but I can’t read my own handwriting so that was not a big draw either.

But by using my favorite Bluetooth keyboard, the iPad Pro started to live up to its potential for me. The 13″ screen is equal to the ones on my Dell and Lenovo laptops and, since I use iOS so much, using touch to navigate was very easy for me. Apple making iOS a rich mobile OS and adding great new features to it makes the iPad Pro a powerful alternative to my MacBook and Windows laptops.

When Tim Cook announced the iPad Pro, he said it could do as much as 80-90% of what anyone could do on a traditional laptop. On a recent trip, I decided to try that theory out. I only took my iPad Pro with me and used it as if it was my MacBook or a Windows laptop. I found, in general, Cook was right. I wrote email, texted, took notes, wrote and edited my columns. I used it for video, movies, music and Skype videos with clients. My only problem is it does not cut and paste as easily as it does in Windows 10 or Mac OS X, but that was minor compared to is actual ability.

Intel and Microsoft have a goal to make 2-in-1s and convertibles, or products like Lenovo’s Yoga, as much as 50% of the overall laptops shipped by the latter part of this decade. They are convinced the flexibility a tablet/laptop combo gives a person is so valuable that they, along with their OEM partners, are working hard to make these devices sleeker, more innovative and flexible so that even diehard laptop users may want to move over to this new form factor at some point in the near future. While I was skeptical of this goal at first, I am now starting to come around to this way of thinking and can see that perhaps a 2-in-1 or convertible really is the future of mobile personal computing. The jury is still out on how successful Microsoft, Intel and their partners will be in getting the majority of laptop users to move to these new form factors. But, after resisting it myself for some time, I can now see the value of 2-in-1s and convertibles and how they could become an important mobile computing hardware platform in the future.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

920 thoughts on “Rethinking the Value of the iPad Pro and Surface Pro”

  1. Just like most people have different shoes and clothes that they use/wear on different occasions they currently have different tech inteface devices to use in different situations. It’s great to be reassured by an expert that the tech device market still has a long way to go before the laptop is replaced by the tablet. Thanks.

  2. I think the desktop PC will disappear and be replaced by detachables. And when that happens, maybe the traditional laptop as we know it will also be replaced. In my line of work, the advantage of the laptop form factor is wasted as I need multi-monitors (I have 4 screens – 1600×1200 monitors + the SP3 screen) and a full-size keyboard. When I undock the SP3 at work, it is used as a notepad in meetings. When I get home, it is used exclusively as a tablet. The only time I use it as a laptop (single-screen) is when I am out of the office but need to do remote support and the SP3, as it is, does a very capable job – in spite of its imperfect type cover and stand relative to a true laptop. The flexibility of the Surface Pro is so underrated in my opinion. When you have a device that does so well in common usage scenarios, why would you need anything else?
    I think there will be 2 niche devices in the future – the traditional desktop for specialized computing like games that require discrete graphics and the laptop keyboard/screen combo experience for mobile typists (which the Surface Book is targeted at).

  3. I have never been a Laptop fan, preferring to use my desktop Mac Pro, but I really like the iPad. The 2 in 1s didn’t really appeal, but now with the iPad Pro, I am having another look. My old white MacBook died last year and I had little use or desire to replace it as I found the iPad Air 2 worked better for me. However, I may need something a little more than this for working in various office locations and it will come down to either the iPad Pro or the new MacBook.

  4. I think Ben Bajarin nailed it in his article yesterday:

    The Surface Pro & iPad Pro meet the needs of two different markets;

    “The Surface brings all the things a hard-core, technologically literate PC user needs in an ultraportable form factor. ”

    “The promise of something like the iPad and the iPad Pro, …, is to empower the masses to do MORE than they can on their smartphones with a computing paradigm that focuses on simplicity but still yields sophisticated results.”

    1. I always thought the Surface Pro was aimed at someone who lived in MS Office. Not much tech experience beyond it, but a device for the corridor warrior.

      1. Ecosystem is weak on the MSFT platform, and MS Office is second-rate on the Surface as compared to an ultrabook. The Surface remains a toaster in the fridge. To say otherwise ignores the reality that Excel is painful on the Surface.

        1. That’s assuming you’re comparing the touch / tablet version of Excel vs the desktop version of Excel, both of which can be run on SP4

          1. Only with a smallish display AND a substandard track pad to navigate Excel. I spend half my day on Excel with a single screen and it’s more than fine. I could not imagine creating a serious spreadsheet on a Surface Pro. Minor editing, yes. On the PC side, Dell makes a superior ultrabook for Excel. Me, I love my MacBook Pro. iPad Pro for minor edits, but that’s it.

          2. What you should compare to that Dell Ultrabook for Excel use is the Surface Book if greater than 1080P screen and good trackpad is what you are after. All the new Dells are 13.3″ screens 1080P and their highest end one being 13.3″ QHD. You are looking at the wrong product.

  5. I’m going to disagree with Ben’s otherwise spot-on article with a couple of points: I’ve been using the Apple Smart Keyboard with my iPad Pro for a few weeks now, and I’ve come to really like it. Aside from it being superior in terms of sleek integration with the iPad Pro, its keys are ergonomically more than usable for pro-level typing, it just takes some getting used to the different feel, just as with the new MacBook.

    Second, the main thing I don’t like with the iPad Pro as a laptop replacement is iOS’s abysmal file management, this is the real stickler that makes it impossible for me to switch over to the iPad Pro for mobile computing. If Apple could integrate iOS into a Dropbox-like cloud infrastructure, it would have reached nirvana for pro-mobile computing, in my view. And like Ben, I’ve been using laptops since the 1980s (my first being a Toshiba T1000SE), so it’s doubly frustrating that Apple just doesn’t understand what it needs to do to (finally) attain the ‘final frontier’ in mobile computing.

    1. Use Dropbox. It works extremely well with iPads as well as all your other devices including Macs and PCs. It provides the file system and file browser that hard-core computer users sometimes miss when they use iPads.

      You can argue that Apple should provide a visible file system and file browser, but they indubitably are too complex for some users. Power users can add them with DropBox or other options.

      1. I’ve tried that, but then when you are off line for an extended period of time, you are out of luck. Apple really needs to develop an on-device storage system. As it now stands it’s really awkward. PDFs can go to a eBook app and other files get associated with their application. Very counter-intuitive and is harder to use than a simple file system.

        1. I use the Documents app. Works pretty well. It exposes both the iPad’s internal folders (Photos, Keynote and other apps’), and you can add folders, and services (Dropbox, Box, Google Apps, OneDrive).

          You can choose to open an attachment or file in Documents. And when you browse for a file in Documents, you can choose which app to open it with.

    2. I, too enjoy the Smart Keyboard on the iPad Pro. It’s fast, and I like the narrow depth of it. However, it’s not perfect, as I sometimes touch an errant key and I’m touching the screen to get back on track. Same as with the Surface, tablets are terrible options for Excel, if that’s your thing (it is mine).

  6. The biggest difference between tablets and laptops is that laptops are built for running multiple apps at the same time – even on multiple screens. Tablets on the other hand are built for using 1 app at a time – or two compromised apps at the same time.

    The second biggest difference is storage. Tablets has tiny amounts of storage. Laptops can have much much more.

    At work for example, I use a MacBook Pro with Retina Display and three external monitors – four in all and 5 external drives for 29 TB of storage. And this doesn’t include the backup drives. I find this the most efficient way to run 32 apps simultaneously. No tablet can do this.

    Windows is interesting as an OS in that it tends to favor using 1 or 2 apps at a time – with each app dominating the screen. It is more difficult to cut and paste between apps in Windows than on a Mac. If anything, Windows is far more likely to be successful on a tablet than Mac OS X since Mac users tend to run more apps simultaneously than Windows users.

  7. The iPad pro is not a 2 in 1 device, it use a strictly mobile OS. I think that it has become more mainstream for some to live on mobile at all times and they have not upgraded there laptops or desktops at all.

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