Surface Pro 3: The Future of PCs?

on May 27, 2014

I attended the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 launch in New York last week and it got me thinking. After spending some time with the device and contemplating its potential impact, I realized it was time to take a fresh look at 2-in-1s, hybrids, detachables or whatever name you prefer to give to these combo devices.

In many ways, the Surface Pro 3 is one of the best examples of a 2-in-1 device that I’ve seen. With a 12” high-resolution screen, a range of powerful Intel Core series CPUs, fast SSD storage and a backlit, removable keyboard with a large, comfy trackpad, it’s got all the features people want in a PC. At the same time, the screen’s 3:2 aspect ratio, multipoint touch, infinitely variable hinge and the included stylus all make it a powerful tablet.

But looking at how Microsoft has evolved the Surface from its original “let’s try to create an alternative to the iPad” strategy, the Surface Pro 3 is clearly much more PC-like than it is tablet-like. In fact, I’d argue it’s about 80-90% PC and only 10-20% tablet. Though that may not sound ideal, in actual practice that ratio works well because that’s how the vast majority of people use 2-in-1 devices anyway.

In fact, the ratio for most people who own or use these types of devices is probably in the 95% range of PC usage vs. tablet-style usage. I use Dell’s XPS12 convertible PC with the rotating screen as my main machine every day, for example, and I only occasionally use it in a tablet-like mode. It is handy to have that capability on those rare occasions when, for example, I want to flip the screen over and show a presentation to someone in front of me or some other application like that, but again, that’s not typical. In that regard, my estimate of Surface’s 10-15% tablet usage is actually much higher than most.

Even still, I highly doubt that most people who buy and use 2-in-1s no longer buy and/or use standalone tablets. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me to find that people who own 2-in-1s are more likely to own a separate standalone tablet than people with regular notebooks. The buyers for 2-in-1s are likely to be more sophisticated users who want a wide range of computing options and are willing (and able) to buy multiple devices to fit those needs.

There’s an even bigger issue at stake, however, and it has to do with how these devices are being positioned. Surface Pro 3 is being positioned primarily as a tablet—why else would they not bundle a keyboard with it?—and 2-in-1s are positioned as being half PC and half tablet. Neither of these is really accurate, though. In both cases, I believe we’re really looking at the future of the notebook PC.[pullquote]I’d argue that the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and other 2-in-1s are really more like a 1+ device: they take the 1 device and evolve it into a better, more advanced version of itself. Or, to put it another way, they represent the future of PCs.”[/pullquote]

The problem, of course, is that nobody really wants to talk about PCs now because the market is declining and PCs are just not sexy anymore. It’s tablets that are sexy now, so somehow everything needs to be positioned in the supposed glow of the tablet aura.

That’s a big mistake from my perspective, however, because I don’t see tablets as the savior of computing. Apparently, I’m not the only one either, because growth in the tablet market has started to peak, and I suspect it won’t be long before it starts to decline a bit (or, at the very least, growth grinds to a halt).

Don’t get me wrong. I love tablets and use them all the time. However, I also recognize their limitations and continue to believe they are a great supplementary device to a PC and a smartphone.

In this light, I’d argue that the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and other 2-in-1s are really more like a 1+ device: they take the 1 device (a PC in my argument) and evolve it into a better, more advanced version of itself. Or, to put it another way, they represent the future of PCs.

Author