Will Microsoft Surface for Windows 8 Pro tablets be competition for Ultrabooks?

Will Microsoft Surface for Windows 8 Pro tablets be competition for Ultrabooks?

Summary: Surface for Windows 8 Pro will be priced "on par with Ultrabook-class PCs." Is it a viable alternative to Intel's laptop platform?

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While Microsoft's Surface tablet concept is intriguing enough that it has at least a chance at being a consumer success, its odds may be better with Surface for Windows 8 Pro, which looks like it can challenge laptops in the portable productivity market.

Surface for Windows 8 Pro is where Wintel joins the tablet game. Microsoft showed off a model using an Intel Ivy Bridge Core i5 processor, which to date has not even seemed like it was in play for slate usage. It doubles the amount of built-in storage (either 64GB or 128GB) over Surface for Windows RT, and upgrades the connectivity options: USB 3.0 port instead of USB 2.0, Mini DisplayPort instead of Micro HD video port, and microSDXC support in addition to standard microSD capability.

You also a get a full HD ClearType display, especially useful given that Surface is built with a 16:9 aspect ratio. With a beefier processor, Surface for Windows 8 Pro gets bigger (13.5mm thick instead of 9.3mm) and heavier, but is still slim enough to fit into the touch cover. Microsoft will also throw in a stylus, which will be useful for enterprise applications. Curiously, the Surface spec sheet does not mention that Pro buyers get a version of Office included, whereas Office Home & Student 2013 RT comes pre-installed on Surface for Windows RT.

That's a detail worth knowing, because Microsoft has said that Surface for Windows 8 Pro will be priced "on par with Ultrabook-class PCs" when it becomes available (a couple of months after Surface for Windows RT). Considering that most Ultrabooks still don't cost anywhere near the price of a base iPad 3 model, Ultrabooks may in fact be the biggest competition for Microsoft's pro slate. With its touch typepad, Surface expects you to get things done in a way that's more like a typical PC and less like a game-playing tablet.

The "professionalization" of tablets is shaping up to be a choice between Apple's vision -- new apps that are mostly built from scratch for the iPad ecosystem and large user base -- and Microsoft's -- new apps that are based around Windows and attractive to users familiar with Windows from their daily jobs and home PCs. There appears to be plenty of room for both models to thrive, but it will be fascinating to see if many large enterprises flock to Surface for Windows Pro for its familiarity (and IT friendliness) in lieu of both iPads (already popular with consumers and possibly many of their employees) and new laptops.

How well do you think Surface for Windows 8 Pro will compete in the enterprise world against iPads and even laptops? Would you think of buying one instead of an Ultrabook? Let us know in the Comments section below. More Microsoft Surface Coverage from ZDNet:

Topics: Microsoft, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Tablets, Windows

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18 comments
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  • It's just a laptop

    The brilliance of the iPad was Apple's willingness to completely discard a way of working in favor of another paradigm. It was a huge risk that's paid off nicely. Microsoft appears to want it both ways. It's a tablet. It's a laptop. It's an ultrabook. It's likely to feel kludgy because of Microsoft's unwillingness to cut to essentials. As much as people like the idea of a keyboard cover, how well will it work in your lap or in a confined space (steerage class on an airplane)? Will application makers be forced to support multiple UI models: touch only/keyboard only/touch AND keyboard?

    It may have some appeal in the corporate world, but those needs are served--probably better--by a small laptop. But we'll find out, won't we?
    MC_z
    • Let me help.

      Most consumers will realize ahead of time that this isn't a clamshell laptop and therefore expecting to use it in your lap like a traditional laptop just doesn't make sense. Just like the phone has evolved over time to replace multiple devices (portal music player, Phone, Camera, hand held gaming, etc) the tablet will also evolve. Why would I want to carry 2 devices if 1 will do the job just as well?
      In regards to applications, if you create Metro style applications and follow the design spec(I'm looking at you Google) then your application will work equally as well with keyboard/mouse as it does with touch. When you really look at it, it's Apple that has the problem of developers having to code and design for 2 separate UI models. Microsoft is not only trying to combine 2 devices they're trying to combine the development efforts.

      The beauty is Microsoft doesn't have to out sell the iPad, because the combination of all the form factors that Win8 will run on will do that quite easily with or without Microsoft creating there own hardware. What Microsoft has done here is send a clear message to OEM's, that if you divide your time building Android devices and you don't give Windows the time it deserves, we're going to make you look bad.
      rwalrond
      • Except...

        Don't forget, that Windows RT will NOT run "regular" Windows apps, and will be Metro/ARM only. So, yes, there is still a clear divide. Otherwise, explain why they chose to show TWO devices at their big even last week.
        lelandhendrix@...
    • ultimately, no

      it's a general consensus that typing on the ipad is a chore. and the type cover and touch cover allow the tablet to stay the size and format of a tablet while offering much more. you can still use it in the same way you use an ipad if you really want to, but who would? it's still very much a tablet, but with the luxuries of a laptop.

      and, a smaller than 10.6" screen laptop? the vast majority of netbooks aren't even that small.

      you are right though, if you want to call it an "unwillingness" to cut essentials. that's the main difference between microsoft and apple. apple designs products for apple, and everyone who buys their products must use other apple products. microsoft is the opposite. you should be happy though, if macs had the larger marketshare, then you'd all be having as many virus problems as windows users have.
      bacalaohombre
  • I suspect...

    ...this is more a "reference design we'll go ahead and sell a few of" than serious competition to the OEMs. :)

    After all, MS sells *software*. Hardware is just a way to run the software after all. And they really don't want to tick off their partners.
    wolf_z
    • Just like the Zune?

      Weren't MS a software company back then?
      Englishmole
  • In the post PC era, multi-touch and mobility are very important.

    This announced Surface Pro tablet WILL compete against Ultrabooks. The question is how successfully will it compete against them. And how will it compete against the already shown "hybrid" designs?

    Early impressions indicate that Ultrabooks should hold an advantage in onboard RAM and storage capacity. They MIGHT hold an advantage in CPU power but most likely WILL have GPU advantages over this Surface Pro tablet. Mobility performance factors should be about the same.

    The Surface Pro will have the full screen multi-touch display advantage over the Ultrabook laptops but might not have an advantage over the hybrid designs already shown.

    The short, honest answer is: I don't know! The Win RT ARM based Surface tablets seem better at competing and winning a marketshare against other tablets than this Surface Pro tablet class machine against Ultrabooks and Hybrid designs can.
    kenosha77a
  • Will Microsoft Surface for Windows 8 Pro tablets be competition for Ultrabo

    When Microsoft releases a tablet its now competition for all other types of devices but when some other company does it its complimentary to their product line up. To answer the question yes it will be competition since they will both be competing for the consumer's money. However the tablets will not sell as well as the ultrabooks, people can get more out of a laptop.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • The problem with that is "most" people don't need more... Nor will they

      ever use more so a tablet makes perfect sense vs other. Even in the business situation many a tech device serves limited specific tasks that a tablet can do quite well so why spend more for more when more is not needed/wanted?

      Pagan jim
      James Quinn
  • Will almost certainly replace my ultrabook

    I have very high hopes for the x86 Pro model. I will be in line to buy. I expect it to be a very long line.

    Running al my windows stuff on a tablet is a long term desire and I am certainly not alone in this. I currently make do with an Acer Iconia W500 and windows 8 release preview but a real ivy bridge processor, decent screen and battery life and more storage would be very welcome.
    steeplejack
    • And they won't reach a conclusion

      If every Munchkin on ZDNet who swears he's going to buy one (or 'pick up 2 or 3') gets in line, and they do this at the rate of one per day, then by the time the device ships there will be enough Munchkins in line to circle the Earth six times at Redmond.
      Robert Hahn
  • This is it? I can

    Simple Answer: it will not. It lacks he specs, the design, innovation factor to convince productivity-device seekers to skip a beautiful ultrabook and with a price way above the iPad, how is it gonna compete with a simply gorgeous Retina-Display, tons of apps and a smooth OS in the tablet market? On the Windows Side of things by the time this device will ship, nobody is gonna talk about it any more. The 3rd and 4th quarter new hybrid-wave will be in full launch with devices that are gonna be more innovative like the Asus Taichi already is now.

    Don't get me wrong: I believe in the idea of hybrids but 1. after testing am not impressed with Windows 8 release preview UI experience. It is not bad but somewhat uninspired and nowhere near what is needed in innovation to kick-start and sustain the hybrids with a bang. 2. Apples competitors still haven't learned the first thing about what consumers really want in a device. The marketing sucks, with months between presentation and actual availability of the product with stuff shipping while other, more modern products are being presented dominating the news. No integration on the website, no desire is being created, products being buried in a ton of simultaneous releases (ASUS Zenbook Prime, UX32VD, TAICHI etc. or Acer). Crazy how unorganized and hectic multi-billion dollar corporations are currently facing the general challenges of consumer electronics markets and Apple's success.
    MTMechanic
  • new innovation from Microsoft

    Must of your write up are baseless. Let the complete product comes out and see the consumers reactions. Coz most are window haters.
    itua4real
  • Would Buy Windows Surface for Windows Pro

    I would certainly buy the Surface for Windows pro, it's coming round to when I would be replacing my android tablet and laptop, and the Surface fulfills every kind of service that I would expect from both a laptop and tablet... It seems like a good buy really!
    Jamesmcarthur3999
  • Battery-Company.com.au

    The most power consuming item in a tablet is the LCD. Even if the processor was twice as efficient that wouldn't translate to 2x battery life.
    batterycompanycomau
  • Do what, now?

    You wrote, "Microsoft will also throw in a stylus, which will be useful for enterprise applications."

    What does that mean? Are there enterprise applications using a stylus out there right now, that I'm just not aware of?

    I can't make any sense of that statement, AT ALL.
    lelandhendrix@...
  • I would definitely give pro a try

    I would definitely give pro a try only because I can use design tools like photoshop and illustrator, can build architectures on axure. can code even when im offline and giving away bulky laptop on flight! And doing all these on a tab sized high res devise is the best part of it.

    And back home/office I don't have to use it on my lap, thank wireless mouse, keyboard and mini display ports.

    All these are just concepts, works only if MS has built it powerful enough!!
    pavan_sry
  • It isn't just a laptop

    The iPad was revolutionary and it does show that a minimumal (phone) OS with good touch and reasonable apps does have a market. Games, simple apps, WiFi, internet, etc. is sufficient for a certain market. The problem is that is only good within that market. I've seen people on iPads struggle the moment you try taking it outside its comfort zone. Business can't use it due to security and inability to run current key applications. Professionals can't use it without a keyboard and more serious applications. Even students quickly run into issues.

    I have often wondered... who must more of a market would there be with an iPad if it could do these without seriously impacting its usability. If one didn't have to give up much -- it was still an iPad-like device (touch, simple apps, internet, WiFi, games, etc.) which could switch to a light-powered laptop... why not? Even the RT version can run Office... which immediately makes it a good choice for students. Key notes in class using a keyboard, right reports, and print them. Business can not look at the Pro version -- network security is fine for say medical imaging, point-of-sales, etc.

    I've used Windows Phone 7 and the Metro should be fine for touch on a larger device. Yes, you can't likely run large database or video editing applications on it, but isn't iPad + Office or iPad + 75% of Windows apps a no-brainer as long as it is roughly the same size, weight, and easy of use in "iPad" mode?
    BW022