In my previous post, I mused on how Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablet/laptop hybrid would be dead on arrival thanks to its $900 price tag. On further consideration, I’m convinced it will be DOA even at a lower price. As neither a tablet nor a laptop, it’s a device without a clear use case, which means it’s a solution in search of a problem. In other words, it’s a bad, bad idea.
Consider how tablets are used. The majority of buyers use them to surf the web while on the couch, browse photos, read e-books and email, watch movies and play games. Some power users also try to get actual business productivity out of them. In some cases, tablets do such tasks better than anything else – I’ve written before about how apps such as SignMyPad, which lets you sign documents with your finger, are invaluable – but in many other situations, they’re terrible. I would rather bash my head against a wall than use a tablet for spreadsheets, for example.
That’s not to say they’re not handy for business uses. Many professionals – from doctors to pilots – use them as portable displays, which come in handy for everything from patient charts to flight manuals. There are also many specialized tablet apps that do in fact make use of the touch screen in creative ways. Lighting Designer, as just one example, helps cinematographers set up shots with their fingers.
For the most part, though, hard-core computing is done on an actual computer and then transferred over to the tablet in one way or another for viewing.
Laptops, on the other hand, are the complete inverse. While all of the media consumption listed above can be done on them, there’s little question that such tasks are easier and more comfortably done on a tablet, hence the category’s success. Laptops, meanwhile, enable full content creation, which is their main use. Very few people buy them just for watching movies or reading e-books.
Because tablets enable media consumption, consumers judge them mainly on five factors: price, size and weight, app and content availability, screen sharpness and battery life. The tablets that have done well – including Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Google’s Nexus 7 – have got some variation of those right. With the iPad Mini, Apple hits almost all of those notes (with a sharper screen likely coming next year).
The Surface Pro – with the revelation that it’ll only have about four hours of battery life – scores in almost none of those categories. So even at a lower cost, will it be a worthwhile tablet? It’s hard to see how.
Given that, does it adequately replace a laptop? Again, no. Not only is its battery life worse than that offered by Apple’s MacBook Air and many Ultrabooks, the Surface Pro is also impractical without, y’know, an actual surface to put it on. Its kickstand and attachable Touch pad keyboard are nifty, but not at all practical for using on your lap. That is why portable computers – which are quite comfortable to use on your lap – are called laptops, after all.
It’s normally unfair to judge a product sight unseen, but it’s also hard to see a proper use case for Microsoft’s hybrid device. It’s just not better than a tablet or a laptop, but rather a limited version of both.
The Surface Pro is also hardly the first such hybrid – Lenovo, for one, has been pushing this idea for years – but Microsoft is looking for it to be the first to succeed. The reasons above are good indicators as to why, as of yet, none have.