Microsoft’s claim that the Surface is ‘the tablet that can replace your laptop’ has been the focus of much publicity and debate. For some, the argument that the Microsoft Surface – and other similar devices – can replace the laptop rests on a false comparison: when positioning ultramobile hybrid devices as replacements for the clamshell laptop or notebook, Microsoft and others aren’t comparing like with like.
It could be said that such criticism overlooks an important point, namely, that the rise to prominence of the Surface Pro 3 and Surface 3 is part of a wider move towards hybrid computing. In recent figures, tablets and two-in-one notebooks currently make up the fastest growing segment of the PC market.
There are a couple of points to consider when looking at the design of Microsoft’s two-in-one devices. The first, which often crops up in reviews of the Surface 3 and Surface Pro 3, is whether the signature kickstand can ever really match the convenience of a traditional laptop, with some reviewers preferring the greater stability and range of positions offered by a clamshell design.
A second consideration concerns the keyboard. Microsoft’s distinctive and lightweight Type Cover has to be brought separately, eroding the price difference between Surface models and the iPad Air 2 and MacBook Air. Moreover, whilst frequently praising the flexibility of the detachable keyboard, users often point to the lack of certain features and noise of its keystrokes. This is hardly an insurmountable problem, however, since there’s no shortage of alternative mobile and switchable keyboards compatible with the Surface.
Doubts about performance evaporate when you look at the credentials of the two Surface devices. The performance and power of the Surface Pro 3 is much-vaunted, enabling designers, gamers and business users to use it as their primary device. Even the Surface 3, intended more for student and home use, has an Intel Atom Quad-Core processor and as much as 128GB of storage and 4GB of RAM. In general, the increasing power of hybrid devices has meant there’s no longer a significant trade-off between tablet versatility and laptop performance.
The success of the Surface lines has helped Microsoft to establish a sizeable share in the ultramobile tablet market. With the Surface Pro 4 due for release later this summer, Microsoft will be hoping that the release of the Surface Pro 4 will help to strengthen this foothold in a fast-moving market. Much of this growth is coming from consumers, who see the Surface as a convenient, multi-use device that can replace a tablet and/or laptop.
The current weaknesses in the business case for the Surface and other hybrid devices relate to their compatibility with the installed base of desktop PCs. It has been hard to put the case for touch-based technology when it’s incompatible with Windows 7, for example. Over the next few years, however, the success of the Surface Hub and uptake of Windows 10 could help to make the Surface an even more attractive device for business users, perhaps finally validating Microsoft’s claim that its device is a genuine laptop replacement.