Surface Pro 2 – Ultra Mobile, Ultra Productive, Both or Neither?

Posted on 27 September 2013, Last updated on 05 December 2013 by

Surface Pro 2 (2)Now that a few days have passed since Microsoft announced the Surface Pro 2 it’s time for me to give some thought to the product and its target market. Why?  Because it confuses me.

The Surface Pro 2 is a productive tablet with a detachable keyboard but at 10-inches it’s not ideal for that. Maybe it’s more focused on all-day mobility? Oh wait, there’s a docking station so it’s both? But it’s damn expensive! Have Microsoft tried too hard to cover all bases and compromised on all of them? `Where exactly is Microsoft going with an expensive 10-incher and why haven’t they addressed the small screen tablet market with Surface?

At 907 grams the Surface Pro 2 tablet is very light for a Core-based Haswell-U PC although it’s heavier than the Sony Vaio Pro 11 which includes the keyboard. The 900gm, however, takes the tablet out of most consumer usage scenarios because it’s too heavy. You’ll need a lap, chair arm or table to get the most out of it. It’s not the best way to use Modern UI.

With the two-position tablet-wide stand (landscape mode only) and a digitizer, docking station and battery-pack keyboard it’s clear that Microsoft wants to make a pro device but that 10-inch sizing has always been a difficult one. Despite full-HD resolution there simply isn’t enough screen space for major productivity. The 10-inch productivity market is a restricted one, especially when the entry-level product, with power-keyboard and docking station is going to cost around $1300.

Not only is the price am issue…

Whatever size the tablet, it needs to be under 800gm or less to become attractive for the vast majority of people for casual consumption; the requirement that’s driving most of the tablet sales. Ask anyone to hold the first iPad and they’ll be shocked at the weight. 600gm or less is the target weight for the 9-11-inch range.

Then there’s the competition. The Sony Vaio Pro 11 and Pro 13, the Sony Tap 11 (which is a masterful bit of engineering) and even upcoming Baytrail-M tablets and 2-in-1s. While the ASUS T100 10-inch 2-in-1 might not cut it as a power-house, it has a far more consumer friendly tablet weight and it costs just $399 with 64GB storage. It meets a big market, head-on.

The question has to be asked – why didn’t Microsoft take the opportunity to match markets where there are more customers? The 7-9 inch tablet market is hot and the 13.3-inch market matches mobile students and business perfectly. The 7-9-inch market is perfect for Modern UI, the 13.3-15.6-inch market is perfect for desktop. The Dell Venue 8-inch, launching at $299 in perfect for Windows Modern UI. The Samsung Series 9 is perfect for Windows Desktop UI. I’d argue that the 11.6-inch Sony Vaio Tap 11 is a better middle-ground and will be the better fit for people wanting both consumer and productivity use scenario. They’ve sacrificed a little power (by using the Y-series processors) but have got the tablet down to a much more usable 780 gram.

The Surface Pro 2 is one of the cheapest digitizer-equipped Haswell PCs around and if we are to believe the battery life claims, one of the most efficient. It’s a smart bit of kit  that is likely to appeal to a lot of you reading this (let us know below!) but that’s missing the point that there’s a small market for this specification-set and it won’t be a mass-market hit. It won’t raise the profile of ‘Surface’ and it won’t change the economics of developing for Windows 8 and that’s really what Microsoft need to do.

Maybe Microsoft are happy to leave the consumer market open for the OEMs with Baytrail products though. They’re coming, starting October 18th.

7 Comments For This Post

  1. Joe says:

    It’s mobile and productive without the ultra.

    For some professions, the screen size doesn’t matter as much as the performance and battery life. For example, running scientific or any non-GUI processing greatly benefits from higher performing and efficient hardware especially when you don’t have some super fast server you can just SSH into or a reliable internet connection. Editing the code and sifting through the results are not great on the small screen but doable. Doing that without the keyboard and mouse attachment would be even harder. I guess it depends how a person defines what tasks are “productive.” Depending on your job, going through YouTube, Facebook and other social media sites would be considered productive so an 8″ Bay Trail tablet would be considered both ultra-mobile and ultra-productive for them.

    As for mobility, yes, it’s more mobile than a desktop or largish notebook but if you’re coming from small notebooks anyway then it’s not really that mobile in comparison.

    I’m coming from utlraportables with Intel M-series chips so the Surface Pro is neither ultra-mobile nor ultra-productive to me. It wouldn’t take significantly less space in my backpack (better for the back) either.

  2. osiris says:

    Let’s be honest the tablet market is a hard one, especially to please everyone. You throw the Tap 11 in there as a viable alternative and whilst a beautiful piece of kit how productive is a device with a 30whr battery going to be? Its going to suffer from the same criticisms the surface copped.

    On the same token you throw in the Asus T100, but no active digitiser, no FHD, no icore so yeah its light but its got targets on it for some of the compromises made to keep that price low.

    I agree I don’t think 10″ is the ideal productive space but on the same token I can’t fathom the purpose of office on an 8″ device. 8″ imo is for consumption not productivity.

  3. brackenmier says:

    Coming from someone who has owned over half dozen tablets, I really see no point for any “large” tablets. They sound ideal to those without actual experience (like people who think a desktop OS solves all problems) but in reality it doesn’t. The need to always have to hold something in the air for long periods of time while constantly adjusting your hands without access too precision input will never work for productivity. Vertical form factors should remain limited too phones & small tablets with custom touch UI’s.

    Right now MS & other PC vendors are being different for the sake of being different but their not actually solving any problems. In fact most would say they are just making things worse with Windows 8. The biggest problem with the Surface Pro is that it doesn’t have a stiff hinge. The idea of clicking on a keyboard & using a kickstand is an unstable mess. Using this on your lap with the kickstand pressing on your legs creates a balancing act disaster. It cant be effortlessly moved around either like a laptop because it requires too much setup.

    MS desperately needs to make top tier Surface (baytrail) & Surface Pro (haswell) laptops and charge a premium over the competition. They would be free of all crapware, get driver updates, and be fully supported by all MS stores.

    Tablets are not the future the world has always thought they would be, instead it will have to be some other technology (like HUD). In the meantime MS needs to focus on what it does well or they will become the next IBM.

  4. Mort says:

    IBM is doing very well. So you’re saying MS will be too if they continue in their current unfocused path?

  5. guy says:

    Maybe he meant RIM/Blackberry. That company is definitely doing bad. IBM may not be doing well lately (kind of applies to many companies, really) but it’s doing decent looking at the past decade.

    My idea of an ultra-productive mobile device involves having a keyboard and mouse without requiring balancing skills. To me, any tablet wouldn’t be considered a productivity device but I guess what I consider productive involves more than just typing away in some MS Office apps or writing notes with a fancy pen. I consider the Surface Pro a nice but expensive device for playing around on which is what I do on tablets no matter the OS. When it comes down to it though, I could do work on the Surface Pro but the awkwardness would just cause me to give up part way and open up a movie instead.

  6. reqisit says:

    No matter how profitable IBM is they are no longer relevant in the consumer space, which is something MS has been trying to avoid like the plague. Several major MS shareholders were recently trying to convince MS to give up on devices & go all in on enterprise services. But Ballmer & company have been trying to convince them that ultimately services tie in to devices.

    It’s not always about money, sometimes pride is involved as well. There’s a reason MS has backtracked on nearly every Xbox One decision they initially made in order to try & save it’s reputation. X-Box is really the only brand they own that as a huge amount of positive awareness & they are clearly going to tie most of their future consumer services into.

  7. CK says:

    You can run Photoshop on this. WITH pen pressure. This is a feat many professional creatives are looking for. And it’s got the oomph for it too, plus the battery life. Nobody ever tests the pen input for usability beyond note scribbling, something I (and many others) consider completely secondary. I hardly ever use the pen on my Note 2.
    The Surface Pro is one of the few devices creatives have been waiting for, cause you can use pen pressure on the go. Sony has failed utterly with their Ntrig pens. You get an ultrabook with a pen but no pen pressure, a totally failed design! I have looked at the Vaios and like them, but surface offers the promise of being the one device I can use for entertainment, “paperwork” (office) and photo work all in one handy package. Had I not known a Haswell model would come soon If almost have gotten the S Pro. Now anxiously awaiting my S Pro 2.

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