Microsoft positions Surface Pro 3 tablet as a laptop replacement

Buyers will get the best of both worlds, according to Microsoft

Microsoft's Panos Panay showing Surface Pro 3 at event in New York

Microsoft's Panos Panay showing Surface Pro 3 at event in New York

The latest version of Microsoft's tablet, the Surface Pro 3, eliminates the need for users to also have a laptop, the company said at a launch event.

"Today we take that conflict away," said Panos Panay, a corporate vice president at Microsoft who heads the Surface team. "This is the tablet that can replace your laptop."

The Surface Pro 3 is bigger than its predecessor, the Surface Pro 2, with a 12-inch screen that can display images at 2160 x 1440 pixel resolution.

With an Intel Core i7 processor, it is faster than the 10.6-inch Surface Pro 2, but also lighter and thinner, Panay said.

It is 9.1-millimeters thick and weighs 800 grams. In a scale comparison on stage, the Surface Pro 3 was shown to be lighter than the MacBook Air.

"When you pick up this product it feels beautiful," Panay said.

Like previous Surface Pro tablets, the Pro 3 can be used as a full-powered PC. For example, the upcoming version of Adobe Photoshop CC has been optimized for touch and stylus input for Surface Pro 3.

Microsoft hopes the third wave of Surface tablets will provide the break it needs to catch up with Apple and Android device makers.

These are the first new Surface models since a pair of 10.6-inch tablets -- the Surface 2 with Windows 8.1 RT and Surface Pro 2 with Windows 8 -- were unveiled last September. Microsoft shipped an LTE version of Surface 2 in March and added the Lumia 2520 tablet with Windows RT after completing the US$7.2 billion acquisition of Nokia last month.

Microsoft says it remains committed to tablets, although its Surface business has lost hundreds of millions of dollars. In July 2013, the company took a $900 million charge following the failure of Surface RT.

After years of unabated growth, tablet shipments have also slowed down. Worldwide tablet shipments during the first quarter totaled 50.4 million units, growing by 3.9 percent compared to the year-ago quarter, according to IDC. Surface tablets had just a 1.3 percent share during the period, with all Windows tablets combined holding a 4.5 percent share. IDC predicts Windows' tablet market share to reach 10.2 percent in 2017.

Surface's challenge started with an unclear product strategy at the original Windows 8 launch, which pitted Windows 8 versus Windows RT, said Tom Mainelli, program vice president for devices and displays at IDC. Windows 8 ran on x86 CPUs, while the tablet-oriented RT OS was written for ARM processors.

"Since then, Microsoft has slowly figured out how it wants people to view the two products, but consumers are still understandably wary," Mainelli said.

IT buyers seem to be warming up to the concept of the Surface Pro 2, but Microsoft still has a long way to go, Mainelli said.

"Generally speaking, I think they're moving in the right direction in terms of the hardware and the software," he said.

Microsoft's hardware efforts are to drive innovation and design new product categories, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said at the event.

"We clearly are not interested in refrigerators and toasters," Nadella said, adding that Microsoft wants to build hardware that blends with its software and cloud services to give "mobile-first experiences."

The company wants to work with partners to push tablet adoption, Nadella said.

"We are not interested in competing with our OEMs on hardware," he said.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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