A Lot Is Riding on the Surface Pro, and Not Just for Microsoft

Carl Weinschenk

The fate of enterprise-level tablet use, BYOD approaches, the PC industry and Microsoft are all very closely linked.

Much of what is unclear will begin to unravel in the coming months. This week, the Microsoft Surface Pro – Redmond’s take on corporate tablets – will be released in Europe. It has been available in North America since February.

As with anything Microsoft-related, there is a lot of information and commentary about the Surface Pro. An especially perceptive take is offered by ZDNet’s Steve Ranger, who points to a set of deeper questions than the important issue of whether the Surface Pro will succeed.

Ranger suggests that a vital issue is whether most employees want tablets or if they have a significant but limited (and noisy) fan base. Whether the market is huge or limited, the follow-up question is whether Apple’s dominance is established and immutable or if there is room for another player.

The answers to those questions could have even more fundamental impact on Microsoft. Ranger suggests that if tablets indeed are a big deal, they are likely to succeed at the expense of desktop PCs and the Microsoft software within. In that sense, the Surface Pro can be seen as a defensive measure designed to retain some of the PC market moving from desktops and laptops to tablets.

It is an important issue to track. Peter Chubb at PR – Product Reviews – cites DigiTimes reporting to suggest that Microsoft is all in and more tablets – including another Surface Pro -- are coming:

We already assumed that Microsoft were working on a new Surface range of devices, but we’re shocked to learn that the Surface Pro 2 release and Surface Mini could be sooner than we think. We say this because there has been a report suggesting that there will be new 7-inch and 9-inch versions of the Surface device, and that supply chains indicate they will be on the market earlier than we assume.

On the first day of this month, IDC released its first quarter worldwide tablet results. Microsoft sold almost 900,000 tablets. The firm didn’t break out Surface Pro and the consumer-oriented Surface RT numbers, though the press release said that more Pros than RTs were sold. By way of comparison, Apple sold 19.5 million iPads, about 800,000 above expectations. All told, 49.2 million tablets were sold, a 142.4 percent increase compared to the year-ago quarter.

Success, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. The numbers for Microsoft’s tablet sales only represent the North American market, which makes it a pears-to-oranges comparison (using “apples” doesn’t seem fair). That said, the likely total sales of the Surface Pro are about the same as the amount of iPads sold beyond what was expected. Jake Robison at Stabley Times, for one, is not impressed.


It appears that a few things are unclear. It is unclear if there is a substantial enterprise tablet market. If there is, it is unclear what size it is. It is unclear if whatever market there is has already been locked up by Apple. And, finally, assuming a market exists and is available, it is unclear if the Surface Pro is good enough to win a significant slice of it.



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