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The Business Case for Surface Pro and Apple's App Demise
Can the Microsoft tablet device become the standard in a market saturated with the Apple iPad?
From time to time I've mentioned in my column how much I love my Microsoft Surface Pro. With the recent release of the Surface Pro 4 I thought I would take the opportunity to talk about why I believe the Surface Pro 4 is going to become the dominant business tablet.
I think it's probably safe to say that the Surface Pro 3 sold better than anyone ever expected. Even so, the idea of a mass transition to Surface Pro probably seems laughable. Keep in mind that I'm not predicting such a transition will happen overnight, but I do think it will happen. For one thing, the Surface seems to be gaining momentum. Each Surface release has sold better than the last, and there's no sign this will change any time soon.
At the same time, Apple is losing a bit of steam. Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities estimates that the total iPad shipments will decline 16 percent in 2016 to between 40 million and 42 million units. Of course, this slowdown can probably be at least partially attributed to market saturation, which would directly counter the idea that Windows tablets could become the standard business tablet, pointing instead to the idea that the iPad has already become a standard. Even so, I think the Surface Pro will eventually become the dominant business tablet.
Some have said that Apple is following in Microsoft's footsteps by introducing the iPad Pro. In my opinion though, Apple is following in Microsoft's footsteps in another way. Few people would deny that Microsoft has made some really bad decisions prior to the arrival of Satya Nadella, and Apple has fallen into one of the same traps as Microsoft.
Back in the days of Windows 8, I was among Microsoft's loudest critics with regard to the application model Microsoft chose to implement. As you no doubt know, Windows 8 ran Windows desktop applications, but it also ran a new style of touch-enabled apps that went through a number of name changes (Metro apps, modern apps, Windows Store Apps and so on).
While I'm not sure trying to support two different types of apps with a single OS was such a good idea, the introduction of a new type of app wasn't Microsoft's biggest mistake. The bigger mistake was in Microsoft's app store model. Microsoft introduced several different Windows 8 OSes. There was Windows 8 as we know it today (which included things like Windows 8 Pro, Enterprise and so on). There was also Windows RT, which looked and acted just like Windows 8, but ran a completely different set of apps. A third flavor of Windows 8 was introduced in Xbox One, and the fourth was Windows Phone. My point is that Microsoft created at least four different "Windows 8" OSes, each with its own nuances. More important, each of these OSes had its own app store. Needless to say, this led to a lot of confusion for Microsoft customers, especially from consumers who abandoned Microsoft in droves.
In Windows 10, Microsoft is attempting to correct its former mistake and do something about the app madness. Windows 10 still supports desktop apps and touch apps (as it should), but Microsoft has done away with Windows RT and the soon-to-be-released Windows Phone-based devices will be able to run the same touch apps as desktop PCs.
So what does all of this have to do with Apple or the Surface Pro? Well, Satya Nadella's goal at Microsoft seems to be unification. Remember the One Microsoft slogan? Surface Pro 4 is the culmination of that unification. It's a single tablet that can run desktop apps and touch apps. Granted, Surface Pro 3 can already do this, but Surface Pro 4 can actually act as a full-blown desktop or laptop replacement. In fact, the Surface Pro 4 can be equipped with an Intel i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM and 1TB of storage. That's a tremendous amount of power to cram into a tablet. Granted, this configuration won't be cheap (about $2,600), but the point is that Microsoft has made it possible for business users to use a single device for all their computing needs.
On the flip side, Apple seems to be doing quite the opposite. The iPad, iPhone and so on run iOS and run apps that are specifically designed for iOS. The Mac Book Pro on the other hand runs OS X and apps designed for it. There's no overlap between the two devices. The Mac Book Pro can't run iOS apps, nor can the iPad run OS X apps. Hence, organizations that settle on Apple devices may find they have to shell out good money for two different device form factors and two different sets of apps. Not only are there costs involved in doing so, but there are sure to be application compatibility or availability issues, as well. As it stands right now, the Surface Pro looks to be a more economically viable solution, and also seems as though it's going to be easier to support.
Brien Posey is a 16-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.