In a presentation that frequently mentioned the iPad and MacBook Air, Microsoft on Tuesday unveiled the Surface Pro 3, a device it hopes will contend with both Apple's popular tablets and thin-and-light notebooks with one converged device that will start at $799.
In unveiling the new laptop-tablet hybrid, Microsoft Surface chief Panos Panay noted that most people in the crowd were typing on Apple MacBooks, and many of those likely had an iPad in their bag. He also cited statistics that showed that 96 percent of iPad owners also own a laptop.
Panay then brought out the Surface Pro 3, an Intel-powered device that he said can meet the needs of both a laptop and a tablet in one touchscreen form factor. The redesigned Surface Pro runs full Windows 8, and starts at $799 with an Intel Core i3 processor, while more powerful configurations of Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs will also be available. It goes on sale Wednesday.
In another comparison to Apple, Panay had a scale onstage where he weighed a 13-inch MacBook Air in contrast to the new Surface Pro 3, which comes in lighter at just 800 grams but also sports a smaller 12-inch screen. Panay said that despite having a smaller display, the Surface Pro 3 view 6 percent more content than on a 13-inch MacBook Air, thanks to the aspect ratio of the display as well as Microsoft's optimization of Windows 8.
At 9.1-millimeters thin, the Surface Pro 3 is the thinnest Intel Core product ever made. It also has a new cooling design with a fan Microsoft says is 30 percent more efficient than any other on the market, radially emitting air throughout so that users cannot feel, hear or see the fan at work.
Another change to the Surface Pro 3 is a redesigned "full-friction" kickstand that allows the device to be propped up at a variety of angles.
Panay also talked about how "lapability" of portable devices is critical, and is one aspect where previous versions of the Surface lineup fell short. With the new kickstand and a removable keyboard cover that magnetically attaches to the bottom of the screen, Panay said the Surface Pro 3 is more stable on a user's lap than before.
Another accessory shown off by Microsoft was a new pen with 256 points of pressure compatible with the latest Surface Pro. Microsoft hyped the ability to place one's hand against the screen and write with a pen that feels natural for note taking and drawing.
One key use of the pen showcased by the company was for a new version of Photoshop CC designed for Windows 8 and Surface Pro 3. Adobe took the stage to demonstrate how users can combine the use of the pen and their fingers for multi-touch control when editing images.
Microsoft's pen also clicks on the top, much like a regular retractable pen that would be used for paper. Clicking it immediately opens up Microsoft OneNote on the Surface, so a user can begin writing down their thoughts instantly.
In another demonstration, Panay double-clicked the pen's button to take a screenshot, which was then immediately opened in OneNote. Panay then used the pen to crop the image, and began to draw on it. Once saved, the note then synced to Microsoft's cloud services.
As PC sales have slumped and Windows 8 has been met with criticism, Microsoft has bet heavily on "converged" devices like the Surface, seeing the future of PCs offering the best of both a tablet and a laptop. But sales of the Surface have floundered against more tailored options like Apple's iPad and MacBook lineups.
In comments made in April of 2012, Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said Windows 8-style tablet PC convergence devices are not likely to please most users. The CEO compared combining a laptop and a tablet to arbitrarily selling a refrigerator with toaster functions tacked on the side.
The Surface Pro lineup represents the high end of Microsoft's custom-built tablet hardware, featuring Intel processors with full-fledged versions of Windows. The company also sells a less expensive Surface model with an ARM processor that runs a stripped-down operating system dubbed Windows RT.
AppleInsider spent some time with the Surface RT 2 and Type Cover 2 accessory last fall, and found that while some functions like simultaneous multitasking were an improvement from Apple's iPad, the device was still too unwieldy to use on a lap and not fully functional enough to replace a laptop.