Microsoft’s New Surface: Part Tablet, Part MacBook Air

Today, Microsoft unveiled its Surface Pro 3–a do-it-all tablet-laptop hybrid. But is that what consumers really want?

Microsoft’s New Surface: Part Tablet, Part MacBook Air
[Image: Microsoft]

Microsoft believes we carry too many gadgets.


“So many people carry both a laptop and a tablet,” says Panos Panay, corporate vice president at Microsoft, “but really [they] want just one device that serves all purposes.” After two generations of Surface tablets–which combined the recreational lean-backness of a tablet with a keyboard attachment for when you want to hunker down and type things–Microsoft pulled the curtains back today on the Surface Pro 3.

“It holds all the thinness of any tablet you really need,” Panay said during Microsoft’s event in Manhattan to reveal the new product. “I can talk specs all day and it doesn’t bore me, but it probably bores you.”

Like its ancestors, the Surface Pro 3 runs Windows 8. It’s faster, has better battery life, and has all the usual iterative upgrades we’ve come to expect from our electronics. But perhaps the most notable decision on Microsoft’s part was to bump up the display size to a full 12 inches. Yes, Microsoft went bigger, which positions the Surface not just against the iPads and Kindle Fires of the world, but the MacBook Airs, too.

It’s an interesting proposition, especially since many watchers were predicting Microsoft would release a Surface Mini to take on the Apple’s 8-inch iPad. Microsoft is effectively zagging where others have zigged.

About those specs, though. No question, the new Surface is powerful. Depending on your configuration, you can get an Intel Core i3, i5, or i7 processor, starting at the friendly-for-a-computer price of $799. Some of its new abilities are tantalizing: An Adobe representative took the stage at one point to demonstrate a tablet-optimized (and fully functional!) version of Photoshop, which is something we haven’t seen yet from a touchscreen device.

But, curiously, Microsoft failed to address some of the core complaints that have plagued the Surface from the start: Its attachable keyboard cover–which was innovative two years ago–is largely unchanged. You still can’t place the Surface Pro 3 comfortably on your lap to do work; you need (puts on sunglasses) a flat surface. A few techies who were given Surface Pros after today’s presentation had their share of qualms with it, too:


That’s all based on initial impressions, and reviews likely won’t trickle in until reviewers spend some time with it. But it is not as if Microsoft can abandon tablets–commercial flop or otherwise–even as the Apples and Googles of the world continue to control the overwhelming majority of the marketshare. As my colleague Austin Carr wrote last year, it’s simply in Microsoft’s DNA to carry on until it gets a product right. “If you look at history, the first Xbox, it didn’t have [the right] balance either,” Microsoft veteran Julie Larson-Green told Fast Company at the time.

And, hey: If the new Surface doesn’t get it right, there’s always next year.

About the author

Chris is a staff writer at Fast Company, where he covers business and tech. He has also written for The Week, TIME, Men's Journal, The Atlantic, and more.