We are witnessing some interesting mating rituals in mobile technology. There have been smartphones hooking up with tablets to become phablets. Tablets and laptops getting cosy… and Lenovo’s Yoga series of laptops made things really interesting by being able to assume various positions, with its rotating and bending screen.
Manufacturers are also becoming very competitive and protective of their products, guarding their own turf. It is a virtual survival of the fittest, as new concepts and hybrids attract the attention of consumers around the world.
Many of the companies at the cutting edge, like Microsoft and Lenovo have relationships on the one hand, and yet compete aggressively at other levels. Terms like “frenemy” and “coopetition” are used in the industry for such relationships. Marriages have quickly become open relationships.
Microsoft is a big player in the industry and has been quietly and efficiently going about its perceived role as the world’s largest software marker, with products such as Windows, Office and Explorer. But it had something else going on…
In June 2012 Microsoft entered the PC market for the first time with the introduction of the Microsoft Surface line of tablet computers, and that’s when things really started to heat up.
INTRODUCING MICROSOFT SURFACE
The Surface was originally pitched as Microsoft’s ultimate companion piece for Windows 8, taking full advantage of that operating system’s touch-friendly interface.
The hybrid took an Intel Core i-series slate and added a magnetic clip-on keyboard cover to create a device that could work as a full-time tablet and part-time laptop.
The device ruffled the feathers of some of Windows tablet makers, such as Lenovo who suddenly saw Microsoft as a competitor and no longer just a partner.
While the first and second generations of the Surface Pro, launched in 2013, were variations on the theme, it was not until 2014 with the release of the Surface Pro 3 that Microsoft finally created a worthwhile flagship.
Able to transform between a tablet and a laptop via an attachable keyboard, the Surface Pro 3 has been popular among consumers, with the Surface tablet division generating more than $1 billion in sales in the fourth quarter of 2014.
The size of the market was enough to encourage Microsoft to develop the product even further. While Surface Pro 3 was popular, it did have some room for improvement.
Surface Pro 3 slimmed down the thick body of the earlier Surface models, increased the screen size and resolution, and improved the tablet’s built-in kickstand, all while maintaining performance and battery life on par with similarly priced mainstream slim laptops.
The mechanical keyboard cover remained its most impressive design feature, but rather than being packed in with the system, it was sold separately, making a full Surface setup more expensive than its starting price would indicate.
MICROSOFT SURFACE PRO 4
The introduction of Microsoft Surface Pro 4 has been seen by many commentators as the latest incarnation of a new breed of device that has evolved from and has the potential to make both the tablet and the laptop computer obsolete.
This is what Microsoft says about its latest product, launched earlier this month:
“Surface Pro 4 has the proportions of a sheet of paper so that it feels familiar in your hands. It goes from tablet to laptop in a snap with the multi-position kickstand and improved keyboard. Powered by Windows 10, Surface Pro 4 turns from a tablet into a full powered laptop while running all of your desktop software.”
In the Surface Pro 4, the biggest upgrade is in the new processors, part of Intel’s sixth generation of Core chips. These processors offer improved performance and battery life, and in the case of the Surface Pro 4, it’s an especially important upgrade as the Surface Pro 3 was already two CPU generations behind. Microsoft says the new Surface Pro 4’s new processor makes it 30 percent faster than the Surface Pro 3, and up to 50 percent faster than Apple’s MacBook Air.
The display jumps from 12 inches to 12.3 inches diagonally in size, and ups the screen resolution to 2,736×1,824 (267 pixels per inch) without making the magnesium alloy frame any larger. In fact, it’s slightly thinner at 8.4mm, compared to the Surface Pro 3’s 9.1mm chassis, and it weighs in at only 766 grams.
Microsoft’s optional keyboard cover has also been redesigned, offering more separation between the individual keys. It looks and feels more like a standard island-style laptop keyboard now, whereas before, the keys were very tightly packed together.
The keyboard is also thinner now, with a new type of key, “ProSet,” that offers 1.3mm of travel. The backlit keyboard cover also has a 40 percent larger glass precision touchpad with five-point multitouch, and an optional fingerprint sensor that’s compatible with Windows Hello’s one-touch log-in system.
There is now a stylus included with the Surface Pro 4, and is integrated with Windows 10. Click and hold the eraser button on the top and you’ll activate Cortana, the Windows digital assistant. The stylus has 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity, and Microsoft claims the battery will last a full year. Microsoft is also talking up the speed and accuracy of the new stylus, thanks in part to a dedicated Pen and Touch chipset inside the device, and an extremely thin 0.4mm Gorilla Glass 4 screen cover glass.
The new Surface Pro 4 also includes two cameras: a front-facing 5-megapixel camera with Windows Hello facial recognition, and an 8-megapixel rear camera.
Ports include a SurfaceConnect cable for power and docking, a Mini DisplayPort, a headset jack, a full-size USB 3.0 port, and a microSD card reader.
With its latest offering, Microsoft has jumped the fence from software to hardware, and given birth to a product that is a generation beyond both its tablet and laptop parentage.