The comparisons between the new iPad Pro with the old Surface Pro 3 is unfair because the iPad Pro is brand new and the Surface Pro 3 is nearly a year old. Given how fast technology changes that isn’t fair. Even so the Surface Pro 3 doesn’t do that badly largely because it is based on x86 technology and runs business apps better than the iPad Pro does as a result. Granted this will be offset by Web services provided by IBM and Cisco but for those of us that plan to buy one of these things for ourselves and not have our company’s IT department buy it, we won’t see the Cisco or IBM stuff (at least not initially).
Let’s look at where the iPad Pro is better and worse and talk about what the Surface Pro 4, which is due out in a few weeks, might look like.
Screen Size and Resolution
The screen size and resolution of the iPad Pro is higher than it is on the Surface Pro. I don’t think the resolution will make a huge difference for a product with this size screen but the size does. You see when folks buy laptops the screen size they tend to gravitate to in a portable product isn’t 12-inch—it is 13-inch and the iPad Pro is much closer to that size than the Surface Pro is. The Surface Pro, as compared to the Surface, is more laptop than tablet, therefore while I expect the Surface Pro to increase resolution I also expect it to grow in size.
Shape should be different as well, though. Laptops have more of a panoramic rectangular shape then an iPad which is closer to being square. Given Surface Pro’s closer laptop and form focus (this panoramic shape actually works better in portrait mode than the iPod shape for legal forms). This is much more in line with where professional tablets have historically been like the ones built by Fujitsu.
Given how stupid Steve Jobs thought styluses were it is kind of funny to see Apple build one. But one of the most noticeable differences is that the Apple Stylus is both relatively expensive and it requires you recharge it. This may provide some advantages with features but what we have learned over the years is folks tend to lose these things regularly and they’ll never remember to recharge them. There is also some risk they’ll bend the charging connector if they try to recharge the stylus in their computer bag. I expect Apple will learn that the rechargeable stylus is more problem than solution over time as a result and that Microsoft will stick with its current design which doesn’t require a charger.
The iPad Pro has a keyboard feel very similar to the MacBook Air and better than the feel of the Surface Pro 3. However it doesn’t have a trackpad assuming people will use the touch screen instead. The reason Surface Pro 3 has the trackpad is because people using it in laptop mode find that more convenient and it reduces the fingerprinting on the screen. I expect a far more robust keyboard on Surface Pro 4 but I also expect Apple will find it needs to add a touchpad to its keyboard for the next version for the same reason that Surface Pro did—users will prefer it when the keyboard is attached to the tablet. I also expect Surface Pro 4 will have a better touchpad as the one on the Surface Pro 3 isn’t as good as you’d get on a current generation laptop in the same price range.
Kickstand and Aluminum
The iPad Pro lacks a kickstand and likely will depend on a protective case that will both protect the soft aluminum it is clad with and allow you to set the product on a table and have it stand on its own. Surface Pro 3 has an adjustable kickstand and a more robust Magnesium alloy case that both makes it sturdier and stand on its own so a case isn’t needed. This is one of the defining differences between Microsoft’s offering and Apple’s. Apple tends to put appearance first and Microsoft factors in a far higher priority for sturdiness. I doubt that this will change with the new product which will still have an integrated kickstand and more robust case design. They may modify the kickstand though as it tends to fall off the back of airplane snack tables.
While I think folks that take pictures with their tablets look like idiots the iPad has better forward and backward facing cameras and I expect the Surface Pro 4 will follow because these cameras have gotten a lot cheaper since Surface Pro 3 launched. The question is whether Microsoft will embrace the Intel RealSense 3D camera which has been bundled with Dell tablets this year. This would allow it to argue the tablet has a more utilitarian use in that the RealSense can actually measure things accurately that it photographs. Better cameras are a given but RealSense would be an interesting surprise.
One of the key security technologies that the iPad Pro has that Surace Pro 3 does not is a fingerprint reader. Since support for biometrics is a big deal with Windows 10 I expect Surface Pro 4 will close this gap as well. The question is whether this will be a static scan reader like the iPad Pro, a sliding scan reader that is more common on Windows laptops, or the far more powerful sonic reader that Qualcomm has in its product line. I’d prefer the latter but expect the sliding scan reader because it is the most widely used in the Windows world.
Surface Pro 3, given it is a year old, does pretty well against the brand new iPad Pro but the really interesting battle will be between the Surface Pro 4 and the new iPad. I doubt that there will be many that will have a hard time picking between the products though. If you are tied to IBM or Cisco’s solution or iPad apps the iPad Pro is really your only choice and if your shop is mostly Windows then Surface will be the preferred offering. In the end, I think it likely, that in a few years we may all be on one of these uber tablets instead of a regular tablet or laptop. .