Our take on the Surface Phone has been that Microsoft will never release a device under that name. Is the same thing happening to Surface Pro 5 as well? Is Microsoft unifying its brand names to signal a more planned approach to new Surface device launches? Is the company hiding something up its sleeve that will make its grand appearance closer to the holiday season, just like the Surface Phone aka Cellular PC will?
What’s going on in Redmond, WA?
After months of expecting a Surface Pro 5 around this time, Microsoft seemingly disappointed millions of fans by releasing what is being perceived as a slightly upgraded version of Surface Pro 4. In reality, it was a major launch because it brought in several internal changes and no less than 800 new custom components, according to Surface chief Panos Panay.
Apart from fanless cooling on the Core m3 and i5 models, a 13.5-hour battery life, a 165-degree reclinable kickstand for “Studio Mode”, seventh-generation Intel Kaby Lake processors, a redesigned Surface Pen, better display and input capabilities and other key changes, most of the “newness” is in the form of “experiential changes,” as Panay put it.
But for the average user, the new device, called simply Surface Pro, is nothing more than a minor upgrade that appears to take a lot of design elements from its predecessor and put it in a shiny new package. To draw an analogy with Apple, it’s more of a “tock” upgrade than a “tick” one, kind of like an iPhone’s “S” iteration. Or so it would seem.
So, is there not going to be a Surface Pro 5? No, there won’t. Panay made it amply clear that “there’s no such thing as a Pro 5.”
What’s happening, then?
First of all, it’s clear that Microsoft has been doing a lot of redesigning work on the Surface Pro since the last one came out – internal capability changes that offer a better overall user experience (hence the term experiential changes.)
What are these changes?
Greater battery power has been one of the biggest drawbacks of tablets, and the Surface Pro 2017 addresses that issue in a big way, almost making it to the 14.5-hour capability of the Surface Laptop.
The noiseless experience of the Core m3 and i5 models, and the quieter hybrid cooling on the Core i7 model, are also part of a major shift in user experience.
What’s more, the kickstand recline angle and Surface Pen upgrade make a perfect pair that is ideal for creative professionals, or just anyone that wants to use the Surface Pro as a writing or drawing Surface at a very natural drafting-board angle. There’s also Surface Dial support, which complements other input methods like the keyboard and the touchscreen.
With such a device, Microsoft can ably compete against the likes of iPad Pro and MacBook, and they’re not above flashing that capability around:
“existing Surface Pro 4 users are more likely to recommend their device than iPad and MacBook users.”
“the new Surface Pro’s battery life is 35% greater than the iPad Pro, and has 1.7 times as much processing power.”
You’re getting the picture, right? In fact, they’ve even rebranded it as a laptop that can switch to “tablet mode” rather than as a tablet that doubles as a laptop with the keyboard case.
Additionally, the 12.3″ PixelSense™ Display is purpose-designed to respond in new ways to the new Surface Pen, and to touch. It also comes with the Intel HD Graphics 615 graphics unit in the base model, the 620 unit in the i5 models, and the Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640 unit in the top-end i7 variants.
So, what Microsoft wants is a superior device capable of doing more, not just a flashier one with some slap-on-party-trick-type upgrades.
And when you think about it, isn’t that what users wanted as well?
Another point that can be gleaned – from the dropping of the numeric suffix – is that Microsoft might not want to go the way of iPhone, which is already in its seventh avatar after 10 years. With each increase in number, consumers have come to expect a revolutionary device, and even Apple hasn’t been able to deliver on those expectations.
It’s possible that Microsoft has become averse to going down the same road.
That said, when the Surface Pro is finally released to the public on June 15, we believe that user experience will speak for itself. This is, no doubt, a device far superior to Surface Pro 4. And, in many ways, it is the Surface Pro 5 that we’ve been expecting.
Think about that for a moment: What have we been looking for in the rumored Surface Pro 5?
Better performance. Check.
Longer battery life. Check.
Richer display. Check.
More and better input methods. Check.
Support for 3D, and a Windows Ink workspace. Check.
When you look at it like that, this is the very device we’ve been talking about all these months. It’s just that Microsoft has chosen to go a different direction with the branding, so it’s kind of throwing users off and confusing them, leaving them wondering what happened to the Surface Pro 5.
In fact, nothing “happened” to the Surface Pro 5; it was released as scheduled by Microsoft, on May 23, 2017 – only, with a different name than the one we were expecting, that’s all.
Is this a smart move?
That depends on how well the Surface Pro is received. It’s available to pre-order now, but since it’s only been a few days since the official launch, we don’t have the numbers to say whether or not this is a blockbuster product.
When you think about Surface Phone not going to be released as “Surface Phone”, but as a Cellular PC that is yet unnamed, it makes much more sense. Microsoft does not want to take the “another smartphone but much better than anything else” route.
They want to target the premium smartphone market, no doubt, but they want it to be known as “the ultimate mobile device” rather than “something Phone.”
The logic behind the dropping of the numerical tag for Surface Pro is quite similar, or so we presume. Surface is looking to be a stand-out brand, not one that is associated with “hybrid tablets” or “smartphones” or even “PCs” (with Surface Studio) for that matter.
It’s a risky branding initiative, but one that we believe will pay off in the long run. While Surface carves out a large swathe of a niche for itself with these flagship devices, the rest of the world’s device makers will be playing catch-up with each other for the next several years in what is quickly becoming an extremely tight devices market around the world.