Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3: the Toaster-Fridge Makes its Formal Debut

| Editorial

Surface Pro 3. Image credit: Microsoft.

Microsoft didn't do well selling the first and second generation Surface tablets. Those tablets were not pure, mainstream tablets. So Microsoft has altered its strategy with the Surface Pro 3 to go after notebook computers. The result? The true toaster-fridge makes its debut.

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First, some background, The origin of this phrase, toaster-fridge, seen in several variations (FridgeToaster) stems from a statement Apple CEO Tim Cook made in April 2012. An analyst at Apple's earnings report asked about whether Apple might pursue a tablet-laptop hybrid. Mr. Cook responded. “You can merge a toaster and a refrigerator, but that’s probably not going to be pleasing to anyone.”

Ever since them, the legendary term toaster-fridge has come to suggest an inadvisable, force-fit merging of the two platforms, to no good end, and to no good understanding of the market.

Let Me Count the Ways

There is a multitude of reasons why the Surface Pro is a bad idea. But before I get into that, it's worth noting that companies tend to have a certain momentum in their thinking and manufacturing. There's a mentality that of only a few tweaks are made, the company can be saved the embarrassment and effort of changing gears. I believe this is what happened to Microsoft with the Surface Pro 3.

But there are bigger fish to fry here, and it revolves around the idea that the marketplace has spoken. Some people need the classic notebook, and its design has evolved to perfection over the years. For one thing, the heavier base with a superb keyboard and the light display rests comfortably on the lap, well balanced, in mobile situations — without being top heavy. The Surface Pro literally turns that human interface concept upside down.

The elegance of a quintessential notebook is hard to beat. Microsoft is trying to enter the market with a hybrid, with not a very good mobile OS, from left field, desperately seeking acceptance instead of meeting true needs. It makes one wonder about Microsoft's ability to strategize. For example, having failed as a tablet, Microsoft wants to address the notebook market, yet not step on the toes of its OEM partners. Microsoft's hand was forced, and a compromise product resulted.

Next, Apple knows very well that that the tablet is an evolving product. It's the ultimate manifestation of the Post-PC era. Therefore, the well designed tablet should be allowed to evolve. Taking what used to be a tablet, in a way, and pitting it now against Apple's MacBooks suggests that Microsoft doesn't have a very clear idea about the product's focus and future. As I said before, this product line really should have been killed.

It's actually quite humorous how Microsoft is positioning the Surface Pro 3 against the MacBook Air — and even the MacBook Pro in its advertising. Suggesting that the Surface Pro 3 is about half the weight of a MacBook Pro and touting its multi-touch screen, in contrast to the MBP, right away sets of customer alarms. It's like when, as just an typical example, Yugos would advertise that they had more luggage space and more headroom than a BMW 3-series.

Partial Comparison Chart: Credit: Microsoft.

No one buys these comparisons because we've all come to know they're slanted and serve nobody's interests except the manufacturer. This particular ad campaign casts Microsoft in a bad light and suggests that the company, rather than delivering a drop-dead gorgeous product that amazes and delights the customer, is just out of touch with the market and is greatly challenged to come up with sensible, compelling comparisons. It's a bad-form attempt to change the rules.

That the market has bifurcated into the tablet branch and the notebook branch isn't a weakness or a problem in the industry. It's a direct manifestation of the needs of customers in the market. Apple continues to meet that need. Microsoft, on the other hand, having dealt themselves the hand of only one product, has to make its single offering try to be all things to all people. I believe the Surface Pro 3 will fail just as the previous generations did.

For all the reasons I've cited above, what we have is the formal introduction of the world's first toaster-fridge.

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For more on this, listen to today's Mac Observer Daily Observations Podcast  "Microsoft’s Surface Assault on Apple," in which Jeff Gamet, Kelly Guimont and I chat about the Surface Pro 3.

Comments

Jamie

Yes, it’s a laugh-riot. wink

Other than slight advancements in technology and form factor (that are the result of the advancement of *time*, not Microsoftian innovation), how is this any different from the toaster fridge they were selling ten years ago that nobody wanted due to the fact that it sucked to work on it? Or from the myriad other toaster fridges (laptops with removable touch screens) already flailing in the market, for that matter? Oh, wait! this is a *tablet* with a removable, floppy *keyboard*! Totally different! And that pen thing! Alright!

Not if you paid ME, Nadella. Seriously. wink

mrmwebmax

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John, in addition to your points, it should be noted that the comparison ad is purposely deceitful in that it shows a Surface 3 with a Type Cover, yet the 1.76 pound weight, according to Microsoft’s own site, is for the Surface 3 only, Type Cover not included. The page on the Type Cover doesn’t list weight, but it can’t weigh nothing.

Further confounding is that the bulk of the images of the Surface 3—be it in the comparison ad, Google News articles, or Microsoft’s own website—apparently show the blue Type Cover. I mean, look at the comparison ad, above: Look blue to anyone else? Yet according to Microsoft’s Type Cover page, blue is exclusive to Best Buy. Even on the pre-order page, Microsoft lists available colors as only purple, red, cyan, and black. They even apparently—key word, apparently—show yet another Surface 3 with a blue Type Cover on the very same pre-order page:

http://www.microsoftstore.com/store/msusa/en_US/pdp/Surface-Pro-Type-Cover/productID.300194500?WT.mc_id=SurfaceBG=Surface-Pro-Type-Cover

Unbelievably, though, what looks like blue to most folks is called “cyan” by Microsoft.

Cyan. My guess is that not too many people would look at that image and see the cover as cyan. They’re going to see it as blue, and wonder why blue isn’t available (except at Best Buy). Having both a blue and cyan Type Cover is questionable at best. Sure, if you know four-color printing or mess with the four color palate in Photoshop you know cyan, but the average office worker? Furthermore, on every Type Cover page showing the blue—I mean cyan—Type Cover, why not include a simple parenthetical by the image that says, “Shown: Cyan”?

Unbelievable.

grady15

I don’t agree. I am a apple fan boy through and through but apple is not doing anything innovate right now. The iPhone reinvented the segment. I think apples strategy of making the mac and iPhone distinctly different items is a mistake. Why do we need a Macbook Air and an iPad? Im not saying the surface pro 3 is perfect but I do think it is innovative and daring at least. A Macbook air that has had the same form factor for three years… OSX is looking pretty stale. When will Apple make a similar bid to reinvent a market segment. Or at least make something that makes me want to be an apple fanatic again. Right now i’m bored and the grass is looking pretty green.

Hans Salami

@mrmwebmax: Have you tried searching “cyan” on google pictures? Wtf you are blaming a whole company for your own incompetence in distinguishing two by definition(!) different colors from each other and even state that people in general would do that…?

Unbelievable.

And to the article: That Microsoft comparison with the MacBook Pro is really stupid I agree with that. One could see the point e.g. they are now really trying to express that laptops is what they are aiming for and not the iPad - but that’s just still a stupid way of doing that. (Same with the “scroogled” stuff).
To the other points you mention I really think that they are just too subjectively stated and rated by yourself. For example I don’t think it is objective to say about Windows 8 being “not very good OS” - since there are people who actually like it. And furthermore what makes you sure that Tim Cook’s opinion on that area is so darn correct? What if he is wrong? Imagine we had only cars without a radio. Is that automatically doomed? No - It depends on how it is actually implemented. It really feels like you are accepting that statement without questioning…

To make it clear I am not a MS-fanboy or something I’d just appreciate some objective or at least less one-sided comment on that topic. I myself am completely in the Apple-Ecosystem but still I am curious on what other things are going around….

Hans Salami

Whops - I must have accidentally erased a sentence before posting. It is meant to say:

“... Imagine we had only cars without a radio and someone just steps by and as the idea of merging radio and car with each other. ...”

x)

mrmwebmax

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@Hans Salami

@mrmwebmax: Have you tried searching “cyan” on google pictures? Wtf you are blaming a whole company for your own incompetence in distinguishing two by definition(!) different colors from each other and even state that people in general would do that…?

Have you ever worked with CMYK colors? If so, you would know that what Microsoft laughingly refers to as cyan isn’t even close to true cyan. Its one shade of blue, as opposed the the Best Buy Type Cover exclusive darker shade of blue.

For kicks, I took a screen grab of the Type Cover page showing the available color swatches:

http://www.microsoft.com/surface/en-us/accessories/surface-pro-typecover

I then opened it in Photoshop and measured what Microsoft (and you, apparently, color expert that you are) laughingly call cyan. I found CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) values of 73, 43, 11, and 0—rather than the 100, 0, 0, 0 of “cyan” which means that this is just a shade of blue. It just happens to be a lighter shade of blue than Best Buy’s darker blue.

On top of that, I was not saying I was confused. If I’d have been confused, I wouldn’t have known that the lighter blue was the one MS refers to as cyan. I was saying for the average person, it looks blue. And that’s because it is blue, whereas true cyan—in the additive RGB light spectrum—is simply a combination of green and blue, not the red, green, and blue MS is passing off as cyan.

I know all of that because I’ve been a graphic designer and ultimately website designer since 1991. I use Photoshop and color palettes every day. The productivity worker/Office using/Windows using target audience, I dare say, does not have a like experience with color. So to the trained eye its a massive fail, and to the target market its just plain confusing.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

John, here’s why I’ve recently purchased a Dell Venue 8 and will be ordering a Surface Pro 3 when the i7 version becomes available. Here is also why I will be recommending these devices. They’re tablets that run Windows. That makes the economics of development and deployment of custom solutions easy and inexpensive without involving gatekeepers and toll booth operators.

An Apple x86 MacPad wouldn’t be as magical as an iPad, of course (you know, because the iPad is *magical*). But it would satisfy a very similar need and would be very welcome by me.

Hans Salami

@mrmwebmax Wow that is amazing to be honest. I am sorry for mistaking you but now with all that additional information you offered I see what your point is and I am sorry for being slightly rude. It just appeared to me as if this was pulled out of nothing.
You are right - even though I wouldn’t make a huge deal out of it :D

Thank you for sharing that knowledge. I appreciate that.

mrmwebmax

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@Hans Salami,

No problem at all, thanks. I think part of my problem with it goes beyond what I feel may be a confusing message regarding color. It’s also the color choices available. There’s too little differentiation, I think, between Type Cover colors (going by the swatches mentioned above) of purple, black, and “Best Buy blue.” Of the five swatches, only the cyan and red really stand out. Compare that to the exceptional color differentiation of the original colored iMacs, where none could possibly be confused with the other. I just don’t get MS’s logic here, color names aside. Just my opinion, and certainly no hard feelings. I appreciate the civility. smile

Lee Dronick

  I appreciate the civility.

I second that emotion.

Paul Goodwin

Bosco - Apple already makes a MacBook Air which is 2.4 lb for the 11” one. It doesn’t have a touch screen, which is good, because having a touch screen on a vertical monitor is less than worthless; it’s and ergonomic nightmare.

Grady15. That Surface Pro 3 isn’t innovation. It’s the 3rd gen attempt at a bad idea, which is what John is talking about. When you already have designed the near perfect tablet, and the near perfect laptops, why would Apple re-invent them? And as for Apple not innovating, they have the world’s only 64 bit phone, something that caught their competitors asleep, and the software advantages of this haven’t even been felt yet. It’s years away on the competitor devices. And it’s more than likely the iPad will get that system soon. And as for groundbreaking new devices, if you look at Apple’s history, it’s always been 3.5 to 5 years between the major new product categories that create a new market. We’re only a little over 4 years since the iPad intro.

RonMacGuy

Oh Brad, I truly hate to see what used to be some beautifully written, intertwined with occasional prognosticating and name-calling, Apple hatred replaced with such low-brow and flippant Apple hatred.  I blame myself.

Regardless, I must point out that your reference to why you like the venue and the surface so much (and I quote, “the economics of development and deployment of custom solutions easy and inexpensive without involving gatekeepers and toll booth operators.”) is had whether it is a Windows tablet or a Windows ultrabook or a Windows laptop or a Windows notebook or even a Windows netbook.  John’s remarks related to the ‘Toaster-Fridge’ are still valid and on target.

You may very well recommend them as part of your ongoing campaign against Apple, but you may want to reconsider and instead direct them to a WIndows laptop with touch-screen which is, in my opinion, much more useful and something they are more used to using.

furbies

I’d still go a MacBook Air as apposed to these hybrid Tablets/PC devices.

iPad for consumption, MBA for creation.

Remember YMMV

KitsuneStudios

My relationship to this class of devices is a little complicated, where something _like_ this is exactly what I need, but everything that’s actually out there falls a bit short.

Most of the problems are not actually fundamental to the hybrid, and are, IMHO, soluble with development.

Problem 1: Poor “Metro” browser choice. IE is pretty functional in tablet mode, but some websites use touch-based drop-down menus which don’t work properly with only touch. This is solvable, but Chrome and Firefox support in the Tablet environment is still very new.

Problem 2: In the desktop environment, Windows requires the on-screen keyboard to be pulled up manually when entering text. The tablet mode auto-detects text entry when a keyboard isn’t plugged in, why doesn’t the desktop?

Aside from that, there’s a bunch of little quibbles, all of which have been solved by some versions of this.

The 16:9 aspect ratio is awkward to use vertically. Surface 3 fixes this.

Drawing required a hand on the tablet, making keyboard shortcuts in desktop pro apps difficult. The Cintiq companion solves this with hardware buttons on the bezel, and a sturdy frame to allow one hand on the bluetooth keyboard. The Surface 3’s new hinge may also allow this, especially with the bluetooth adapter for the smart cover.

Laptop typing needs a sturdy hinge. Lenovo’s Helix and Samsung’s ATIV do this, although the ATIV’s keyboard connector is garbage.

Battery vs. Performance: This has improved tremendously in the past two generations of Intel core processor, but the high-end configurations are still expensive as hell.

There are now ways to get around this. Steam’s new in-home streaming service, for instance, means you can now have a high end games installed on a desktop gaming PC in your house, and be able to play them at full resolution with great graphics even on a low-end tablet. You don’t even need to install the games locally, allowing you to keep that tiny 128GB default drive.

So, it has my interest, but to be honest, it’s the desktop that’ll be getting the love this year. I’ll skip the Surface 3 so I can afford to buy a new iMac once Apple refreshes the line.

webjprgm

I wouldn’t mind some merging of laptop and tablet, but I agree with the author that the Surface Pro series just puts the weight in the wrong place to let the device work on a lap. On a table it probably works fine. So on the couch or an airplane it would be harder to use.

Apple’s tablets are perfect? Hardly.
- I can’t file information where I want it. Little bits get stuck in separate apps with no way to connect them. There’s no way to archive them in folders related to months, years, or projects. So it is hard to organize all my content on the iPad.
- Stylus, please. Yes, Steve was right that a finger is much more available and useful, but if I’m going to be writing words on a screen to replace paper I need a stylus with built-in support. The fancy electronic ones with tiny nibs and bluetooth (or otherwise) connections to report back when they touch and what the pressure is are the better ones. Ideally an app would detect stylus touches and ignore palm touches, then also detect finger gestures. Current apps have algorithms to guess which you meant (write a word, do a zoom gesture, or just a stray palm touch), but the mistakes of those algorithms constantly mess me up when I try to use an iPad as a paper replacement.

What I typically do is use the iPad for consumption (books, internet, YouTube), take some limited amount of notes on the iPad with a stylus (and grumble about it), and then use my MBA for typing longer documents.

Oh yeah, the on-screen keyboard of a tablet is horrible to use. Maybe if I spent hundreds of hours getting used to it, as people suggested when the iPad was newer, but I can’t rest my palms on the screen so I can’t make a stable base from which to type. I have not tried using an external keyboard because if I’m going to go that far I’ll just pull out my MBA.  (I usually take both on business trips.)

Where we should be going with computers to treat individual devices as temporary windows into one’s data and applications, with the ability to jump from one form factor to another mid-workflow and where each form factor focuses on the inputs it can handle best.  (This would be nicer if hand-writing recognition and dictation were a little better, and did not require sending all the data to someone’s NSA-monitored cloud.)

That NSA comment actually does matter. It applies to Siri dictation as well as to iCloud, as well as to Google Docs and Evernote. The company I work at disallows the use of all cloud solutions because we cannot control what happens to the data on those services. It’s not so much the NSA as it is that we just don’t know what those 3rd-parties will do with it, and some of our data we are legally responsible for protecting aside from our usual feelings of secrecy with business strategy.

Conclusion: There is a lot more that Apple and other companies can do. I am glad Microsoft is trying. I don’t think the Surface Pro 3 actually improves anything in any way that benefits me though.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Paul and Ron, let me clarify. Having a tablet with an x86 processor that runs Windows apps and doesn’t have a company telling users what’s allowed to be installed makes it much less expensive and risky to write custom apps. As it stands, I tend to write the apps as web applications, with all business and even UI logic on the server side if mobile (tablet/phone) delivery is important. Not exactly optimal, but the risks associated with mandatory app stores or limited field deployment quickly outweigh any benefit of iOS apps.

And again, if Apple offered an x86 MacPad, I’d be all over that too. This is simply a combination of form factor, chipset, OS, and openness we’ve come to expect from our computing devices.

RonMacGuy

Thanks for the clarification, Brad.  I must admit that I’m surprised that you are going this route instead of the android tablet route, given how much of a proponent you were for them.  With android, you don’t have a company telling you what’s allowed to be installed either, and I would think that you would have a lot of building blocks already developed in that environment that you could reuse, although it sounds like you keep a lot on the server side, so it is probably pretty portable.

This is simply a combination of form factor, chipset, OS, and openness we’ve come to expect from our computing devices.

I see, yet another attempted cheap shot at Apple.  I feel I must correct you - This is simply a combination of form factor, chipset, OS, and openness a select few have come to expect from their computing devices.  Let me remind you that Apple still has the majority of tablet sales, and the iPhone is increasing its market share yet again.  There is a hell of a lot more custom development happening in iOS for real world applications than in android or windows tablets.  Period.  Just because you prefer something else doesn’t minimize the much more significant effort being applied to the closed world of iOS.  You may say it is less expensive and risky in the Windows/android world, and that may or may not be true, but you also have a lot less upside potential outside of iOS, something that a lot of developers understand, which has led them to making a lot of money developing for iOS.

 

Mark Smith

WOW, you must have taken a second helping of “Kool-Aid” to have such a narrow perspective. I am a BIG Apple fan. The innovations and technology they have pioneered are the best in the industry. I agree with some of your comments on Microsoft’s ridiculous comparisons but not at its functionality. I recall this same type of skepticism and lashing out at the iPad as it had no clear purpose. If you (or Mr. Cook) cannot see the great benefit of having a fully functional PC and tablet in one, I feel sorry for the future of Apple. I, for one (and many of my friends), would love the ability to have a new generation iPad that could run a full Mac OS. I hope for our sake, someone in charge is taking note and trying to turn things around. Apple has gone from leading the industry to following in its footsteps. RIP Steve Jobs, I hope all your work is not wasted on these fools who do not have your vision.

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