Technology industry

At $899, Microsoft's Surface Pro tablet is DOA

It'll need a big price cut to avoid flopping.


(Photo: Microsoft)

In a blog post on Thursday, Microsoft’s Surface general manager Panos Panay announced the long-awaited (by some) pricing and availability of the Surface Pro, the beefed-up version of the RT tablet launched last month. The Pro, which has better guts and runs a full version of the new Windows 8, will start at $899 with 64 gigabytes of storage, up to $999 for 128GB, with both becoming available in January.

At prices like that, it’s not a stretch to say that the Pro will be dead on arrival. At the very least, it’ll need a big price cut in short order to avoid flopping completely.

For one thing, Microsoft is pitching the device as a laptop replacement, or something that can replace the need to carry both a tablet and laptop. With full Windows on it, the Pro can do everything a laptop can do, but it’s also smaller and lighter. It can also double as a tablet, doing all the things such devices do.

One problem with the idea is that the Surface also needs the attachable Touch or Type cover for proper text input, which runs an additional $120 or $130. Suddenly, the base model costs more than $1,000, which is what a MacBook Air goes for. It’s also more expensive than many Windows-running Ultrabooks.

The thing is, we know Airs and Ultrabooks are useful and worth their cost. Do we know that about the Pro? It’s a weird hybrid device that costs more than any tablet, but doesn’t necessarily do anything better than a laptop. Indeed, if the RT is any indication, its Touch cover will be less comfortable or convenient to type on than on a regular laptop keyboard. Why should we get rid of our laptops, again?

In both cases, prices on laptops and tablets are trending downward. Regular laptops can be had for a couple hundred bucks, a direction that Ultrabooks are already heading (Acer has models for $600). As for tablets, the sweet spot seems to be settling between $200 and $300. Once Apple releases an iPad Mini with Retina display, likely next year, the price ceiling on such devices will likely firm up at around $300. The Surface is therefore too expensive in both categories, and in tablets it’s by several orders of magnitude.

The only logic to the pricing decision seems to be Microsoft’s belief that companies will be willing to pay more to furnish their employees with them, which could be considered exploitative in the same way that smartphone makers overprice their products to the wireless carriers they sell to.

With Windows 8 not selling well, despite the company’s claims to the contrary, and consumers unlikely to go anywhere near the overpriced Pro, it may not be a smart move to turn businesses off with high prices. They may be the only friends Microsoft has left.