Microsoft's marketing positioning of Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 is confusing and, I think, wrong-headed. According to the firm, the Windows RT-based Surface 2 is a tablet for business, whereas the Surface Pro 2 is a laptop replacement. I'm not sure that either of these descriptions makes any sense at all.
Collectively, Microsoft describes the new Surface devices as "the most productive tablets ever designed." But tied up in this neat description is a contradiction: Surface 2 makes the cut because it comes with a free version of Office 2013 Home & Student; indeed, it's the only version of that edition of Office that also includes Outlook 2013. But Surface Pro 2, which can run Windows desktop applications, doesn't come with Office. So they both offer productivity capabilities, yes. Just different productivity capabilities.
To be clear—because, let's face it, nothing about Surface is truly clear—Surface 2 is the new ARM-based device running Windows RT 8.1, and Surface Pro 2 is the new Intel Core i5-based device running Windows 8.1 Pro.
Surface 2: A Tablet for Business?
Microsoft says that Surface 2 has a place in business, but it's a narrowly defined place: "Surface 2 (the ARM version) is an amazing tablet for line of business scenarios and executives," the Surface team notes in a post to the Surface Blog. It "is proving popular as an LOB tablet because it delivers on the core hardware requirements of weight and battery life - and then many customers either custom build a modern LOB app or use one from our business ISVs like SAP. Windows RT 8.1 also brings important additions that complete the Surface 2 story including Outlook, Mobile Device Management, 3rd party VPN clients and workplace join."
Sorry, but this doesn't seem hugely compelling to me. And even if it were compelling, none of it is specific to Surface 2 or to Windows RT for that matter. It all works with Windows 8.1 as well.
And news that Delta is providing 11,000 Surface 2 tablets to its pilots—news that I broke last month in Windows IT Pro, by the way—doesn't really speak to usage that is applicable to many other businesses. The issue, as always with Windows RT-based solutions, is that no viable apps ecosystem has evolved. So Microsoft can only push web-based solutions and in-house LOB apps, and I'm not clear why anyone would make the latter.
This is a problem for consumers, too, of course, although there are some reasonable games and entertainment offerings, and the ability to run Windows Phone 8 games would solve most problems. But Surface 2 in business? This is a solution that enterprises would gladly adopt . . . if they were still calling the shots. But in this modern "Bring Your Own Device" world, employees are bringing iPads and Android tablets, not Surfaces. And that's not going to change.
Surface Pro 2: A Laptop Replacement?
Microsoft says that "Surface Pro 2 is a perfect, no-compromise laptop replacement." And, you know, it's a fine machine, well-built and nicely designed. But there is no such thing as "perfect" when it comes to a digital device. And Surface Pro 2 is absolutely full of compromises, unless you think that a tiny 10.6-inch screen with Full HD, 1080px resolution and just a single USB 3.0 port is somehow ideal for the typical power user/IT pro/enterprise worker.
Surface Pro 2 does of course offer some important improvements over its predecessor, and as the x86 variant in the Surface lineup, this machine is inherently more interesting at work. Microsoft cites its 75 percent additional battery life and dual-angle kickstand as being among the key improvements over the original Surface Pro 2, but it muddies the waters by also listing the Surface Pro Docking Station and car charger, both of which work with the first Surface Pro as well.
Really, the biggest strength of the Surface Pro 2 is that it's a PC . . . one that is saddled by that tiny, tiny screen. It's like interacting with a super computer through a postage stamp. The last time I checked, mainstream Ultrabooks offered 13-inch screens, and there's certainly nothing under 11 inches. So Surface 2 isn't a laptop replacement, it's a laptop wannabe. It's a PC tablet. Or, a tablet with PC guts running a PC operating system. That's good and bad. That's a compromise.
For some, of course, it's a fine compromise. And it's impossible to write something like this without knowing that I'll inevitably hear from those people who think the devices are just great, as-is. I get it, really. But one size doesn't fit all, and if Microsoft is serious about the devices part of "devices and services," then the company is going to have to extend its lineup significantly beyond two tablets with 10.6-inch screens.