Surface Pro 3 vs. iPad Pro

On Wednesday Apple displayed the daring originality and innovation that has carried it so far and announced the SurfacePad Pro, a 12.9” tablet with a keyboard that attaches with firm magnets and a stylus for taking notes or drawing. The vision! It just takes the breath away to see them target a niche that no one else has found.

Oops! Sorry. My mistake. It’s called the “iPad Pro.” I inadvertently confused it with Microsoft’s three-year-old Surface Pro 3, a 12” tablet with a keyboard that attaches with firm magnets and a stylus for taking notes or drawing.

The Surface Pro 3 is on the left in the picture above; the iPad Pro is on the right. See the innovation? See the originality? (Hint: they’re on the left.)

Microsoft watchers are accustomed to being in this position. Microsoft had been working on smartphones and small mobile devices for more than ten years before Apple introduced the iPhone and was quickly given credit for “inventing” the smartphone category. Microsoft introduced a tablet operating system in 2001 and dozens of Windows tablets were released over the next ten years before Apple released the first iPad. To be fair, though, Apple brought important advances in usability and design to the market for phones and tablets and genuinely advanced the state of the art.

This time it was Microsoft that brought a fresh new vision to market with the Surface Pro – a premium laptop/tablet hybrid with unique and innovative characteristics. And this time Apple is just copying it – not bringing anything new, just copying it.

If you missed the announcement, the iPad Pro is an oversized iPad going on sale in November. It’s not a Mac computer running OS X, it’s an iPad running iOS; Apple will update iOS to support the bigger screen, notably the ability to run apps side by side. You know, like every version of Windows. Pricing is similar to the Surface Pro 3. The keyboard is sold separately, like the Surface Pro 3.

Apple Pencil - revolutionary!

Microsoft throws in the Surface Pen, Apple is separately selling the Apple Pencil. I kid you not, that’s the name. They couldn’t call it a pen or a stylus. It’s the Apple Pencil. Those innovators! Here’s one of the many articles today with all the specs and details.

The iPad Pro will sell like gangbusters, of course. I expect it will be light and elegant and well-designed and powerful. Microsoft actually came to the Apple presentation on Wednesday to promote the iPad versions of the Office programs, which will be effectively identical to the Office programs on PCs. If you’re looking for a lightweight device to get work done on the road, the iPad Pro will be a fine choice.

And yet, if you’re standing in the store holding a Surface Pro 3 in one hand and an iPad Pro in the other hand, I can’t help but feel there are compelling reasons to choose the Surface.

A Surface Pro 3 runs Windows 10. No limits on compatibility with programs – if it runs on Windows, it runs on a Surface Pro 3.

Speaking of compatibility, you can connect anything to a Surface Pro 3 because everything is compatible with Windows and the Surface Pro 3 has a standard USB 3 port.

The kickstand is one of the best Surface features, with its full range to hold the Surface at any angle from upright to nearly flat. Once you’ve used the kickstand, it’s impossible to use a tablet without one. Apple couldn’t bring itself to copy the kickstand so it built the keyboard to hold the iPad upright at a fixed angle. (The first Surface had a kickstand with only a single nearly upright position. It wasn’t flexible enough. That’s why Microsoft redesigned it for a full range of motion.)

Attach a monitor to the Surface and you have the equivalent of a full-powered desktop Windows computer with an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor.

The iPad Pro is a big tablet. It’s not a computer. A keyboard won’t turn it into a computer. It may be sufficient to meet your needs, and that deserves tremendous respect if Apple finds that sweet spot. But it’s not a computer. And for god’s sake, it’s not innovative.

Putting aside the irritation over Apple’s hyperbole, the iPad Pro is really aimed at the enterprise market, where Apple had been making inroads with iPads until Microsoft took the market back with the Surface Pro 3. Expect a series of announcements from IBM and Apple about enterprise apps for the iPad Pro, following up on their oddball partnership announced a year ago.

But mostly, look at Microsoft to have fun being snarky when it introduces the Surface Pro 4 next month with a more powerful processor, longer battery life, and better graphics. Because the Surface Pro 4 is a computer, and the iPad Pro – well, I bet it plays games really well.

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