Microsoft held a media event in New York this morning to unveil the next generation of its Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets. While there were a variety of updates and improvements to both tablets, the one thing that stands out above all the rest is the new docking station.
Earlier this year, I spent 30 days replacing both my MacBook Air and my iPad with a Surface Pro. The net result of my immersive experience with the Surface Pro is that I found it to be admirable as both a PC and a tablet. The one thing that I felt was truly lacking, though, was a docking station.
Other tablets don’t have docking stations, so what’s the big deal? Why is a docking station so important?
Well, to answer that we have to start at the crux of the matter—the Surface Pro is first and foremost a PC. It happens to be in a tablet form factor—which makes it more portable and versatile than most of its PC rivals—but in terms of its hardware, its operating system, and its capabilities, it is a PC. Comparing it to tablets is misguided.
So, if the Surface Pro is a PC, we need to be able to use it like a PC. That means that when you’re at the office, sitting at a desk, it should look, feel, and act like any other PC. It should be connected to an adequate display so you don’t have to spend all day squinting at the tablet. It should have a wired Ethernet connection. It should be seamlessly connected to a keyboard, mouse (or touchpad), webcam, speakers, printer, and other peripherals. Basically, as long as you’re sitting at a desk, nobody should be able to tell whether your PC is a desktop, a laptop, or a tablet.
I found that it was possible to accomplish that goal with the Surface Pro without a docking station. It’s just tedious and impractical. I had cables running every which way from the tablet, and I had to disconnect and reconnect everything every time I left or returned to my desk.
The docking station enables you to have all of those accessories connected and ready to go. It’s as easy as snapping the Surface Pro into the docking station, and voila!
So, why does that make it an ideal business PC?
Put simply, the Surface Pro alone is very close to being an ideal business PC. It has the same Intel Core i5 guts and architecture as any other average desktop or laptop PC. It runs the Windows operating system, and all of the custom applications a business relies on just like any other PC. At the same time, though, it can do things and go places that a standard desktop or laptop can’t because it’s also a tablet.
A business could achieve a similar end result with the combination of a desktop or laptop, along with a tablet. However, a comparably-equipped laptop like the Dell Inspiron 15R, or a desktop like the Dell XPS 8700 each run about $700. Adding a tablet—even a cheaper tablet like a Google Nexus 7—adds another $200-plus.
The money spent is about the same either way. The difference is that with a desktop or laptop and a separate tablet, there are compromises that have to be made in terms of what can be done when using the tablet, and hoops to jump through in order to sync and access information between the two. For a little more money, a company can instead just outfit employees with a Surface Pro 2 and a docking station, and achieve the same combination of power and versatility in one device without the additional headaches.
There are two caveats, though. First is the fact that even though the Surface Pro 2 tablets will be available for pre-order starting tomorrow, Microsoft lists the optional docking station as “coming early 2014.”
Second, the price for the Surface Pro 2 is still a bit lofty. It starts at $899 for the 128GB model, and the keyboard cover and docking station are additional expenses. While that is conceivably in the realm of “reasonable”, it’s not very competitive. If Microsoft included the keyboard cover and docking station at $900, that would be alright. I still maintain that Microsoft needs to make the 128GB Surface Pro 2 $800 with the Type keyboard cover included for free to really draw attention and capture some notable market share.
Tony is principal analyst with the Bradley Strategy Group, providing analysis and insight on tech trends. He is a prolific writer on a range of technology topics, has authored a number of books, and is a frequent speaker at industry events.