Microsoft Corporate Vice President Panos Panay unveils the Surface Pro 3 tablet at an event in New York City on May 20, 2014.
The biggest surprise from Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 launch on Tuesday wasn't what the company did announce, but what it didn't.
Going into the event, the expectation was that Microsoft would showcase a new, smaller version of the Surface — something that could compete against the iPad mini, Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HDX.
Those expectations weren't completely baseless; for months we've heard rumblings of a small form-factor Surface. Plus, it's hard to deny that the trend for consumer tablets is in the 7-inch or 8-inch space.
But Microsoft didn't introduce a Surface Mini (and kudos to Greg Keizer of Computerworld for being the first to report this news). Instead, it decided to go even bigger with the 12-inch Surface Pro 3.
By doubling down on full-size Surface devices, Microsoft has all but conceded its position in the consumer tablet spaceBy doubling down on full-size Surface devices, Microsoft has all but conceded its position in the consumer tablet space.
On Monday, Mashable Tech Editor Pete Pachal argued that a Surface Mini would be "do or die" for Windows RT. As far as I'm concerned, no Surface Mini puts the last nail in Windows RT's already well-sealed coffin.
It also means Microsoft's dreams of tablet dominance are dashed.
Walking away from consumer tablets
For the first two generations of its non-Pro Surface devices, Microsoft's biggest target was the iPad. In commercial after commercial, Microsoft went to great lengths to show how the Surface RT or Surface 2 was better than Apple's signature tablet.
And while it's true that the Surface RT and Surface 2 could edit Office documents before the iPad — and that Windows' multi-tasking app model was (and is) superior to iOS and Android — those early Surface devices could never actually compete against the iPad or even a Kindle Fire HDX.
Because of the failings of Windows RT, the Surface RT and Surface 2 never attracted the types of apps that tablet owners wanted. Some users may have been persuaded by the slashed pricing on a Surface RT or Surface 2 — but that's hardly a sign of market support.
And for all the talk about how easy it would be for Windows 8 apps to run on Windows RT, Windows Phone and even Xbox, Microsoft still hasn't managed to connect that process.
The sad thing is that Microsoft has all the pieces to build a decent consumer tablet. If you were to take parts of Windows Phone 8, Windows RT and Xbox Live Arcade, you could cobble together a pretty good consumer tablet experience.
Unfortunately, the time for that sort of solution was two years ago, not now. As the months tick on, Microsoft continues to lose mindshare. The reality is Microsoft will never be a contender in the consumer tablet space. At least, not as it exists now.
The new (old) competitor
Last week, Mashable Chief Correspondent Lance Ulanoff urged Microsoft not to release a Surface Mini unless it was every bit as good as the iPad mini. Go big (or in this case, "small") or go home. Good enough doesn't cut it.
It looks like Microsoft had the same thought process. The Surface Pro 3 event was clearly targeted at laptop buyers — not at tablet owners. Most tablet owners, Microsoft noted, also own a laptop.
So rather than trying to go after the consumer tablet market, where it sits in no man's land, Microsoft is smartly pivoting and going after the laptop space.
It's telling that it was a MacBook Air — not an iPad Air — that Microsoft kept using as a comparison point for the Surface Pro 3. Even the tagline makes it clear: This is a "tablet that can replace your laptop."
Meet #SurfacePro3, the tablet that can replace your laptop. pic.twitter.com/FuE3WvxALG
— Surface (@surface) May 20, 2014
The laptop paradigm also speaks to Microsoft's core strengths. Although I have problems with many aspects of Microsoft's Windows 8 strategy, I do think that an argument can be made in favor of touch-friendly laptops or hybrids.
The right application and situation make using a tablet superior to a laptop. The key is — and this is Microsoft's challenge — the Surface also has to work just as well as any other laptop.
In other words, it's great that I can write notes directly on a screen and have them converted to text. But I better also be able to use that screen with a keyboard and trackpad just like I can use my regular laptop.
When Microsoft used to talk about "no compromises," the compromise was often framed as "not giving up what we love about tablets." With Surface Pro 3 and a more nuanced focus on productivity, "no compromises" shifts to "not giving up what we love about laptops."
And believe it or not, there's still a lot I love about laptops.
Microsoft didn't succeed in the consumer tablet space. That doesn't mean it can't play a role in reinventing the laptop.
Tags: Microsoft, Surface Pro 3