Surface Pro 3: More Configurations, But Not Truly Configurable

Surface Pro 3: More Configurations, But Not Truly Configurable

A PC should be (truly) configurable

While I like that Microsoft has expanded the number of available Surface Pro 3 configurations compared to its predecessor, and that these choices provide a range of processor options, the firm still falls short by not offering the real configuration options we expect from PC makers. This is likely by design, but I hope to see the Surface Pro lineup expanded to include "build your own" configurations in the future.

Microsoft markets the Surface Pro 3 as "the tablet that can replace your laptop." And while that's a nice and simple way to explain this hybrid device, it's likewise fair to say that Surface Pro 3 is the laptop that's sold like a tablet.

I touched on this concept a bit in Surface Pro 3: Understanding the Hardware in Each Version, noting that with this version, Microsoft has bumped the number of product versions from four (with Surface Pro 2) to five, and that this generation was further differentiated by offering processor choices for the first time. But the offerings are what they are. You can't add RAM, storage, or change the processor at purchase time.

Surface configuration at order time: 5 model choices

This is how Apple sells iPads, of course, though it's fair to say that there are far more choices there than there are with Surface. You have a choice of colors—white ("silver") and black ("space gray"), Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi + cellular models, and then four storage choices: 16, 32, 64 and 128 GB. If you do the math, that's 16 different models, compared to 5 for Surface Pro 3.

iPad configuration at order time: Many model choices

With the MacBook Air, however, Apple has two stock models for each size—11-inch and 13-inch—but each is customizable too. (There are even more choices with MacBook Pro.) So while you could select the stock entry level 13-inch unit, which comes with a 1.4GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, 4 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of flash storage, you can also customize it in various ways, with processor, RAM, and accessory choices. These choices vary from machine to machine.

MacBook configuration at order time: Many options

Given that Microsoft has improved the available configurations with each Surface model to date, it's pretty clear that the firm is evolving its go-to-market strategy as it goes. And let's be fair, it's also learning a bunch of related things—retailing, building PC efficiently, building the right products and the right amount of products—as it goes. So demanding a build to order option is perhaps a bit aggressive. But I would really like to see it get there.

I suspect the Surface team would argue that the closed-box nature of these devices necessitates the tablet approach and that, further, Surface is essentially a tablet anyway. But it's not a tablet, it's a PC. It has PC innards and runs a PC OS and software. It should be sold like a PC, with stock choices like the ones we see today plus fully-configurable models that let customers mix and match the internals they want at build time.

Don't get me wrong. This is no deal breaker, and I'm glad to see our purchase options have improved with Surface Pro 3. But it's hard not to wonder where this could be heading.

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