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Buy a Surface Pro 3, get it at summer's end

Gregg Keizer | May 23, 2014
Microsoft may have unveiled new tablets to preempt Apple's expected June announcements.

"There's rumors of other side-by-side computing," Panay said yesterday near the end of the Surface Pro 3 introduction. "I'm showing you side-by-side computing. This is side-by-side computing. This is Windows," Panay boasted as he demonstrated Windows 8.1's split-screen mode on the tablet. "There's no tricks, no gimmicks, no nothing. It just works."

Microsoft has long highlighted Windows' ability to show two "Modern," nee "Metro" apps in the tile-based, touch-first user interface (UI) in its anti-iPad marketing.

The Redmond, Wash. developer may also have wanted to strut the Surface Pro 3 before Apple refreshed its MacBook Air, the lightweight notebook Panay used yesterday as a foil for the new Surface. Several times Panay pulled out a MacBook Air or referenced it — "Best in class, there's no debate," he said at one point — to hammer home Microsoft's pitch that its new device is not as much a tablet as a notebook replacement.

Microsoft began taking pre-orders for the Surface Pro 3 Wednesday, but will not ship the first models until June 20, while the remaining configurations (including the $799 tablet) won't reach retail until late August.

Many pundits expect Apple to unveil a MacBook Air with a higher-resolution Retina screen, a change that would eliminate one of the Surface Pro 3's advantage's, its much sharper screen.

The start of pre-sales for Surface Pro 3 also knocked its predecessor, 2013's Surface Pro 2, out of Microsoft's online store. There was no easy way Wednesday to order the latter online, although Computerworld eventually found the not-that-old device after digging through a list of graduation gift suggestions.

With the Surface Pro 2 hors de combat, Microsoft is in a situation similar to Apple's of late 2012, when it introduced revamped iMac desktops, but then had none to sell for first weeks, then months as supplies dribbled out of factories in early 2013.

Microsoft is not in the same kind of pinch, said Stephen Baker, analyst with the NPD Group and a specialist in U.S. technology retail sales.

"The channel has plenty of Surface Pro 2, and no one is sending them back," Baker said today. "Three-and-a-half, four weeks after announcement isn't particularly long. What is odd is that not everything [in the Surface Pro 3 line] will be available at that point [in late June]. I don't understand why the entry level and the two premium models aren't also available then."

The Surface Pro 2 listings on Microsoft's e-store showed the same price as before the Surface Pro 3's unveiling Tuesday: $899 to $1,799.

"The Surface Pro 2 is something of a competitor to the Pro 3, and, with the exception of a bit more portability, the Pro 3 has it beat on value in just about every way," said Rubin. "So one might expect some closeout pricing on the Pro 2 and its accessories prior to the launch of the 3."

 

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