Listen, it’s undeniable that once you’ve outfitted Apple’s forthcoming iPad Pro as Cupertino intends you to with the official keyboard and stylus accessories it bears more than a passing resemblance to Microsoft’s line of Surface tablets. Frankly, I’ve always had a warm place in my heart for the Surface tablet because with each iteration of the device – now in its third generation (ignoring the RT debacle) – the folks in Redmond have managed to put together a really compelling mobile business solution. They know (because it’s largely their doing) that it’s often difficult for enterprise customers to provide mobile workers access to business-critical systems on iOS and Android tablets because corporate IT is still largely the domain of Microsoft products and applications developed for their desktop operating systems. From a usability side, Microsoft wisely understood that trying to type anything longer than a Facebook post on an onscreen keyboard is a real pain so they developed a series of snazzy magnetic cases with physical keyboards and trackpads. Clever stuff, but they still haven’t really made much of an impact in the enterprise space and I’ve always thought that’s because they’re just a little bit too expensive for what they offer when you could get an Asus Transformer Book T100 that does much the same for under $300.
After the Apple event, a friend mentioned that he thought Cupertino’s biggest hurdle to overcome with their Pro tablet was that it was much more expensive than its natural analog the Surface Pro 3 and that got me thinking: is the iPad Pro really too expensive for what it is? If the Surface Pro 3 still hasn’t made a dent in the enterprise market because it’s too expensive, then what hope does the iPad Pro have?
Let’s start by looking at the data (as of 9/20/15):
If you’re just looking at dollars, then yes it’s true that once you’ve bundled the tablet together with a keyboard and stylus the iPad Pro is generally at least $200 more expensive than the roughly equivalent Surface Pro 3, but I’d argue that’s not a fair comparison to make for a lot of reasons. First off, if you don’t particularly care about the stylus or the keyboard the cheapest iPad Pro is only about $100 more expensive than the cheapest Surface Pro 3 and offers a higher resolution display, even though it offers less storage space. The 128GB iPad Pro (Wi-Fi) is only about $50 more than the 128GB Surface Pro 3, and while opting for cellular capability pushes the price of Apple’s 128GB iPad Pro even higher that’s not even an option with any model of the Surface Pro 3. Add to this that we’re looking at different operating systems running on different processors with different app catalogs and it’s clear that the more you look at it there really aren’t one-to-one comparisons to make here.
Truth be told, the similarity is only skin deep and they’re very different beasts on the inside so it comes down to what you’re trying to do with them. If you’re just looking to upgrade a fleet of aging Dell Inspirons with a minimum of fuss then the Surface Pro 3 seems to make a lot of sense because all you have to do is swap out Windows laptops for Windows tablets and you can leave the rest of your hardware and software alone. I don’t think it would be a terribly cost-effective move because you can get a pretty solid business laptop from Dell these days for as little as $500, and if you’re dead set on a Windows tablet I’m sure your friendly local Dell sales rep would do their damnedest to steer you towards one of their own instead, but it’s certainly an option.
Moving to iOS is admittedly trickier because you have to be creative when you translate workflows from one operating system to another. Sometimes it’s easy – mail clients and web browsers are all pretty much the same anymore – but if you’ve got mission critical apps that were built in-house you might not be able to use them on a tablet that doesn’t support Flash or one that absolutely requires Internet Explorer (I wish this was a joke). None of these challenges is insurmountable if you do your homework, but there’s enough apprehension in gun-shy IT departments about making that transition that Apple made a point of bringing representatives from both Microsoft and Adobe onstage during their presentation to send a message that most enterprise customers should be able to hit the ground running if they invest in the iPad Pro.
So where does this leave us? Well, both the iPad Pro and the Surface Pro 3 are large, attractive tablets with clever keyboard accessories but that’s pretty much where the similarities end for me. On a superficial level the Surface Pro 3 is cheaper than an iPad Pro, but at the same time if you’re looking for a convertible tablet that runs Windows the market is full of alternatives that are often several hundred dollars less than what Microsoft is offering. If you’re interested in transitioning to iOS you can certainly buy a very capable iPad for much less money if you just want to surf the web and send email, but in many ways when you pair the 128GB iPad Pro (Wi-Fi & Cellular) with a keyboard and stylus you get a touchscreen laptop from Apple that’s only about $50 more than the new 256GB Macbook. The iPad Pro is really in a class by itself.
Only time and sales figures will tell who will ultimately win the battle for the enterprise tablet market, but I don’t think the iPad Pro will suffer because it’s more expensive than the Surface Pro 3. What will affect the iPad Pro much more than the price tag is whether Apple can convince the enterprise market that iOS 9 is a viable business operating system.