May 20 - Microsoft's unveiling of the Surface Pro 3 - a larger, lighter version of its tablet - shows the company plans to stick it out in the hardware space, despite past struggles. Conway G. Gittens reports.
SOUNDBITE: MICROSOFT CEO SATYA NADELLA (ENGLISH) SAYING: "We are not building hardware for hardware's sake." Microsoft tries to answer its critics. The Surface Pro 3 is a lighter device with a bigger-than-expected 12-inch screen and a special pen that can turn on the computer and send documents straight to the cloud. All tweaks aimed at making mainly business users, and also consumers, forget about a laptop and switch to this tablet -which is really like a laptop. But crossing into the land of hybrids doesn't come cheap. The low-end version costs about $800 while the top-of-the-line one costs nearly $2,000. And that presents a challenge, says Avi Greengart of Current Analysis. SOUNDBITE: AVI GREENGART, RESEARCH DIRECTOR OF CONSUMER DEVICES, CURRENT ANALYSIS (ENGLISH) SAYING: "You have to be looking to spend a significant amount of money to get an ultra-light, ultra portable, and in this case, a quite powerful product. But if you really want just a thin and light tablet, well there are thin and light tablets that cost a lot less money." For some analysts, Microsoft's idea of part tablet/part laptop admits it lost the tablet war. Not so, says Michael Silver of Gartner. He thinks Microsoft is actually exploiting the iPad's weak spot. SOUNDBITE: MICHAEL SILVER, VICE PRESIDENT OF MOBILE AND CLIENT COMPUTER, GARTNER (ENGLISH) SAYING: "Every time, I think, we talk to folks we hear that 'gee this is a great device, but we wish it did a little bit more, a little bit more, a little bit more' and so looking at a PC replacement and trying to figure out really what the next class of those devices is an interesting way to go and instead of going smaller, which I think a lot of folks expected -Microsoft going bigger, really I think, investigates another part of the market that maybe has not been looked at that closely yet." And that's the bigger picture, say analysts. New CEO Satya Nadella is paving the way forward by using hardware like the Surface Pro 3 as a backdoor for its software on the Cloud, says Bob O'Donnell of Technalysis Research. SOUNDBITE: BOB O'DONNELL, CHIEF ANALYST, TECHNALYSIS RESEARCH (ENGLISH) SAYING: "Surface is one cog in this big wheel of all this Microsoft hardware and they are going to tie it together with these services that allow you to access, Office and Skype and Bing and OneDrive and OneNote across all of them. And by the way, they are going to extend that to iPad owners and to Android phone owners and lots of other folks." Software aside, many analysts praise the new tablet, but still see Microsoft struggling to catch up in the hardware world, where even the mighty iPad is seeing slower sales growth.