New Apple iPad Pro takes on Microsoft Surface Pro

The new iPad Pro gives Apple fanatics the tools they need to work efficiently on tablets while giving Apple a way to boost sales.

Apple has officially entered the 2-in-1 device market with the new iPad Pro for businesses, giving employees one more reason not to buy PCs.

The new iPad Pro has a larger screen, a stylus called Apple Pencil and attachable smart keyboard. With its new powerful A9X processor, Apple compared the device's performance power to the leading laptops on the market, a ploy Microsoft took when it launched its Surface Pro device in February 2013.

This puts Apple squarely in the 2-in-1 device market for the first time, where it will have to compete with Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 --the top selling detachable device in both the consumer and enterprise market, according to IDC, an IT industry analysis firm.

"Most of the portable PC vendors are embracing that category as well," said Jean Philippe Bouchard, research director at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. "You will have a lot of different brands available in that segment."

Microsoft Surface devices lead in the Windows 2-in-1 segment with about a 60% market share, according to IDC. HP, Dell and Lenovo, three of the largest PC vendors in the world, have all made their presence felt in the 2-in-1 market with recent releases as they all continue to innovate in that segment.

"With the iPad launch, people will open their eyes and see the benefit of that form factor," Bouchard said. "However, I don't think it will be a category changer. There are two things that will limit that impact. It's very expensive…Also, it's about entering the commercial space, and that's still a Microsoft stronghold."

The iPad Pro starts at $799 for the 32GB model, and can cost up to $1,347 for the 128GB model with Wi-Fi and cellular support when combined with the $99 Apple Pencil and $169 smart keyboard.

[Apple] needed to do something to get more penetration in business.
Pat MoorheadPresident and principal Analyst of Moor Insights & Strategy

Sales of Windows 2-in-1 devices were down in Q2 of this year, as were PC sales, according to IDC, largely due to retailers diluting their inventory of the devices as they awaited the July launch of Windows 10. Now that Microsoft has released its new OS and all major PC vendors are investing in the space, IDC predicts that the segment will see growth in 2016.

Microsoft made an appearance at the Apple event following the introduction of the iPad Pro to show off how well Microsoft Office runs on the new Apple device and how the company's marquee software suite supports the new features of iOS 9 and the iPad, including the Apple Pen.

"If you are considering buying the Surface Pro 3, why bother?" said Michael Oh, CTO and founder, TSP LLC in Boston. "If you have an inclination toward the Apple ecosystem, and were looking at the Surface, you have no reason anymore. The iPad Pro is a device with larger screen, better processing capabilities…and a huge app store."

Apple iPad Pro promises new market opportunity

Apple is looking to turn around its once booming iPad segment, which has declined in sales for six straight quarters. CEO Tim Cook admitted last year that the declining sales of the device were behind the company's IBM partnership last summer.

Because the iPad has a longer than expected refresh cycle, users may not need to replace the older generation of the iPads they own. That is why Apple looks to expand its role in business, and up its enterprise sales of iPads.

For this strategy to work, developers need to build iPad Pro apps, Oh said. 

"If they are successful in creating a new generation of apps that really caters to medical professionals, architects, people in product design, then they will by all means turn that around," he said. "It's really geared to professionals, and it'll be fascinating to see what developers do with all that power."

This is the first time an iPad has been built that can replace your PC, said Pat Moorhead, president and principal analyst of Moor Insights & Strategy, a tech analyst firm based in Austin, Texas. A 9.7-inch iPad could never replace a PC, but now, the iPad Pro, at almost 13-inches, with Apple's new A9X chip and 4K video display, can be used in place of a laptop.

"[Apple] needed to do something to get more penetration in business," Moorhead said. "You know there is demand for it…I felt I was looking at a 2-in-1 Surface, an HP or a Dell 2-in-1, but what keeps me centered is that they are looking at it from different points of view."

Apple comes from a mobile perspective with its new iPad Pro, meaning it's a tablet with the processing power of a high-end PC, but Microsoft's background is with PCs, so the Surface is more akin to a PC with touchscreen capabilities, Moorhead said.

"I'm impressed with it," he said. "I didn't expect them to bring out a keyboard case. It begs that question of comparison to the Surface Pro. And the new [A9X] chip looks like a monster."

Apple claims its new A9X chip is faster than 80% of the PCs shipped in the last 12 months, which, if true, would mean the iPad Pro runs on a PC-class performance chip.

Due to the new multitasking features on iOS 9, Moorhead viewed it as "a requirement" for Apple to come out with the bigger screen iPad Pro as it's a mobile device that takes full advantage of the new iOS 9 features.

Whether customers buy iPad Pros over PCs remains to be seen, but it is sure to pique business users' interest.  

"[Apple will improve sales with the iPad Pro because it's a new form factor, but I will wait and see if it's a long term trajectory," Moorhead said. "Quite frankly, it has to eat into PC market share to do that."

The iPad Pro will be available in November. 

Ramin Edmond is a news writer for TechTarget covering the ever-growing mobile enterprise space. His background consists of reporting on the IT industry, including mobile and channel news. He got his start out of college as a local news and sports reporter for a daily paper.

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