Surface Pro 3 as Creative Tool (part 1): Introduction

I was at Adobe Max this year when  Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella came on stage to talk about the Surface Pro 3 and their deepening collaboration with Adobe. His speech featured this video:

Although a lot of the applications and features showcased in the video were prototypes I, like many others in the room, was just starting to think that maybe I should look into a Surface device when Nadella announced that everyone in the room was getting a Surface Pro 3 to take home. It took a couple of seconds to sink in and then the room went nuts. It was like a geeky version of Oprah’s car give away: “You’re getting a Surface, and you’re getting a surface. We’re all getting a Surface!”

This wasn’t the first time this year that Microsoft has given away thousands of these machines to get them in the hands of influencers and out on the street: they’ve given them to journalists, analysts and techies but this was the first time they’d targeted creatives. It’s a pretty bold move on their part because the creative field has long been dominated by Apple. I’d guess that 9 out of 10 laptops I saw at Adobe Max were MacBooks and, at work, where I prefer to use a windows desktop, I am the anomaly. Microsoft want this to be a machine that’s all things to all men. They want it to be accepted in the corporate world as well as on university campuses, worldwide, coffee shops and in creatives’s designer messenger bags. They also want it to replace both your iPad and your MacBook Air and their TV ads are challenging the Macbook Air’s dominance in the ultrabook category.

I’ve mentioned the attack from behind marketing approach before and it’s only something you do when you’re the underdog. Microsoft; the underdog? Really?

Microsoft are no longer the behemoth they once were. They’re not going away anytime soon, as long as people still by PC’s with Windows pre-installed but, a lot of people are realizing they don’t even need a PC anymore as they can do everything they need to do on their tablet or even their phone (or fabulet). MS Office has been a massive revenue generator in the corporate world but many people realize that they can use free alternatives such as Google Docs and Open Office for most of their needs. The Xbox has been a market leader but casual gaming on mobile devices is now a much larger potential market than the dedicated gamer. Microsoft know this but they’ve made several missteps as they try to adjust: think about the Zune v the iPod, the Windows Phone v the iPhone and the original Surface v the iPad.

The original Surface was launched two Christmases ago as a direct competitor to the iPad. The trouble was it was rushed to market in time for the gift buying season with some major software issues. It was also more expensive than the equivalent iPad and just not as nice a device to use. MS were going to have to work much harder than that to get people to move from their Apple tablets. For me, that’s where the Surface story had stalled. I just thought of it as a poor version of the iPad and wasn’t paying attention to it’s evolution and that’s why Microsoft has been working so hard to get Surface Pro 3’s on the street and spending so much on advertising this product. They’re working hard to readjust the public’s view of the Surface line – it’s not just an iPad alternative (in fact, in many ways, that’s the least it is), it’s also an ultra-portable laptop and a machine that you can get things done on and be a creative tool that’s always to hand.

And their hard work seems to be paying off as the Surface Pro 3 has quickly become their best seller but they’ve still got a ways to go to persuade us all to give up our current laptops, MacBooks Airs and iPads and replace them with a Surface Pro 3. Is that even a practical, or desirable, proposition? As this device just fell into my lap (see what I did there?) I decided to try to see how the Surface fared as a content creation tool for a month. The timing of the arrival of this device couldn’t have been much better for me as my 2 year old iPad 3 was just starting to get bogged down with Apps and iOS updates. My work laptop is so uninspiring I use it only when I really have to and my personal compact laptop was so dated it hasn’t been used in months. Most of my real work, and a lot of my personal projects, are executed on a massively powerful, and expensive desktop at work, and a slightly more modest desktop at home. Most of my internet and media consumption is still done on my iPad. Interestingly, the iPad is becoming less, solely, a consumption device, to become a content creation device. Adobe are still spending a lot of time and effort to create mobile iOS apps that integrated with the rest of their CC offering, however, they’re all cut-down versions of their full-blown Windows or Mac programs.  You start a project on Adobe Clip but then you do the real work in Premiere Pro and iOS version of Lightroom will let you review work and make simple adjustments out in the field, but, the assumption is that you’ll finish that work on a ‘real machine’.

The Surface Pro 3 runs a full version of Windows 8 and has a real i5 processor (i3 and 7 processors are also available) so it runs full versions of the Adobe CC programs. I spend most of my work day inside Premiere and After Effects and I’m not expecting the Surface to be my go-to machine for that but what about photo editing on the fly, editing an audio podcast or messing around with music creation in my favorite DAW? I’m going to live with the Surface for a month and see how and where it fits in to my professional and creative lives.

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