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Microsoft's Surface Pro, now into its fourth iteration, has arrived in India, and could well be the tablet that comes closest to replacing the laptop for those who want to go that way. Some already do, like Radhika Viswanathan, a manager in her 30s at a well-known development sector organisation in Bangalore. "I've already checked it out on Amazon ... it's the way forward, don't you think," Viswanathan said in an interview. Except for the price, she agreed, at close to Rs 90,000 ($1,354) for the cheapest version on offer, keyboard -- which Microsoft calls type cover -- not included.
The priciest model, with an Intel Core i7 processor, 256GB internal memory and 8GB RAM, costs nearly Rs 1.45 lakhs, keyboard not included. Adding a keyboard would set one back another Rs 12,500 or so. Still, Microsoft is hoping the latest version, Surface Pro 4, packs enough cool features for the personal computing user in Viswanathan and equally robust business features for the manager in her.
There are "thousands of customers" who have bought earlier versions of the Surface without it even having been launched in India, Vineet Durani, a director at Microsoft, who heads the company's Windows business in India, said in a phone interview from Gurgaon. Previous versions have been popular enough to have earned the company $3.6 billion in sales over a three-year period, he said. Microsoft won’t say how many units have been sold.
Viswanathan is also among those who are familiar with the goods, with a hand-me-down Surface Pro 3 128GB version that came from her brother who works in the UK. "I love that it has the ease of a tablet, but it's also powerful enough to run programs like a PC," she said. The Surface Pro runs on Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system. "My brother has played video games on it, and my sister-in-law wrote her PhD thesis on it. It's really versatile that way," she said.
In addition to its traditional stronghold, business customers, Microsoft is seriously looking to lure more potential retail buyers, opening five "experience centers" in India across three metros -- Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. Durani expects to add more.
Microsoft's acquisition of Nokia's mobile devices business is also helping the company deliver the type of after-sales customer service that such premium buyers would expect, offering walk-in replacements and other services in 18 centers in 13 towns, he said.
"With tablet category shifting towards higher screen size, the latest Surface Pro devices by Microsoft received positive reviews globally since its launch and can be seen giving tough competition to Apple both for its iPad Pro and Macbook series,” Tarun Pathak, a senior analyst in India with Hong Kong-based Counterpoint Technology Market Research, said in an email interview.
“Although we found the pricing very steep, Microsoft might see it more as an opportunity in enterprise segment than the consumer segment with Microsoft having strong enterprise distribution reach in India versus Apple,” Pathak said.
Microsoft has also listened to its users, and improved the keyboard in the latest iteration. The Surface Pro's new type cover is 200 microns thinner versus that of the Surface Pro 3, but also offers more clickable "laptop-class" keys that are better spaced out from each other and a bigger trackpad with multitouch functions.
Durani added: "It's also an enterprise-grade device," running Intel Corp.'s sixth-generation chips. The tablet has features that a chief information security officer would value, such as the TPM (trusted platform module) chip, biometric authentication, and the capability to support the bitlocker security feature, which is an encryption feature.
The surface Pro 4 ships in India from January 14 and Amazon is accepting orders on its Indian site. As to Viswanathan, "I probably would buy it ... if I had the money," she said.