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With the surprise introduction this week of the Surface Book, Microsoft cleverly set the stage to drive device innovation in a category of product IDC Corp. calls "detachables" while creating new opportunities for partners.
IDC defines detachables as a tablet computer with an optional first-party detachable keyboard and having a physical connection. Examples in this category are the Surface Book, Surface Pro and iPad Pro. As an enterprise offering, a detachable's screen size, in the 10-inch range, is important for multiple windows capability.
Calling the Surface Book "aspirational," Jean Philippe Bouchard, research director for tablets and accessories at IDC, noted that Microsoft made it very clear this week that they see detachables replacing all portable PCs in the long run.
Detachables in the enterprise
"[Replacing them,] not so much in the consumer space but in the enterprise space," he said. "So there's a huge opportunity for the channel to move quickly on this to get their clients and their users to switch to detachables," he added.
Keith Groom, director of Microsoft solutions at Softchoice agrees. While he expected Microsoft to introduce the Surface Pro 4 earlier this week, the introduction of the Surface Book was a big surprise. "Our first reaction was, 'Wow,'" he said.
"It's a terrific product with great specs that's competitively priced, and I think it has a lot of opportunity to create a lot of interest in the enterprise," he added.
The Microsoft partner has already been meeting with enterprise customers to talk about Windows 10 migrations. "The Surface Book gives enterprises a reason to consider touch-enabled devices and applications, changing the way users interact with applications," Groom said.
The base Surface Book is priced at $1,499.
At that price, Groom noted that the Surface Book is on par with other laptops with similar specs, such as products from Dell, HP and Lenovo, and will put Microsoft as a contender for enterprises considering a large device refresh.
Jean Philippe Bouchardresearch director, tablets and accessories, IDC
Still, Microsoft has no intention of transforming the device market by itself. "Surface Book is expensive for a high-end configuration … and [Microsoft's] rational beyond the Surface line and Surface Book is that they want to drive awareness of the category, they want to drive innovation in the category and then leave some space for partners such as Dell, HP, Lenovo, Asus, Acer -- all of [which] have devices running Windows 10," said Bouchard.
Detachables provide channel partners opportunities
Microsoft claimed that the Surface Book is twice as powerful as Apple's MacBook Pro, making the Surface Book a very powerful detachable. And the addition of multiple inputs, such as touch or stylus, in this device category makes it a service play for partners. "Now there's room for custom work that wasn't there before," he said, suggesting custom software and other software development opportunities.
The vision for vendors in the burgeoning detachable space is to replace traditional laptops. The IDC analyst expects that as Windows 10 gets piloted and adopted in the enterprise, companies will replace traditional laptops with detachables.
IDC projects the detachable market segment to grow worldwide by 86.5% year over year in 2015 with 14.7 million units shipped.
Surface Book availability is scheduled for October 26 in the U.S.
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