Microsoft Discusses What Guided Surface Pro 3's Development

The tablet's unconventional size and screen dimensions maximize productivity, according to a new Reddit AMA featuring the Surface team.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

On May 20, Panos Panay, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Surface division, introduced the Surface Pro 3, a bigger version of the company's x86-based computing slate that runs the full, non-RT version of Windows 8.1. A week later, Panay and his team returned to delve deeper into the factors that guided the tablet's development.

In a May 27 Reddit AMA (or ask me anything) session, replying under the SurfaceTeam handle, Panay and his colleagues—pictured here in a tweet during the AMA—revealed some of the factors that the company wrestled with as they decided to release another version of the Surface Pro. The company surprised industry watchers last week when, instead of debuting the highly anticipated Surface Mini, it took the wraps off the 12-inch Surface Pro 3.

Microsoft's answer to hot-selling tablets like the iPad Mini and Kindle Fire didn't materialize during the "small gathering" in New York, as the company described the event in its invitation to the press. Why was the ARM-based Surface Mini a no-show?

Microsoft responded diplomatically: "Windows on ARM continues to be an important part of the Windows strategy. The Surface 2 (which runs Windows RT) is a great choice for both play and getting work done. Windows on ARM got even better with recent additions, including third-party MDM [mobile device management], workplace join and Outlook, which is preinstalled along with the other Microsoft Office apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote), with the Windows RT 8.1 update."

On the topic of the Surface Pro 3's unconventional touch-screen, which sports a 3:2 aspect ratio (versus 16:9 or 4:3), Steven Bathiche, director of research in Microsoft's Applied Sciences Group, said that it represents "a perfect balance between productivity and entertainment."

"We mapped a lot of the available digital content," said Bathiche. He added that 3:2 won out by providing a "balanced fit" and a canvas that adapts to multiple situations and work styles. "For the flexibility in experience we have designed Pro 3 for—typing, mousing, touch, and pen—3:2 is a great choice. [It] hits a sweet spot in productivity, is compact and easy to carry, and adapts to both landscape and portrait well."

What the Surface Pro 3 lacks in built-in cellular connectivity, it makes up for in USB ports, said the Surface Team. Support for Long Term Evolution (LTE) and SIM cards is "not in the road map right now," although the company is certainly aware of the demand for wireless options beyond WiFi. "We have USB so lots of people are using those and "mifi" [mobile WiFi hotspot] tethering solutions," added Microsoft before letting slip that battery life "certainly has been a consideration to date."

Panos and crew also offered a deeper look into the Pro 3's pixel-pushing capabilities. In terms of on-board graphics, the Core i7 model packs an Intel HD Graphics 5000 chip, and the i5 and i3 versions contain 4400 and 4200 chips, respectively.

Intel Core i7 and i5 models can drive one external 4K display or two "2K" displays (2,160 by 1,440) "while still supporting the Surface Pro 2K display," revealed Microsoft. Tablets powered by a Core i3 processor can output video to one 4K monitor or two 1,080P displays, in addition to the Surface Pro 3's touch-screen.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...