Microsoft explains how the new Surface Pro will compete with Apple -- and why they're not calling it a tablet anymore

Microsoft surface pro 5Matt Weinberger/Business InsiderThe new Surface Pro. It looks a lot like the older model.

Today, Microsoft unveiled the new $US799 Surface Pro, the long-awaited upgrade to the well-received Surface Pro 4 laptop-tablet hybrid.

We talked to Microsoft Corporate VP of Windows and Devices Yusuf Mehdi to ask why it’s not called the “Surface Pro 5,” why Microsoft isn’t calling the Surface Pro a “tablet” anymore, and how the new device compares with the latest Mac laptops.

Without further ado, here’s what you need to know about the new Surface Pro.

Why it’s not called “Surface Pro 5:”

The new device is enough of an upgrade from the Surface Pro 4 that “we could make it a numbered release,” Mehdi said. But the Surface Pro is now known well enough that Microsoft officials felt they didn’t need to give it a number to make clear that the new one is better than the old one, he said. Microsoft’s move is similar to that of Apple, which has stopped giving each generation of iPads a new number.

“I think we can do away with the numbers,” Mehdi says.

Why Microsoft isn’t calling it a tablet:

For years, Microsoft has pitched the Surface Pro line as “the tablet that can replace your laptop.”

With tablet market now shrinking and the laptop market signs of resilience, that pitch is much less effective. So Microsoft is trying to reposition the Surface Pro as a PC. Along those lines, the gadget has a new tagline: It’s “the most versatile laptop in the world.”

Surface pro 5 microsoftMatt Weinberger/Business InsiderThe backside of the new Surface Pro.

Where it stacks up against Apple:

With the Surface Pro 4, Microsoft saw Apple’s MacBook Air as the chief competition and used to tout its device’s superior specs.

But today, simple spec comparisons don’t tell the whole story, because Microsoft’s Surface PCs have more advantages over Apple’s Macs than mere processing power, Mehdi said.

Apple hasn’t “embraced touch on the screen,” he noted. “They have not embraced the [stylus] pen. They have not embraced two-in-one [laptop/tablet hybrids].”

There’s been a “renaissance” in PC design that Apple has largely missed out on, Mehdi argued. And those new designs are helping Windows-based PCs steal market share away from Apple.

The thinking behind the funky colours:

The Surface line is getting more colourful. The forthcoming Surface Laptop will ship in a variety of subdued hues, which will be matched by new colours for the Surface Pro Type Cover and Surface Pen.

Microsoft type cover surface pro 5Matt Weinberger/Business InsiderThe new colours of Surface Pro Signature Type Cover. These high-end models are covered in alcantara fabric and go for $US159 a pop — but they turn the Surface Pro into a proper laptop.

Microsoft wanted to make something warmer than “that cold, metallic, or black approach” that describes so many laptops, Mehdi said. Microsoft intentionally chose hues that would complement each other so that customers could mix and match different coloured pens and covers, he said.

Where the PC industry goes from here:

Microsoft launched the Surface product line to “inspire” PC manufacturers to “bring back some excitement in the laptop category,” as Mehdi put it. And the software giant tried to point the way with features like the Surface Pen stylus and the detachable keyboard, both of which were later copied by other PC makers.

This time out, Microsoft is hoping partners try to match the new Surface Pro’s 13.5-hour battery life, Mehdi said.

Surface pen stylus surface pro microsoftMatt Weinberger/Business InsiderNew colours for the Surface Pen stylus.

Microsoft’s strategy to offer a template for it PC-making partners may have worked a little too well. Last quarter, Microsoft’s revenue from its hardware business fell $US285 million from the same period a year earlier, amid growing competition from partners making Surface Pro-like devices.

Microsoft “probably underforecast” how successful its PC partners would be in making their Surface Pro rivals, Mehdi said. But convertible laptops like the Surface Pro are “one of the fastest-growing categories” in the PC market, he noted. So there’s room for everyone to win, he said.

Get the latest Microsoft stock price here.

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