Scratching the Surface: Microsoft adds new ‘Book’ to hybrid genre it helped popularise to offset ailing PC sales

New lightweight Surface Book serves as high-performance touch screen device, but will it tempt consumers to ditch their laptops?

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 January, 2016, 8:01pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 January, 2016, 8:14pm

US software giant Microsoft is trying to perk up sales in the shrinking personal computer market with its new high-end laptop-tablet hybrid, the Surface Book.

It is the highest-spec model of the Surface series of products, which earned Microsoft revenue of US$3.6 billion last year, according to the company’s annual report.

Analysts say the US company has helped popularise a new product category of hybrid computers that will help the PC market to gain momentum.

“Hybrids have become a trend and many big players are joining in,” said Alex Ng, an analyst from China Merchant Securities Hong Kong.

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Other PC manufacturers such as South Korea’s Samsung and China’s Lenovo have also released similar products recently.

“Nowadays most people already own a laptop and they are not likely to replace them often,” Ng said. “The thin and powerful Surface devices provide them with a reason to update their computers.”

The Surface Book is a lightweight computer with a touch screen and detachable keyboard. It packs powerful processors that would normally be found in high-performance laptops and desktop computers.

“What we have heard from users is that they want a [high performance] touch screen device, and they prefer [working with] a pen,” Chester Wong, director of Microsoft Hong Kong’s consumer channel group, told the South China Morning Post.

“But right now there is no single device that provides all these features, so the Surface Book is addressing that need,” he added.

He said the powerful Surface Book enables designers and architects to complete demanding tasks like rendering 3D graphics and editing video.

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While Wong was unable to provide an estimate of how well the product is expected to sell, he said the “the demand is there” despite the high price tag.

The Surface Book starts from HK$11,588 (US$1,489) but Wong said he was not worried that the hefty cost may deter buyers.

“We are quite confident that this is a device that consumers out there are looking for.”

Ng said Microsoft must now make a strategic choice.

“It needs to decide whether to go on being a major hardware manufacturer, or stay smaller to leave more room for other PC manufacturers to enter the hybrid market,” he said.