Because Microsoft Shot First
The clones are back. It has been a while since the term was used in the PC industry. Back then, any PC that looks similar and can run DOS or Disk Operating System (not Denial of Service) and programs that run in the original IBM-PC was called a PC clone or IBM-PC compatible. Patent trolling and lawsuits wasn’t the rage back then. But the PC industry has evolved since then. It’s now Microsoft’s turn to be cloned. The software giant created a new design standard in the form of its Surface tablets. The cloning began with the success of the third iteration of the Surface, the Surface Pro 3.
Microsoft called the shots back then too. IBM went to Microsoft to create an operating system for the IBM-PC as seen in the movie Pirates of Silicon Valley though a more detailed description can be read on Wikipedia. Compared to the Apple II, the IBM-PC was a cheaper alternative and quickly became a successful business platform. Then clones started pouring in. Since the IBM PC can be created with off-the-shelf components, the only patentable part of it was the BIOS. Computer manufacturers found a way around it the rest is history. The market became flooded with similar-looking beige boxes. These clone PCs ran Microsoft’s MS-DOS, which IBM foolishly allowed Microsoft to market for itself.
Back to the future. In order for the public to accept Microsoft’s radically redesigned Windows 8, it had to come up with a hardware platform that can take advantage of Windows 8’s tablet-oriented features. Microsoft looked back to its collaborative tabletop touch computer also known as the Surface and used the name to create a brand of tablets. The Surface RT and Surface Pro. Surface RT didn’t work out due to consumer confusion from failure in marketing and lack of apps while the Surface Pro matured along with Windows 8. The tabletop computer would later become the Surface Hub. OEMs continued to make their own laptop designs giving rise to the term hybrid where the laptop screen can separate and become a tablet, or the whole thing can convert into one. Windows 8.1 was gradually accepted by the public especially by owners of the Surface Pro 2 onwards. The Surface Pro 3 became a successful product due to its improved specs and improved kickstand and went really well with business users. Other PC makers saw this and began to follow Microsoft’s design. Lenovo’s Miix 700 looks a lot similar to the Surface Pro 3 except for the kickstand hinge and choice of materials.
The Grand Plan
Microsoft isn’t complaining. As long as it continues to roll out licenses for both Windows 8.1 and Windows 10, everything’s just fine. In fact, everything is going according to plan. Its entrance into the hardware business was basically a huge risk just to roll out Windows 8. The company had to teach its partners how to handle the operating system properly. The Surface Pro 3’s success managed to excite the PC industry back into action and built anticipation for the product’s successor, the Surface Pro 4. Now several products have sprung up following Microsoft’s design philosophy composed of a tablet with PC innards, a kickstand, a thin magnetic keyboard/cover and optional stylus. Basically, they are clones of the Surface Pro. The problem with the Surface Pro is the premium pricing. Sure, you can purchase an iPad Air or Macbook for that but the aforementioned doesn’t have much clout in the enterprise as well as productivity value. But if you can’t afford to purchase a Surface Pro, brand loyal, or have less love for Microsoft, then these clones might interest you.
Send in the Clones
Lenovo Miix 700 – as previously mentioned, the Lenovo Miix 700 can be mistaken for a Surface Pro from afar. A closer look says otherwise. The Miix 700 also has a high-tech hinge for the kickstand which supports several angles. It can use up Intel’s Core M processor, up to 8GB RAM and 250GB SSD. Its screen is 12-inch diagonal at 2160 by 1440 resolution.
HP Spectre 12 X2 – is also a Surface clone with as much power as a Surface Pro 3 but at a more reasonable price. It’s so designed to take a bite out of the Surface’s market share. Like the Lenovo Miix 700, the screen is also 12-inch diagonal at a lower 1920 by 1280 resolution. It uses Intel’s Skylake Core M3 or Core M7 CPU and also has a magnetic keyboard cover. Its kickstand is different as it looks more like a wire stand than a whole plate. Such an approach adds more internal real estate for components such as a larger battery.
Dell XPS 12 – the upcoming revamped Dell XPS 12 is similar to the Surface Pro as the keyboard is detachable. The previous design was a convertible laptop. The screen is also 12 inches diagonal but the resolution is 4K, higher than the Surface Pro 3, but a variant comes with a cheaper 1920 by 1080 resolution. Unlike the Surface, though, it doesn’t have a kickstand but relies on a curved receptacle on the keyboard base. Models start at 128GB with 8GB of RAM and an Intel Core M5 with Windows 10 loaded.
Toshiba Dynapad – is touted as a thinner and lighter competitor to the Surface. The Dynapad brand has been around since 1993 as a laptop. Now the Dynapad looks similar to the Surface but has a keyboard dock similar to Dell’s XPS 12. Like the Surface, the Dynapad comes with a stylus with 2048 levels of pressure. It sports a 1.44GHz Atom processor, 4GB RAM, and the 12-inch screen has a 1920 by 1280 resolution.
Jide Remix – designed by ex-Google engineers, the Jide Remix is actually an Android tablet that followed the Surface’s design philosophy. It’s a tablet with a magnetic keyboard and a dual-angle kickstand. Its Android overlay looks similar to Windows 8.1. It has an 11.6-inch full HD screen, 2GB of RAM, 64GB of storage and an NVidia Tegra A15 processor.
iPad Pro – while not exactly a clone like the Jide Remix, Apple seeks to embrace the enterprise or the other way around with the iPad Pro. It’s basically a bigger version of the iPad with a 12.9-inch 2732-by-2048 retina display and 32GB or 128GB of storage. It also has a smart keyboard which, like the Dell XPS and Toshiba Dynapad, acts as a dock for the tablet which does not have a kickstand. The iPad Pro also sports a stylus called the Apple Pencil which makes use of a new display layer on the tablet itself. Why should it be considered a Surface clone? IPads have yet to penetrate the enterprise as other than being a handheld email client. Apple has seen the potential for tablets within the enterprise with the success of Windows-based hybrids. Microsoft even lends a hand by being at the product’s introduction to demonstrate the use of Microsoft Office on the device.
It’s probably safe to think that Microsoft has revitalized the ailing PC industry with the Surface Pro and Windows 10 now that other PC makers decided to jump in the bandwagon. Adoption of Windows 10 in the enterprise should be easier with cheaper or more powerful options to the Surface Pro. But not done teaching, Microsoft is. The company later unleashed another whammy to the PC industry by releasing its own laptop, the Surface Book. The Surface Book is a laptop-first-tablet-later product with a revolutionary hinge, a discreet GPU, and more batteries on the keyboard base, runs Windows 10 and takes advantage of Windows Hello biometric security. It’s another design paradigm for the PC industry to absorb aimed more at power users and possibly gamers. Whether the industry comes up with copies of the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book remains to be seen.