Whether it's intended to be simply aspirational or not, the Surface Laptop needs a killer price point

When it comes to schools, IT purchasing is "price" before anything. Forget form or function; it's all about budgets and the bottom line. The rise of cheap Chromebooks stands to exemplify that fact.

While we're still waiting on the full specs of this thing, the leaked renders from earlier don't exactly inspire in the same way previous Surface devices have. Yes, it looks stunning, but due to the omission of a pen in the marketing materials, you can bet that it won't sport canvas mode for intuitive inking, which would've been an easy way to differentiate from Chromebooks in the educational sector. There are tons of clamshells on the market already, and you can effectively transform Windows 10 into Windows 10 S by locking the OS to the Windows Store by group policy anyway.

So, lacking any surprises (and sure, there may well be some), no self-respecting finance department will approve the purchase of the Surface Laptop unless it has an aggressive price point, but does that matter?

This is the new Surface Laptop

Reinventing the wheel

The leak shows that the Surface Laptop doesn't sport USB-C, no canvas mode for inking (but there may well be touch support) and the impressively slim footprint might look pretty, but it hints at modest specs.

I can't help but wonder if they're just reinventing the wheel here.

With Windows 10 S, Microsoft's new cloud-based OS that is locked to the Windows 10 Store (or Stores set up and defined by managed networking environments), the new Surface Laptop is already looking at vastly decreased versatility vs. a Surface Pro 4 or a Surface Book. We've heard that Windows 10 S can be upgraded to Windows 10 Professional, of course, but that's only going to add $$$ to the equation. Those more intensive Win32 applications, particularly in an educational environment, such as Adobe Suite, won't run all that well on lower-end hardware anyway.

Windows 10 S and the Surface Laptop are built through and through for Windows 10 Store applications, whether injected through Project Centennial or built specifically for the Universal Windows Platform (UWP). Doubtless, Microsoft will have some partnerships to announce today, regarding other educational tools migrating to the Windows 10 Store, but I can't help but wonder if they're just reinventing the wheel here. If you're a school's IT department who couldn't care less about the way a device looks, why bother picking up a Surface Laptop vs. a cheap Lenovo or even a Chromebook, that does the same stuff?

The aspirational argument

Of course, there's always the argument that the Surface line was never truly intended to be a mainstream success. The fact that Surface sales are shrinking due to increased competition from OEMs building their own Surface-like devices is a testament to that fact. As an aspirational device family, the Surface line has lived in this strange limbo between being successful, but not too successful.

The Surface line has lived in this strange limbo between being successful, but not too successful.

The difference between the Surface Book, Studio, and Pro, has always been that they were overpriced, almost on purpose. This allowed OEMs to step in, produce similar hardware and undercut Surface by design, to help reignite flagging PC sales. There's some evidence that it's working. However, each of these Surface-inspired devices had a strong, visual calling card. The Surface Laptop doesn't look as though it does anything unique; instead, it's almost unashamedly plain.

As a device, at an event called #MicrosoftEDU, it's clear Microsoft is positioning Windows 10 S as a stripped down, highly-managed solution that conforms to school policies. IT managers and administrators will see the value in Windows 10 S's improved manageability. The thing is, you can do all of those things today with Group Policy, Azure AD, and Windows 10 standard. What's the differentiator here?

The only real difference between third-party Windows 10 S devices and the Surface Laptop is going to fall to price. If the Surface Laptop and its ilk are standard clamshells locked to the Store (something you can already do via Group Policy), if it isn't aggressive on price, it will be hard to envision what the point of this device, or indeed Windows 10 S, actually is.

There's every chance Microsoft, in true Surface style, has some unique tricks up its sleeve — but I feel as though any "hardware twists" would've been communicated through its marketing renders.

Either way, we won't have to wait long to find out what the true play is here. Of course, if there is one. Hopefully, Microsoft has some cards to play that move beyond another "me too!" hardware launch, which historically has rarely paid off for Redmond. I'm making a lot of assumptions in this piece, ultimately, we'll just have to wait and see.

The #MicrosoftEDU event kicks off at 9:30 AM ET (6:30 AM PT / 13:30 UTC / 14:30 GMT / 19:00 IST) later today. See below for information on how you can watch it.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!