Microsoft scores points over storage specs on the new Surface Pro 3 tablet

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.

Remember when the Samsung Galaxy S4 came out? Everyone, including us, marveled at the depth of functionality, and detail that Samsung had built into the device. The S4 was a huge departure from its predecessor, and it was a game changer in the flagship smartphone space.

Then, many of us were scratching our heads at the amount of space all that Samsung S-App and TouchWiz goodness took up in a 16GB device, pretty much half of the usable space, making the acquisition of a microSD card mandatory.  Of course, Samsung's semi-tactful answer to the news didn't win many hearts either.

When the Galaxy S4 went on sale, and we were treated to the “actual formatted capacity is less,” it prompted me to write a dig at all the manufacturers to be a little more forthcoming about some of the specifics of their products, reasoning that it helps everyone as well as their own bottom line.

Massive storage mark-ups

For example, we all know that $100 mark-ups for storage increases is the rip-off of the ages. 16GB and 32GB of flash memory has nowhere near a hard cost of $100, or even $50, yet a 16GB versus 32GB device will have a retail mark-up of just that. Considering that 16GB flash memory devices can be found at retail for under $5, the storage being built on a mass scale in smartphones is still a fraction of that.  That is a lot of extra change for the net profit margin.  So, yes, please say that half of a 16GB device is eaten up by the OS and programs and nod gently toward a 32GB or 64GB alternative, some people will go for it, others on a budget will not. Makes sense right?

Thing is, manufacturers do not need to be exact with these figures anyway, just give us a general heads-up. Each carrier is going to want their bits and pieces of bloatware installed, so we know there are going to be differences. For Android devices, it is more important than ever because the OS is becoming less and less friendly to secondary storage options like microSD cards.

Microsoft gives it up

While we ponder such issues with our smartphones, Microsoft earns a gold star for offering up guidance about how much storage you will have available when you decide which Surface Pro 3 to buy. As you know, Microsoft’s new tablet will be available in a variety of configurations with four storage capacity choices, 64GB, 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB.

Given the Surface Pro 3 is running the full Windows 8.1 Pro operating system, a significant amount of storage space is used to house all that code to enable the experience Microsoft has in mind. The good news is that while you browse the specifications for your new tablet, you are not given the stale old “formatted capacity is less” line.

With the Surface Pro 3 64GB version, the specs state clearly “greater than” 36GB available disk space. For the 128GB model, it is over 96GB, more than 211GB on the 256GB model, and over 450GB on the 512GB Surface Pro 3.

I know we are talking about a tablet that aims to replace the laptop in our lives, so the storage considerations are completely different than what we might consider in an Apple iPad, Samsung tablet, or obviously a smartphone. However, the fact that Microsoft is providing information in such a manner is a distinction from the rest of the pack, and I hope it will bring this idea to its recently acquired line of smartphones.

Information is power, information is money too

The point is that as our demands on smartphones and tablets continue to grow, particularly in developing markets, demands on storage will grow as well, both in terms of what we do with them, and with the software required to make everything work. Cloud storage, in the near term, will only take things so far with metered data plans and in some cases, congested networks, so it is not the “final solution,” yet.

The manner in which Microsoft has specified this information is a great model for other manufacturers to follow. We do not need exact numbers, but by giving us an idea of what is really inside, we will make better informed purchase decisions, especially if we want to take a lot of media with us and have it available “right now.” If that means we err on the side of more storage, that is good for us, and it is certainly good for the manufacturer’s bottom line.

Take a look at demand for the OnePlus One 64GB model.  Demand was so strong for that storage capacity, that the company swapped out its manufacturing plan, pushing back building the 16GB models and addressing the majority of orders for the larger storage device.  Considering that Cyanogen is selling these phones at cost, imagine the if the bean-counters put that in the framework of a "real" money making operation like Samsung or Apple.  This should be an easy business decision to make.

So, Apple, LG, HTC, Samsung, Sony, et al, take a page from this book. It is good information, it shows attention to detail, and it is a far better message for your customers than “formatted capacity is less.”

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