Apple's New iPad Pro Takes Aim At Surface Pro, Throws Down PC Replacement Gauntlet Against Windows 10

Apple's new 9.7-inch iPad Pro, unveiled Monday, is taking direct aim at Microsoft Surface Pro, Windows 10 and the 600 million PCs in use today that are more than 5 years old.

Apple partners, for their part, see the new product as the latest high-powered salvo in the battle to get more users to choose Apple's iOS devices in corporate America rather than Windows 10. They said the new tablet represents Apple's most ambitious bid yet to take a bite out of the growing Windows 10-based 2-in-1 enterprise market with an iPad Pro.

[Related: Apple Partners: Upcoming Event Needs To Be About Innovation, Not Upgrades]

"It's ironic that Apple is now positioning a tablet that it initially brought to market as a consumer consumption device as the ultimate PC replacement and content creation device," said the chief technology officer for a large Apple reseller and mobile solutions specialist. "It shows that the tablet war against Surface Pro and the new class of 2-in-1s from laptop makers has moved into the enterprise. You've got to hand it to Microsoft for establishing new rules of the game with Surface Pro, demonstrating that corporate America has an appetite for detachable devices."

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Apple is even using aggressive pricing as a weapon in the battle to win corporate market share, with the 9.7-inch entry-level iPad Pro with 32 GB with Apple Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil stylus priced at $797. That compares with an entry-level price of $899 for a Windows 10 Surface Pro 4 with a 12.3-inch display, plus a separate keyboard priced at $129.99.

Apple said it will begin taking orders for the new iPad Pro on March 24 and begin shipping the product March 31.

At its product launch event in Cupertino, Calif., on Monday, Apple also introduced the iPhone SE, a new 4-inch-screen iPhone priced starting at $399, based on the powerful 64-bit A9 chip offered in iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.

In addition, Apple unveiled CareKit, a new application software platform for developers to build apps aimed at helping people manage their medical care, and ResearchKit, a framework for bringing medical tests normally performed in an exam room to the iPhone.

Apple has Windows users squarely in its sights with the new iPad Pro, said Philip Schiller, Apple senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, during a launch event at the company's Town Hall theater at its headquarters. "You may not know this but the majority of people that come to an iPad Pro are coming from Windows PCs -- a desktop or a notebook," he said.

"There are over 600 million PCs in use today that are over 5 years old; this is really sad. It really is," said Schiller, eliciting laughter from the audience. "These people could really benefit from an iPad Pro. When they see the features and performance and capabilities of an iPad Pro designed for a modern digital lifestyle, many of them will find it is their ultimate PC replacement."

The new iPad Pro represents the first time Apple has looked at the PC upgrade market as it primary target, said Michael Oh, chief technology officer and founder of TSP, an Apple solution provider and high-end home automation specialist based in Boston.

"Those 600 million PCs are running legacy enterprise software that has yet to be ported over to Windows 10," he said. "It's a long tail of legacy software. I think they have a pretty good shot at taking a good fraction of those 600 million users who want mobility and security. Apple's pivot to replace the installed Windows based makes a lot of sense."

The iOS-Windows 10 device battle comes with Apple making alliances over the past two years to take a bigger bite out of the corporate market, including a highly touted partnership with Cisco Systems and a partnership under which IBM is building more than 100 industry-specific apps for iOS gear and reselling Apple iPads and iPhones.

"Apple is doing everything it can to make sure that its devices are flexible enough for the enterprise market," said TSP's Oh.

The battle between Windows 10 and iOS may well come down to Microsoft's philosophy to move to a single Windows 10 app platform from phone to data center versus Apple's view that iOS tablets and phones will have a distinct operating system than the OS X MacBook and desktop operating system, said Oh.

"Microsoft has already lost the battle with phones," said Oh. "No one is taking Windows 10 seriously on phones. I think Apple is right on with their design philosophy. You interact with touch on mobile devices differently than on a notebook or a desktop. You don't touch a screen on your laptop on a train. It just doesn't feel right. That is the weakness of the 2-in-1 Windows 10 architecture."

One top executive for a large enterprise-focused solution provider, who did not want to be identified, said the device battle between Apple and PC competitors is ultimately going to come down to app modernization on mobile devices. That's a market where solution providers' role as trusted advisers is going to be critical to success, he said.

Apple is showing an increasing appetite to work closely with solution providers in corporate accounts, even going so far as providing demo units for corporate customers to test out new devices, something it has not done in the past, said the executive.

"It will be interesting to see how Apple differentiates its MacBooks and desktop systems as it goes forward, competing against Microsoft, which is bringing a consistent operating system across all devices. Apple could be at a disadvantage with that strategy, which requires separate app development for iOS and OS X."

The latest Apple iPad Pro adds "more complexity and device proliferation" to the enterprise market, said the executive. "Trusted advisers are going to be key as customers look beyond the devices and begin to modernize and transform enterprise applications," he said.