19 June, 2012

Microsoft Surface: Fizzle or Flash?

Unless you were out having a life or something, you know that Microsoft yesterday unveiled their new tablet, the Microsoft Surface. You can watch the presentation video below:

There are two models, called Surface and Surface Pro. I’ll go into the differences in a little bit.

There are some impressive features. The integrated kick stand, and their keyboard cover are wonderful. In fact, I’ll admit it. I’m drooling over the keyboard cover. This is without a doubt the best keyboard for a tablet that’s available, anywhere. It is one of the best keyboards, period, available anywhere. Their claims about the dual wifi antenna are impressive. They’ve angled the cameras so that they’re automatically pointed in the right direction when using the kickstand. That’s also impressive. As is the camera integration with Microsoft Office. I’m thrilled about the stylus and digital ink. My iPad still sucks when it comes to writing anything.

And, this device shows off the biggest strength of Windows 8, Microsoft’s ace in the hole. What is that? Enterprise support, and the ability to run essentially the same OS across the desktop, tablet, and phone spaces. That’s a huge deal for business consumers. Tell me that I can run Microsoft Office on my tablet, and interact with my Word and Excel docs in the same way as I do sitting at my desk, and you’ve just made my day. Apple can’t compete with that. Google can’t compete with that. iOS and Android may be nice, but they’re different. I have to relearn how to use Pages. It’s not the same as Word. It doesn’t display quite the same way. Make no mistake about it. This will be a very big selling point for the boys in Redmond.

So, is the Surface an iPad killer? (I’ll discuss Surface Pro in a minute)

In a word, no.

It’s an iPad competitor. It’s got some features that the iPad doesn’t have, that’s for certain. It has ports for one thing. But the Surface is not head and shoulders better than the iPad. And it runs Windows 8, rather than iOS. Windows 8 definitely has some issues. I think it’s a reasonable first attempt at a tablet oriented OS (and make no mistake, that’s what Windows 8 is), but it’s going to need an iteration or two to work out the kinks.

As an iPad competitor, it’s not much competition. Not because it’s not impressive. It is. But because, let’s face it, Apple owns this market. Unless it’s much better (it isn’t), or much less expensive (it won’t be), it’s going to have a hard time competing with the iPad, in terms of sales. At least initially.

So, the folks in Cupertino aren’t worried about the Surface, but what about the folks in Mountain View?

They should be terrified this morning. It’s no secret that outside of the Kindle Fire, that Android tablets have not exactly been flying off the shelves. If the Microsoft Surface can be cost competitive, or even close to it, to Android tablets, Google is in trouble. There’s no way I’d even consider an Android tablet over this device. I wouldn’t even look at one. Game over.

Now, I have been talking about Surface, not Surface Pro. What’s the difference? Well, the Surface runs on an ARM chip and runs Windows 8 RT. That means you live in the Metro UI all the time. That’s where Microsoft wants you to live regardless, but they know they have to care about backwards compatibility. That’s where Surface Pro and Window 8 (non-RT) come into play. In addition to the Metro UI, there’s a traditional Windows desktop, and you can run all your old Windows apps. As time goes by, you’re not going to run many old apps on your Windows 8 devices. But initially, these Metro apps will be limited. You’re going to want/need that backwards compatibility.

So, the Surface Pro is just Surface with backwards compatibility? No. It’s a more powerful environment. This will be something not just on the same plane as the iPad, but clearly superior. It's a desktop computer disguised as a tablet.

So, the Surface Pro is an iPad killer??

In a word, no.

It’s a MacBook Air killer.

The Surface Pro will be more expensive than an iPad, thus out of the price range to be an iPad killer. But it makes the MacBook Air look big, clunky, and twentieth century. Again, unless I really had a need for MacOS, there’s no way I’d consider a MacBook Air over the Surface Pro. I’ve been looking at the Asus Zenbook, and the Dell XPS Ultrabooks. They’re without a doubt the best Ultrabooks available on the market. I’ve been holding off buying one because I wanted to see a real Windows 8 Ultrabook. I knew they’d be a lot better. The Surface Pro is that Ultrabook, and looks like it should blow the doors off the Zenbook and XPS.

So, fizzle or flash? Flash. Definitely flash. But the cost, and the apps will decide everything. Without great Metro apps, it’ll be an uphill climb for Microsoft. Still, they showed yesterday why they’re still the elephant in the room, or the sleeping giant, whichever metaphor you prefer.

Here’s a short summary on specifics on the Surface and Surface Pro from Engadget. Read.

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