On The Surface

On the surface the new Microsoft tablet announcement is intriguing. Called “Surface”, it’s going to be made by Microsoft (like Zune and XBox), runs Windows 8, comes with a built in film-keyboard cover and kickstand, and has a standard USB port. Like iPad it runs on ARM chips and has a multi-touch screen. It’s not plastic and doesn’t look that bad, but still not as slick and durable looking as Apple’s finest.

Digging deeper into the announcement starts posing questions, however,?and since Microsoft copied and screwed up Apple’s announcement model (per usual) by keeping it a complete secret then wowing people with demos (like Apple) but not providing any real specs, price points, or availability timelines (like Apple usually does), we are left to do lots of guessing. Here’s some concerns I’ll be waiting for the hands-on reviews to cover, as compared to my use of iPad2 and reviews of iPad3:

  1. Kickstand works landscape only? Does the keyboard cover fit landscape only too? Does this mean the whole tablet is landscape only? Wow, if so no good for medical, education, industrial, well, anywhere it’s needed while standing.
  2. The rear camera is locked at 22 degree angle to offset the kickstand. If you are sitting in a meeting and want to record the person (or screen) in front of you, that’s a nice feature. For every other use of the camera, that’s idiotic. How often have you sat your iPad on the table and wanted to record everything your eyes are looking at? Stupid, not mainstream thinking.
  3. 22 degrees and 22 degrees only? That’s right the kickstand can’t adjust. Want to adjust higher or lower depending on your environment? Have a bad glare? Tall, standing, on a low table or even on your lap? Nope, 22 degrees only.
  4. It’s got a lower resolution, less impressive display than iPad3, which has been shipping for months now. These things *are* the display, so not good on the spec sheet to be behind here.
  5. It’s got no hardware button to deal with app or system crashes, or confused users. We’ve seen how much Win8 can confuse users too, so I expect lots more tech support and returned units than iPad sees.
  6. It looks OK but not great, and not better than other tablets. It’s heavier, a bit thicker, and has the awkward MS color ideas. I know too many people who have had bad hardware from MS, so reliability is unknown too.
  7. Price? If they ship this thing at iPad price point I’ll be surprised. These are ‘enterprise’ (haha) which means more expensive. I predict they will shoot for iPad price but be $200-300 higher comparatively.
  8. Battery life? iPad 3 is almost all battery, custom designed by Apple to use the interior volume afforded. Also perfectly balanced as this device lives in your hand often.

This appears to be a hail-mary by Microsoft. If this is not vapor and they really are going build this thing, they will be competing directly against their OEMs. They have no worldwide network of Apple stores to roll out and support these devices. They have a spotty history in the hardware field.

The iPad in many ways is the culmination of 30+ years of Apple R&D and design aesthetic, perhaps the finest product Apple has made, and the market agrees. There are many parts here that Microsoft has a history of failing on, so my skepticism is high. They have to reverse all sorts of history and do their best work ever to even hang with the iPad right now. We shall see if the Surface is the first real competitor to the iPad or just another piece of vaporware and empty promises from the ‘softies.