Microsoft Surface – Tablet Wars Begin

It is no secret that Windows 8 was built for tablets specifically. It is janky on the Desktop and I have been putting off installing the Release Preview because of that. The Microsoft Surface, presented today, looks like the end product Windows 8 was made for.

Microsoft's Answer to Tablet Space

Microsoft’s Answer to Tablet Space

 

Solid and Beautiful 

The Surface is beautifully crafted. It looks solid and those with first hand experience attest to it. Microsoft got the form factor right. It is rather interesting on a design end to note that Microsoft has basically gone with angular edges with Metro and now the Surface. Apple prefers curves looking at their iPods, iPads and iOS. I think angular edges are nicer personally. One reason I bought the iPhone 4 was because it was a break from the usual Apple design end. The iPhone 4 (and the 4s) featured non beveled edges. I like the clean cut sharp and smooth focus that Metro and its accompanying products are taking.

 

Two Markets Targeted 

What most consumers won’t get from the mess of the press is that there are 2 distinct products launched. The RT and the Pro. The RT is targetting the iPad market. It features a Tegra 3 processor as nVidia proudly claims. My One X is on the Tegra 3, it is very very snappy processor.

The RT: Just a tablet, nothing more or less.

The RT: Just a tablet, nothing more or less.

The RT falls in a product category that I personally feel has no real need. A luxury product. You can’t really be productive on the RT/iPad and you can only do writing (by buying a bluetooth keyboard for the iPad). These are products that will help tremendously in show and tells (read: sales people), entertain with simple games (read: non tech gamers) and mostly media consumption. There is definitely a big market but there’s nothing too exciting besides profit extraction. So business wise, exciting. Tech wise – so, so.

The Pro: Similar hardware but more powerful software

The Pro: Similar hardware but more powerful software

The Pro focuses on the bridge between the iPad market and the Ultrabook market. Basically, you won’t be buying all that. You will either get the RT or the Pro (unless you are rich). The Pro is everything an Ultrabook is but with a less powerful processor. Microsoft states that it is powered by a modified IVB i5 so it looks like the same partnership Apple had with Intel for the MBA. Probably a slightly less powerful i5 with improved battery performance.

What you get here is a convertible. A tablet that is more productive and has more use cases than any other tablet in the market with only the Asus Transformer Prime coming close. Because the Pro dumps a full Windows 8 OS into it, you are getting a full fledged OS that is way more extensive than Android and iOS. For mac heads, the Surface Pro is akin to putting a full Mac OS (with a proper touch interface) on an iPad. Yes, you can run photoshop on this.

 

Just One Innovative Idea

Besides getting the hardware and software right and puting things together well, the Surface brings 3 ideas. I have no idea what is wrong with the press nowadays. Journalist were cheering and applauding at the Microsoft event. I would prefer them to be more objective and reserved, not swept off their feet. Same case applies when they cover Apple events.

This cover is also a keyboard. (Credit: TheVerge)

This cover is also a keyboard. (Credit: TheVerge)

There’s a kickstand. All products should come with a kick stand really. How hard is it to make it? It’s dead useful and easy to produce. Nothing innovative here. Just useful.

The Touch Cover is a gimmick. It’s a touch screen keyboard which sounds nice but is stupid in reality. Unless you are a very seasoned user of touch keyboards, you will need to look at the keyboard as you type because there is no tactile feel. This means that seperating keyboard from screen isn’t achieving much. The upside is that the form factor is more natural and there will be some productivity gains when you place it on the table and have the screen propped up with a kick stand mirroring a laptop form factor. Personally, I won’t get the Touch Type. A full sized keyboard with no tactile keys is weird.

Type Cover: A cover that is truly smart.

Type Cover: Tactile. Tactile. Tactile. (Credit: TheVerge)

Type Cover is where the real innovation is. Microsoft managed to compress a laptop styled keyboard into cover sized thickness. It’s about 5mm thick (Calling something X mm THIN is a marketing trick many don’t realize). It’s very thin for a fully functional tactile keyboard and a touch pad with clickable buttons. This is what makes the difference for me. This is the advantage that the Surface have over its competitors. A keyboard that is not an extra accessory like in the case of the Transformer Prime. For the iPads, the way to go is to buy a cover and a bluetooth keyboard (total costing close to $100) to make the iPad more productive. Combining both cover with keyboard is a smart innovative move. Kudos to Microsoft for that.

 

Questions and Doubts 

I would like to know how battery life is like. For mobile devices, battery life is absolutely paramount. No use having fancy glitzy stuff that runs no more than 8 hours on a tablet. The Pro comes with a 42kWh battery and the RT a smaller 31.5kWh juice pack. But how this translates to everyday use is unknown.

Pricing is also unknown. I would expect the RT to retail close to iPad prices and the Pro to go for slightly less than Ultrabooks. Wrong pricing here will kill Microsoft. They are trying to get into the space so price low and grab the market. Press and consumer feedback has been very positive. Microsoft should price it attractively.

All in all, it is still a first generation product. The rule of thumb for any tech product and company is never to buy the first generation item. No matter how widely available such form factors are, this is Microsoft’s first attempt at making a modern tablet. They may have created the first tablets but that was 10 years ago. This is very much first generation stuff.

 

Promising But Time Will Tell 

A solid and smooth product but will it gain traction?

A solid and smooth product but will it gain traction? (Credit: TheVerge)

Microsoft has to push the tablet space very hard not because I think the tablet space is relevant but the entire Windows 8 is built for it. Capturing the tablet space will open up avenues for its Phone series which I personally admire. If Microsoft manages to get the next 3 years right – expect them to be claim heavyweight status in the mobile space.



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