Microsoft Surface could change the tablet and PC markets

Tony Bradley
22 June, 2012
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The Surface tablet unveiled by Microsoft at its mysterious event in Los Angeles this week looked very impressive. It obviously faces very stiff competition from the Apple iPad–which dominates the tablet market. But, there’s a very good chance that businesses will flock to the Surface (or other Windows 8 tablets) if Microsoft delivers something close to what it presented to the media.

I am a huge fan of the iPad, so I don’t make that claim lightly. I have owned all three iterations of the iPad thus far and I’m not prepared to abandon the New iPad any time soon. That said, I also love Windows and I appreciate that businesses that rely on Windows PCs and Windows-based applications would love to have something like an iPad that also happens to be Windows.

As it happens, I’m also in a position to compare the two side by side…almost. I don’t have a Surface tablet, but I do have a Samsung Series 7 Slate PC running the latest Windows 8 Release Preview. As far as devices actually available today to the general public go, this is about as close as you can get to what you can expect a Windows 8 tablet like the Microsoft Surface to be.

On paper, the Series 7 Slate PC is thicker, larger and heavier than the iPad. The iPad (Wi-Fi only model) is only 24.1cm long, 0.94cm thick and weighs a mere 653 grams. The Series 7 Slate PC, on the other hand, is almost 30cm long, 1.3cm thick and weighs over 900 grams. The Windows 8 Pro model of the Surface will be very close in size and weight to the Series 7 Slate PC.

To some extent, though, that’s really a matter of splitting hairs. If you stop to consider the fact that the Windows tablet is packing an Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, it’s actually fairly impressive that it’s as svelte as it is. It also has USB and micro-HDMI ports and a micro-SD card expansion slot. Plus, it has a trump card the iPad lacks–it runs Windows.

Really, it would make as much or more sense to compare the Windows tablet against existing Windows desktops and laptops. Yes, it’s a tablet, so you can’t avoid the comparisons to the iPad. However, we’re talking about a device that can replace the PC completely rather than a mobile device that augments the PC. I assure you the Series 7 Slate PC is significantly thinner, smaller and lighter than my Dell XPS M1330 laptop.

I’m not sure how close the Surface experience will be, but using the optional docking station and Bluetooth keyboard with the Series 7 Slate PC you can basically achieve a normal PC experience while you’re sitting at your desk. The dock includes a full-size HDMI port, USB port and gigabit Ethernet port. You can connect to a large monitor, hook up a USB hub to connect with other devices and use the tablet as if it were a desktop or laptop PC.

The difference is, when you want to leave you can simply detach the tablet from the dock and you still have your entire Windows PC with you. The iPad is a tremendous device for working on the go, but it requires a lot of “duct tape and chewing gum”. You have to find apps and workarounds that let you be productive until you can get back to your “real” computer and find ways to smoothly integrate and sync data between the two. But, with a Windows tablet you just use the same tools and software you always use.

The biggest hurdle for the success of the Microsoft Surface–and Windows 8 tablets in general–is going to be price. Amazon currently lists the Windows tablet I’m using–the Samsung Series 7 Slate PC with optional docking station and keyboard–for a mind-blowing US$1,630. For that amount you can buy a laptop with better specs than the tablet and two Wi-Fi iPads and still have some change left over.

Microsoft may not need to undercut the iPad on price, but the Windows tablet should at least compare favourably with the Windows PC it hopes to replace. If Microsoft can price the Surface competitively, we could see a quantum shift in the tablet market.


One Comment

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  1. Paul says:

    This article and the hype surrounding Microsoft’s new Zune is breathtaking.

    Le’s just address one nagging criticism of the iPad, that you cannot be productive on it, that it requires “duct tape and chewing gum” to use when you’re not at the desk.

    This is a nonsense. iPad can be paired with a wireless keyboard and Apple sells its Pages, Numbers and Keynote productivity apps, as well as iPhoto and iMovie, for the iPad. And that’s not to mention the Datavis and QuickOffice available as well, you have a number of options to be productive (each handles Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents).

    You can be incredibly productive on the iPad and, with Microsoft rumoured to be bringing Office to iOS later this year, things will only get better for users. This is just talking about Office. Recall iMovie and iPhoto are also available. There are apps from Adobe and other creative professional apps for productive users.

    For those who want to keep documents in sync, there is iCloud, which can sync across Apple’s devices and with OSX Mountain Lion coming in just about 3 weeks, iCloud is going to keep all your documents in sync. There is also DropBox and SugarSync if you don’t use iCloud. And these have APIs to let developers build their apps to work with them. Seeing as things are all about the cloud and being wireless, you do not need USB sticks.

    And if this is the way of the future, why include an HDMI port on the Slate when the iPad is already streaming HD video over wireless to Apple TV using AirPlay?

    Let’s be real here. Microsoft’s hardware partners do not believe in the Slate or that Microsoft is even serious about the Slate. Sure, copied Apple by making a keyboard/cover that magnetically sticks to the screen to turn it off and on. But is that the most important feature? Does it have a retina display, the biggest draw card of the iPad?

    Microsoft is beholden to legacy technologies. It has SkyDrive but makes a tablet device with USB. And did Steve Balmer have the thing hooked up to a screen with HDMI when he was unvelling it in his presentation?

    Microsoft has made another, oversized Zune. It’s about time the game changed, it’s time for Microsoft to lose its hegemony in the technology industry.

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