Microsoft Surface vs. iPad

On June 18th 2012 Microsoft launched is first ever full computing hardware Microsoft Surface. It was morning time in India when I started reading the liveblog updates of the event on the Verge site and by the time I started for office, the event was over and I had enough details to shout in the bus to my colleagues about this new WOW product. Few of them who were half asleep felt like “Ummm … OK! so Microsoft is launching an iPad competitor. Big deal. They can’t compete with Apple.” I use an iPad and I bought the iPad 2 about 1.5 years back after seeing the tablets running Windows 7. When I saw those tablets, the experience was so jerky compared to iPad, I thought I will never see a great tablet from Microsoft OEMs. I even though I had few objections to what is available on iPad, I went ahead and bought it.

iPad is not just a device. It has proved to be a platform for innovation. It has number of great apps that take User Experience to all new levels. I read a lot and like to continue doing it. To me applications like Flipboard are like God sent. It aggregates all the sources I use to read on the internet and brings it is a very easy to read magazine format. Couple of other useful apps are Paper for amazing UX, Springboard, Remember the Milk, Mind Manager, iBooks, various games from Car racing to Talking Toms to Chess and so on. It is a great *consumption* experience.

What I wanted in iPad but have no hopes to get it

iPad is a big enough device and also costly enough, which requires that it should be shared in the family. I can’t afford to buy two. My children want to play games on this device and enjoy reading on the device. It is great tool for learning as well. However there is a hitch. For some of the apps, I do not want to buy a paid version because the child will outgrow on the app/ game in no time. The paid versions is simply not value for money. But the free app constantly cries for me to buy something. Take an example of all the Talking Animal apps from Outfit. They want you to buy accessories for the animals or buy the full version of the app and there are many like this built on the same concept. For my 4 yo, I cant explain him what to click and what not to click and I fear that he will go on clicking the default options making me pay for something that I do not want.

But the device is completely built for single user. You simply cannot share the device with your kids. There are two kinds of fears in my mind. Children will buy something which you do not want. Kids today are smart enough to hack the passwords their parents use just by looking at the keyboard. And the second fear is if the iPad has sensitive business data like your office emails or documents that a young child can inadvertently destroy. On similar note, most of the apps in iPad are single sign on and they remember your password even after you close the application. So when you are handing over the device to a family member specially a child, you need to log of from all your personal apps like Facebook, LinkedIn and other personal productivity apps like task managers etc.

There are couple of other issues which I have with most Apple iOS devices. Apple has complete disregard for other devices and integrating with them. Apple has great capability of editing photos and videos. But it can not easily connect with the cameras or camcorders simply because it insists on connecting via an Apple only kind of connector. And then you cannot pull data from your devices because there is no common file system on these devices. Similarly, you cannot bring in data/ media from any SD card or similar storage device directly. You either have to use iTunes or iCloud. Bringing is via iTunes is tedious and iCloud option is costly because you have to pay twice (upload as well as download).

iOS devices record on connectivity has been bad from the antenna-gate days and iPad is no exception to that. Every now and then it looses connectivity to wi-fi or 3G. On the other hand Apple does not tell you that you can easily use the tethering feature of your phone to connect the internet and keeps selling the higher priced 3G devices.

Where Microsoft Surface scores over iPad

1. Domain Connectivity: iPad is a shiny new gadgets that many managers and CXOs like to show off. While ordinary employees dream of getting one for themselves, iPads are really not enterprise class devices. They cannot connect to a domain network directly w/o wi-fi. Even if they connect, they cannot share files easily. You need extra accessories to create content or even to make the device stand on its own.

Microsoft Surface Pro to say the least should be able to connect to the domain as it runs the full Windows 8. It will have all the apps that you have on your desktop + you would be able to access all the files that you need.

2. Ability to act as PC : Despite being a tablet, Surface will expand to become a full blown PC as soon as you reach your desk. You should be able to connect other devices like printer, extra keyboard, mouse via the USB 3.0 connector.

3. Consistent UX with Windows Phone: Metro is a style suitable for both phone and desktop. Microsoft has worked extensively to provide design guidelines for consistent user experience. The templates to develop apps on Windows 8 are easy to use and without much effort developers should be able to embrace Metro in their apps. Metro apps are also built on solid design principals for performance and responsiveness so even while migrating the legacy apps, the upgrade will provide design level gains.

4. Single device for office as well as on the move : Don’t think I need to elaborate more.

What information Microsoft has not provided but we can guess

Lot of people are cribbing about the availability, price & battery life. There are few clues available to solve these puzzles. Microsoft has not declared the release date for Windows 8 and I believe that the Windows 8 team is responsible for the same. By declaring the availability date for Surface would put a release date to Windows 8 as well which was not possible. Internally Microsoft’s hardware division would be ready with the device and they have to be by now if they have to avoid the availability situation of Nokia Windows Phone launch. The only pending task could be to burn the OS image on the devices and pack &  dispatch the devices.

There is another clue available for battery life. The specs on Surface site says that the power consumption of the devices is 31.5 W-h and 42 W-h  respectively. Any expert in battery sizes can throw light on how long a battery of the same capacity of iPad can last on these devices.

The third point being pricing and I am sure these devices which compete with MacBook Air/ Pro would definitely be cheaper than that. No body beats Apple on price eh…

Unless something really awful happens, I am game for Microsoft Surface and I am sure many Enterprise customers would be. Microsoft is well protecting its consumer base.