Microsoft launched the Microsoft Surface today. It marks a big milestone for the company. It is the hero device for Windows 8, and it truly marks the beginning of the convergence device that combines a tablet with a computer. The question is whether it is possible to make such a device – that can fulfill the needs of both use cases without feeling like it’s lacking or handicapped due to that. Microsoft’s slogan for Windows 8 is “no compromises”, as in you can have it all. How well does Microsoft fulfill this promise?
Until recently, I was a heavy Windows user. I like Microsoft’s ecosystem, where I can easily find software that works with my hardware, and cheap replacement parts. I ran Windows 7, had an xbox, I even had a Windows Phone for a short bit. However, I tried the consumer preview of Windows 8 on my laptop, and was quickly scared at my glimpse of the future. I quickly ran to the comforting arms of Apple. Got a mac and breathed a sign of relief I wouldn’t have to be exposed to that terrible interface. I’ve realized that the problem for me was not change – I consider myself a bleeding edge tech user – but that the interface is not made for easy use with traditional laptops. It’s hard to access the off-screen menus using a traditional mouse.
However, on this surface touch screen device, the gestures make sense and are really useful. After a quick 5 minute learning curve, getting around is a breeze. A friend of mine pointed out that he felt Microsoft was trying to be ahead of the curve for once – and I think he’s right. They want to get ahead of the touchscreen on all PCs curve, dragging traditional desktop users into the tablet world of touchscreens. The question is whether all users, especially corporate users who are Microsoft’s bread and butter, want to work in that environment.
So, taking a closer look at the hardware. The Surface is a tablet type device with a neat innovative keyboard cover. The idea is that you get the best of both worlds. If you want to just use it as a true tablet- like the iPad- you can. The touchscreen was beautiful and responsive. But you can also choose to unfold the cover in front of the device, unclick the kickstand, and use it as an almost laptop. Really nice solution for those who say “You can’t be productive on an iPad”. I am among one of those people. While this doesn’t solve all my critiques, it does solve a big one. You can really use this as your all-in-one device.
Further, because this is more than a simple tablet, you get some nice touches. There is a USB port! You can plug in a mouse, or a printer, or anything else that has a USB cord. There is an SD card slot! This means you aren’t stuck with the memory size you purchase like on Apple’s tablets (and many Android ones as well). Microsoft told me they offer a 64GB card! So memory concerns that limit many from using a tablet as their sole device are eased.
Again, for me personally. I was originally looking for an all-in-one device. I find it very appealing to have one device I could always drag around and always have access to all my apps and files. I ended up realizing I couldn’t do that. An iPad is not powerful enough to replace a true computer. And a laptop was still too much to drag around casually like I do with my tablet. I can actually see myself using a Surface as an all in one device. Its thin and light enough to take with you without too much thought, while still allowing real work to be done. At least on the hardware side.
I feel largely about Windows 8 as I did about Windows Phone. I really like the Operating System designed. Its intuitive and different and nice to use. It encourages you to touch it, and gives you nice information in the live tiles. Where it breaks down is becoming almost a cliché now. The lack of apps in the Windows Universe. To many people who haven’t used a Microsoft mobile product and think of Windows as their desktop, they probably just left this page. Windows has the most software available, duh.
However, the current version of the Surface runs Windows 8 RT. The RT is a special version of Windows that only runs in the metro/modern color block touch mode. It lacks backwards compatibility with legacy “real” Windows apps. You can’t run iTunes, or Twitter, or Spotify, or any of the other typical Windows applications. This is a huge limitation.
Now Windows does have a “Windows App Store” where you can download apps made for the new Windows RT OS. However, right now there is a shortage of anything great. No Facebook, no Twitter, no Spotify, no iTunes, no Chrome. This severely limits the use of this device. (I should note, a free version of Microsoft Office IS built into every Surface, which is nice.)
With that said, undoubtably, as time goes on and more people purchase new PCs with Windows 8, developers will see a big market potential (Windows is estimated to be something like 90% of the PC market), and will release apps for it.
I think in the beginning, early adopters will be very frustrated. Over time however, this will become a non-issue. Unlike with the phones, many new PCs will sell and create a market for apps. My recommendation is to wait. These devices are great, really. But in the beginning, they will be frustrating to use. The Surface Pro will be released sometime early next year (the employees at the Microsoft Store said 90 days from this launch.) and the Pro version of Windows 8 does have backwards compatibility/desktop mode to run old traditional Windows apps. That version is going to be amazing.
The Surface is a great “one device” concept. As I said, the idea of having one device is very appealing. The Surface is great for this convergence. It doesn’t do either the laptop side perfectly, nor the tablet side perfectly. The keyboard isn’t useful enough and the screen slightly too small to be compared to a true desktop replacement. It is not quite light enough and lacks the applications to be a great tablet. However, as an all-in-one is does them all well enough that I could easily recommend it.