Microsoft Boxes Apple’s Ears With Surface Tablet

You really don’t get a sense of just how limited the iPad is until you actually explore the Surfacetablet that Microsoft released last week. It is like the designers sat down over beers and argued over everysingle shortcoming they found in the iPad and then built into Surface just the right features to make the iPad look inadequate.

It is as if they put their decade of frustration over Apple kicking their butts with the iPod, iPhone and iPad into one vengeful response — and that offering is the Surface tablet. What I think will make this response even more painful is that Apple just launched its iPad mini at a price that’s 60 percent higher than the competition, and I doubt that will turn out well. So the new Microsoft tablet could actually significantly outsell the new less-expensive iPad mini in its debut quarter, and Microsoft has never done that to aniProduct.

My product of the week has to be the Microsoft Surface tablet — an offering that turned out far better thanany of us expected.

Designed From the Inside Out

One sentence spoken during the launch of the Surface tablet really got my attention and made it clear that we hadn’t been looking at the Surface tablet properly. You see, Apple designs very uniquely in the technology market — well, in any market other than art, really. It designs from the outside in.

This creates beautiful products but also massive problems, because to fit all of the technology into the tiny case, it often has to make huge tradeoffs — sacrificing advanced radios, for example, or putting antennas in the wrong place, or creating a frame that won’t protect the screen adequately. Thus has resulted in limited ports, lack of memory slots, and what has proven to be a rather fragile product family, given how much money the firms that specialize in fixing iPads seem to make.

By going the more traditional design route, Microsoft has built a tablet that has more ports (USB andHD out), is more balanced, is sturdier, has a memory slot, and has a screen aspect ratio that not onlymatches media but is more consistent with current-generation laptops.

Yes, something we really didn’t notice is that the iPad uses the old near-square laptop screen aspect ratio that has been obsolete on all but the cheapest notebooks for years.

Microsoft was also able to add a fast-charge battery that can charge almost fully in two hours.

Keyboard Cover

This is one of the things that I think drove Bill Gates nuts: Back in 2007, while they both shared the stage, Steve Jobs basically called Bill stupid for suggesting tablets would be the future of computing. Jobs argued that you’d pretty much have to be stupid to think people would give up a keyboard.

So, the iPad doesn’t have an integrated keyboard option, but the Surface tablet does. In fact, it looks like Microsoft took the signature magnetic cover that Apple launched with the iPad and made it useful.

The irony doesn’t end here, because Tim Cook, Apple’s current CEO, has been comparing the Surface tablet-plus-keyboard to the ugly offspring of a refrigerator and toaster. This kind of suggests that he thinks Jobs was stupid, and I think that is why this one option likely put a huge grin on Bill Gates’ face.

The Kickstand

Now I don’t get why every tablet doesn’t have one of these. If you want to share a video, someone hasto hold up the damn iPad. If you want to use a wireless keyboard, you have to have a stand — and oftentouching the damn iPad will cause it to tip over. We’ve had kickstands on motorcycles and bicycles fordecades, and we’ve even had them on some smartphones. Why was this so hard to figure out?

Well, this takes us back to design; Apple didn’t want to mar the perfect back of its product, eventhough you really don’t look at the back that often.

Yep — the Surface Tablet has a kickstand.

Cloud Services and Productivity

The only thing that really makes iCloud look good is the horrid MobleMe service that it replaced.Compared to MobleMe, iCloud is brilliant. However, it also showcases that cloud services aren’t Apple’s forte.

Microsoft has wrapped Surface (and all of the Windows tablets) with a broad set of services — fromSkype to SkyDrive — that are designed to showcase its cloud competency. Integration with Exchange issuperior, but so is integration with Gmail and other third-party mail services that work even when youaren’t connected.

The other area that Apple struggles with is productivity. In fact, Office is still the leading productivityapp on Macs, but it doesn’t run on iPads. Strangely enough, the best productivity pack I’ve ever tried onan iPad is Office 365, which you can get to through the iPad browser.

Office comes packaged with the Surface tablet.

Wrapping Up: The Anti-iPad

There is an old saying about Microsoft needing three tries to get something right. The Zune launched asa brown turd (the signature color). The Kin phone was better looking, but still a really bad failed idea, and then we got the Surface tablet, and it’s surprisingly impressive.

What is more interesting is that it makes the iPad — even the brand new iPad 4 — look incomplete and just a tad out of date. Now, if Microsoft can only fund marketing adequately, it will have a winner here.

Product of the Week: Microsoft Surface Tablet

Product of the Week

What I think is funny about the battle to come between the iPad 4 and the first Surface tablet is that theiPad really pointed the way. So many people I knew really wanted to get rid of their laptops and usethe iPad instead but then found it wanting, and most are back to using laptops most of the time.

Apple created the need but didn’t fill it, and I don’t think it was because it couldn’t — it was because itwanted people to buy a MacBook and an iPad.

Microsoft's SurfaceRT Tablet

Microsoft’s Surface RT Tablet

So, with the Surface tablet, Microsoft stepped in and fixed a problem Apple didn’t want fixed but that still needed to be addressed. Seeing this opportunity and going after it, rather than just trying to create an iPad clone, is the kind of creative strategic move that founded Microsoft and that we haven’t seen from the company often in the last few decades.

You don’t beat a company like Apple by trying to build a better Apple product; you beat it by doing abetter job of meeting customer needs than it does, and by forcing it to fight on your terms. This iswhat Microsoft is attempting with Surface. It is not a sure win, but it is a vastly more powerful attemptthan anything it’s tried since launching Windows.

Because the Microsoft Surface tablet showcases a Microsoft much closer to the dynamic, strategiccompany I first knew, it is my product of the week.

Rob Enderle

Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.


  • I think the big thing that many reviews are glossing over. YOU CAN PRINT. I can hook up a Windows RT tablet to a printer and print. So can I be checking my bank statements or seeing a coupon and then print.

    I can hook up a scanner and scan. I can use Photoshop (with a Windows 8 tablet). I can use a video editor.

    One of my friends got the Surface because he wanted to print. He has both an iPad 2 and a BlackBerry Playbook. He has to carry them around with his laptop. He said he’d dump his laptop if the tablets could print (he doesn’t really need a laptop as his office PC and his desktop PC at home serve that function).

    • The problem is Apple’s marketing suggests it can replace your laptop. Which it cannot. The surface can solve the problem by providing the functionality of the iPad but the ability to do much more. What wrong with that? A nicer more capable device for less money.

      Also, I don’t know what cave you have been living in, but I have had a tablet that runs Adobe Master Collection and connects to two displays for over 2 years now. It is called the Asus Eee Slate Ep121; i5 processor, 4 gigs of ram, 12.1 inch screen, 2 usb ports, headphone jack, stylus, kickstand and hdmi out. There are actually about 20 Windows tablets out right now that are even better than it. As a programmer, I use it with many processes going at once on multiple monitors.

      • It’s the innovator’s dilemma. Bottom line, it is impractical for the masses to have so many devices (desktops, laptops, tablets, and smart phones). There is a basic economic advantage to being able to eliminate one or more, which is why many people today don’t even buy desktops even though desktops have advantages over laptops. The same is true and will be true of tablets vs. laptops. It’s not practical to have both and carry both with you, of course eliminating one means cutting into your market so companies like Apple don’t want to do that, but it will inevitably happen and for the vast majority of people it won’t take the conditions you mention such as the ability to plug into multiple monitors, etc. Evidently you aren’t very mobile or your criteria would be quite different. I’m excited about Surface like devices because it provides the portability of a tablet with the functionality of a laptop and that’s a winning combination when it happens. The only problem is so far I haven’t seen it demonstrate the functionality of the laptop so I’m waiting.

        As an aside about putting a bloated OS on a simple device I assume you’re criticizing Apple for the 2.5 GB iOS 6 install then (http://www.gottabemobile.com/2012/09/19/ios-6-upgrade-difficult-for-16gb-iphone-and-ipad-owners/)?

          • *** IOS 6.0 is only 760 MB … not 2GB

            The ASUS Slate is not a simple, easy, "instant on" product that the iPad is. Have you ever used an iPad?

            I’m familiar with that ASUS tablet it’s slooooow, and can barely handle the Microsoft OS. I don’t need 2 GB of OS to load before I can use the computer.

            There is a simplicity to just switching on an iPad and running the app I want to run… long before Windows can finish booting. I don’t want a registry, DLL’s, INI’s or any of that fattness that makes Windows a processor hog, and leave’s me wanting to make a cup of coffee while I’m waiting for it to boot.

            I still have a machine with a quad core processor, 16 GB’s ram and a 1 TB HDD and another 1 GB video card, running Windows 7 on two 23" monitors, and it will smoke any tablet, and I’m happy to use it to be creative. I would never use Kindle on it unless I was using a ebook for a reference.

            I also have a Macbook Pro laptop for when I travel and need to write, or do some other creative function or test some of my Web ideas, other wise all I carry is an iPad.

            But the iPad was never meant to fully replace a laptop, "AT THIS TIME." That is an assumption lots of people that have never used an iPad made.

            An iPad is a consumption device. Until tablets use a smoother OS, IMO, I don’t want the tablet to replace my laptop. Its just not the same device IMO.

          • I don’t think any ads did that, folks just wanted to and found they generally couldn’t. Apple positioned the product properly for what it was (a big iPod touch), people seemed to want more.

          • iOS 6 is 760 MB it requires 2.5 GB to download and install. Which makes sense if you think about it. 1/2 to download and 1/2 to install 760 MB

  • If the new Microsoft surface is trying to be a smaller laptop, which is how you make it sound, then I AM not interested. I got an iPad several months ago because my Windows laptops were simply irritating. Not only was I happy with it, it changed the way I look at computers for everyday use. If I want to do traditional applications like word processing, spreadsheets, development, I use my iMac. I hope they remembered to put a reboot button on the new Microsoft surface.

  • I’m not sure that many people want to do much productivity on tablets. I think part of the proof of that is how well the ios and android devices have done. Not to say that there isn’t a market for that, but I think that those individuals are more likely to get a powerful notebook if they want to be mobile. Furthermore, the feedback that I have encountered thus far has been pretty negative about Win 8, especially for power users.

    I’m glad though that microsoft is entering the competition, because it will only serve to improve products for consumers and drive down prices.

    The kickstand seems like a good idea and you were spot on about the keyboards for iPads. If I owned an iPad, there’s no way i’m using a keyboard. To me the whole point of the touchscreen is so that I don’t need one. Granted I wouldn’t be using it for productivity.

    I noticed that you mentioned aspect ratio as a plus for the surface. I think though that the newer iPads have the advantage screen-wise because of superior resolution.

    I’m curious, did you type this article on your surface?

  • The problem with people like you is that you think a tablet should do everything a laptop does or its worthless.

    The iPad is not a creative device like a laptop or desktop it is a consumption device, email, web browsing, reading, watching movies, etc. I don’t want to type letters, create spreadsheets or develop presentations on my iPad or any other tablet.

    Until a tablet has enough power to run the Adobe Master Collection and it has a docking station that can run 2 or more monitors, I will have up to three devices a tablet, a laptop and a desktop.

    When I AM in consumption mode I like to use a tablet, but when I want to create like writing a letter or document, creating a web page, create a spreadsheet, or using Photoshop I want a full size keyboard and multiple monitors.

    I don’t think Microsoft did anything but what they usually do, they loaded big fat OS on a simple device.

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