A Different Perspective

A week ago, I sat in an auditorium and listened to Steve Sinofsky talk about the tablet market. He talked about how the iPad was a great device, and a logical extension of the iPhone. Give iOS a bigger screen and all of the sudden you could do some things better on this new device. He talked about Android tablets, and Google’s learning process there, going from a phone OS on a tablet to eventually building Holo and creating a tablet-specific experience. He had nothing but good things to say about both competitors. I couldn’t tell just how sincere he was being, I don’t know Mr. Sinofsky all that well, but his thoughts were genuine, his analysis spot-on. Both Apple and Google tablets were good, in their own ways. What Steve said next didn’t really resonate with me until I had spent a few days with Surface. He called Surface and Windows RT Microsoft’s “perspective” on tablets. I don’t know if he even specifically called it a tablet, what stuck out was his emphasis on perspective.

I then listened to Panos Panay, GM of Microsoft’s Surface division, talk about wanting to control the messaging around Surface. He talked about how Microsoft’s June 18th event was scheduled because Surface was about to hit a point in its production where he could no longer guarantee there wouldn’t be substantial leaks about what the product actually was. He talked about the strict usage and testing guidelines everyone at Microsoft was forced to adhere to, again to avoid major leaks. He didn’t want Surface to be judged immediately and cast aside on someone else’s terms, because of some leak. Panos Panay wanted Microsoft to be the ones to bring Surface to market. Sure some rumors leaked about it before the June 18th event. A couple of weeks earlier, while I was in Taiwan, I even heard the local OEMs complaining about it (a lot of the “surprised” public outrage by Taiwanese OEMs was mostly politics). But for the most part, we didn’t know what Surface looked like and we had no concept of its design goals. Touch and Type Cover were both well guarded secrets.

I started off by recounting both of these stories for a reason. After using Microsoft’s Surface for the past week I can say that I honestly get it. This isn’t an iPad competitor, nor is it an Android tablet competitor. It truly is something different. A unique perspective, not necessarily the right one, but a different one that will definitely resonate well with some (not all) users. After the past week I also understand Panos Panay’s desire for secrecy. From a distance, without using one, Surface is easy to judge. It’s a Windows tablet that doesn’t run most Windows applications, that doesn’t have most of the same new mobile apps that iOS and Android have, and it’s not priced aggressively enough to make those facts disappear. After living with Surface however, I understand the appeal. It’s worth a discussion, perhaps even consideration as it does some things better than any tablet on the market, and it does others worse. Like all tablets (or smartphones even), there is no perfect platform, there are simply combinations of features and tradeoffs that resonate better with some users more than others. There are different perspectives.

Surface is Microsoft’s perspective. With the exception of some technical display discussion, Microsoft hardly mentioned the iPad in our Surface briefing. And when it did, it did so in a positive light. Microsoft isn’t delusional, the iPad is clearly a very well executed tablet. At the same time it believes there’s room for something else.

Surface: Simply Put
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  • kyuu - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    Agreed, I'd like some clarification on this as well. I certainly hope it's a simple micro-HDMI that can be used with off-the-shelf adapters. Reply
  • ervinshiznit - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    Anand,

    You mention that you would have liked to have seen the surface with x86. Is Windows RT only compatible with ARM or does it support x86 also? I realize it's just a compilation issue but I was under the impression that only ARM builds of Windows RT would ever be released by Microsoft.
    Reply
  • MadMan007 - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    Don't connect the hardware branding name 'Surface' and software. You are correct that WinRT=ARM only. But there will be Microsoft Surface devices using x86 hardware running full Windows 8.

    Will there be a budget Atom-based x86 Surface, in the same form factor as this one? I'm not sure off the top of my head, but that's probably what Anand meant.
    Reply
  • ervinshiznit - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    There have only been plans announced for the Surface Pro, which would include a Core i5 and run full Windows 8.

    I bring up the Windows RT=ARM only because Anand brought up the performance issue in the context of MS Office, and he said that he would have liked to see an Atom in the Surface instead of this ARM core. But then it wouldn't be able to run RT. And that would also mean no free Office 2013 since it's not included in full Windows 8
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    Whether or not to include Office is basically arbitrary. Microsoft could include it with Surface Pro, as it's entirely up to them..

    The point to take home is not that RT doesn't run on Atom, but rather that Office on Surface is currently unusually sluggish. A SoC with better performance in lightly threaded situations (such as the Atom) would handle Office better based on what we're seeing.
    Reply
  • Kevin G - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Reading through this review and others seems to point the problem at Office being sluggish and not necessarily the Tegra 3. Even on the PC side where far higher performing hardware exists, Office doesn't give the impression of a speed champion. I'd love to see Office compared on the Surface, Surface Pro and a decent laptop. Yeah, the deck would stacked in favor of the laptop winning but it'd be a good reference point for users as well as reviewing the idea of usability on each device. For example, I can see the utility of viewing and making a quick and simple change to an Excel spread sheet on a tablet but for heavy Excel use restricted to an on screen touch keyboard would likely result in levels of frustration that'd have me snapping the tablet in two. Reply
  • kyuu - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    That's the reason for the Touch/Type Covers... Reply
  • ervinshiznit - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    Anand,

    You say

    Application launch times are another thing entirely. Nearly every application I launched took longer than I would’ve liked on Surface. I can’t tell if this is a hardware issue or a software optimization problem, but application launches on Surface/Windows RT clearly take more time than on an iPad. I timed a few just to put this in perspective:

    And after the : I expected a chart or something but there's nothing there.
    Reply
  • JumpingJack - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    I asked the same question, Ryan said they were overwhelmed with the iPad announcement, the 8350 launch, and his... He said Anand will fill in he info a bit later. Reply
  • michal1980 - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    apple products didn't get short changed reviews... I wonder why. Reply

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