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 - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Apple reviews came a week or more after the product was released, not pre-release. Also, they're doing a separate review of WinRT. Unlike Apple, the OS and hardware do not go hand-in-hand (i.e. there are OEMs), so reviewing the hardware and OS separately makes sense. Reply
  • amdwilliam1985 - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    Where is the thumbs up button when you needed one.

    It's been a while since I've enjoy Anand's writing(too much Apple lately). Read every single word in this great article. My emotion was like a roller coaster reading through the pages. I was sure I'm going to get one at the beginning of the article. And then reading about the "good enough" screen, the power/battery connector, the HDMI port, I was like, maybe next generation. Then moving on with software integration and office, I have my hopes up again. Finally seeing Atom performance preview and the upcoming core x86, I'm definitely holding my horse/breath.

    Thanks again for an hour of great reading. I'm in NYC, so I'm planning on seeing the surface on the launch day/evening with my girlfriend.
    Reply
  • thomas-hrb - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    I wonder what the maximum size MicroSD card the surface can handle. 32/64 GB is a bit small for a device that I would like to replace my laptop with. But if it could take a 64GB MicroSD like http://au.sandisk.com/products/mobile-memory-produ... then that resolves my issues.

    Although I intend to hang on for the pro version, as I have a lot oc x86 software I would like to run.
    Reply
  • Chris-Simmons - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    All Surfaces use microSDXC so they can take up to 2TB as per the microSDXC spec. I believe the largest microSDXC card available currently is 128GB but that is only for commercial customers, 64GB is the largest for retail. We are just waiting on larger cards to become available. Reply
  • jibz - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    Quick question I didn't see answered in the review: how easy is it to use as a multi user device? One thing that has always bothered me with an iPad or any other tablet is that I can't have different accounts for different family members. So if I install GTA, it'll be available for the kids, I don't have my own bookmarks in my browser, etc. How is Surface/Win RT doing from that point of view? Reply
  • WP7Mango - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    I can give you a detailed answer...

    Firstly, setting up for multiple users is very easy. The main user is the administrator and the administrator can add further users in the Settings page. Once a user is added, then it's just a case of that new user logging in using either a password, a PIN, or a picture password.

    Each user has their own settings, their own apps, their own Start screen layout and background image, their own email accounts, their own contacts in the People hub, their own social network accounts, their own app data, their own bookmarks, etc etc. When one user installs an app, if another user subsequently wants to install the same app then it doesn't get downloaded again - instead, new seperate app settings are created for the new user. So if you are playing a game for example, then your saved games will be seperate from another user's saved games. If you delete a user, only their data is deleted and yours remains intact.

    Bottom line is that multi-user works very well.
    Reply
  • kyuu - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Thanks for the detailed answer on that! Reply
  • karasaj - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    You mentioned that typing speedily on Surface could bring up some heavy CPU usage: do you think that this really hampers Surface's user experience (would it be an issue) or is it merely an example of MS office 2013 nearly taxing Tegra to its limits?

    I.E. when typing speedily did CPU usage go up but it remained smooth, or was there a noticeable slowdown? The only things I can imagine doing with Surface are MS office, netflix (HD video), and youtube/IE. Do you think any of those feel too slow/laggy to be detrimental?
    Reply
  • VivekGowri - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    Based on my experience with the VivoTab RT (nearly identical hardware/software - Tegra 3 + Windows RT) it's the latter - I saw weirdly high CPU utilization, but no typing lag. Anand mentioned getting some with the Surface, but nothing too drastic if I remember right. Reply
  • karasaj - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    Fantastic. I'm not too worried about high cpu usage as long as there's no lag, although it does seem like that establishes a "lower limit" for RT hardware. Do you think this high cpu usage would have a worse effect on battery life than say the wifi browsing battery life test for example? (I feel like no, but cpu usage shouldn't be too too high there) Reply

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