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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  • sungman - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    I'm sorry but could you test if a usb-ethernet cable would work on the surface RT? Reply
  • mike55 - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Do you know if the Surface supports the Logitech Unifying Receiver? It would be neat to have your own mouse and keyboard to use with it at home.

    Also noticed some missing info in the article: "The power cable is nice and long at around m."
    Reply
  • xype - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    How does using Office actually feel? What about other apps? Photos, music, ebooks, magazines?

    It would have been very surprising if Microsoft made a half assed attempt with the hardware, but aside from slow-starting apps I still have no idea if Surface can actually replace my iPad for the stuff I use it for. Which makes this a purely hardware review and not that practical if we consider tablets appliances. Is a software review forthcoming?
    Reply
  • kyuu - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    They were supposed to follow up with a WinRT review, which I assume would also encompass the included Office software. However, that review seems to be a tad past due... Reply
  • beginner99 - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    I'm posting this before having read the review. From the stuff I have already seen and heard about this, I think it makes sense. IMHO you just need a keyboard to make browsing usable and enjoyable. So the keyboard + the fact that it comes with the stand per default (I assume this) seems to me the best solution so far for a tablet. However question is if software (OS) and the lack of it (Apps) plus the expected mediocre performance of ARM SOC kill the experience. Reply
  • sandineyes - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    On the Battery Life page (fourth paragraph) you write:
    "The power cable is nice and long at around m."
    I think you forgot to add in exactly how my meters it is.
    Reply
  • sandineyes - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    "exactly how *many*". It happens to everyone I suppose. Reply
  • Netscorer - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    I don't know if it's all that careful marketing presentation that Microsoft forced all the reviewers to go through prior to getting their hands on the Surface or Anand's respect for the company, but this review sometimes reads like it was written by Microsoft insider, looking to smooth all the rough edges and insert as much marketing mambo jumbo that means squat to the consumers but sounds good when you read it.
    As a result we read about all the negatives but somehow their don't seem like that much of a deal. Low res screen - no problem, keyboard that you can't actually use for any large typing - not a big deal, 1080p out not working - probably just a glitch, no apps in the marketplace and desktop mode that know one needs in the tablet - hey, but isn't it cool that you can open CMD on the tablet! The whole review goes in very similar rosy painted colors.
    But let's just try to answer one simple question - what is the audience that Microsoft was targeting with their 'different perspective' of a tablet? It certainly ain't corporate customers who can not even apply AD-based security rules with Windows 8 RT and can't even dream of running any x86 based programs.
    It's not consumers either, with that pathetic attempt at camera, speakers that barely puke a sound or total lack of any (ANY!) apps in the Microsoft marketplace.
    So who were they (Microsoft) targeting with Windows 8 RT?
    Reply
  • kultigin - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Read his last sentence carefully with a neutral perspective:

    If you've wanted a tablet that could really bridge the content consumption and productivity device, Surface is it.

    Surface comes with a keyboard that Anand has written this whole review. And it runs Office productivity suite, it will quickly dominate enterprise application market. It will work extremely well with enterprises deploying MS solutions. You may not be from that target but it shouldnt cause you to not to understand what market it is targeting.
    Reply
  • xype - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    "Productivity device" _in theory_. It reads like something out of a Microsoft brochure. It would be great if someone wrote a review with some impressions of how it actually feels to spend half a day with Office RT—because that’s what productivity "on the go", as tablets promise, would be.

    Just the fact that it _is_ running Office is not saying anything about that.
    Reply

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