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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  • Shadowmaster625 - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Doesnt it bother you that simply typing a vanilla document in Office uses so much cpu power. You think they are ever going to fix that? What happens when you give it access to much more cpu resources? Will it simply consume it all? Reply
  • andrewaggb - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Both Anand and Vivek said it keeps up though, which is the main thing I think. And these are guys who type for a living. Really it drives home that anything slower than tegra 3 wouldn't cut it and tegra 3 is barely fast enough.

    As for what happens when you give it more cpu, how does word run on your current desktop? On my first gen core i7 laptop (dual core), I can get word up to 4% cpu in task mgr by key bashing.

    I'd be very interested in seeing what battery life and video performance an atom based tablet gets.
    Reply
  • robmuld - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    The choice of 16:9 for the display just tells me Microsoft will never get it Reply
  • N4g4rok - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Have you looked at the Pro version spec sheet? Reply
  • WP7Mango - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Actually, Microsoft DO get it. There are 3 reasons why 16:9 is preferable -

    1. It allows for the Windows 8 / RT multitasking feature - two apps snapped side by side, with one app taking up a thin column whilst the other app taking up a larger portion. These can be swapped round just by dragging the seperator between them. Even the desktop can be snapped with a metro app this way. It's an elegant solution to multitasking on a tablet, and a feature that the iPad doesn't have.

    2. It's the ideal size for watching movies whilst minimising black borders.

    3. The extra horizonal screen space gives you more flexibility in terms of app UI capabilities.
    Reply
  • ET - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    I think it's a pity that Microsoft doesn't allow running .NET apps on the desktop interface. That would have made Window RT comparable to Windows 8 and allowed using the Surface as a full PC, with a decent choice of software already available. Reply
  • jamawass - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Interesting review. Does the usb port support cameras? Can pictures be transferred from a camera to the surface as on a desktop? Reply
  • WP7Mango - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Yes, the USB port does support cameras. Yes, pictures can be transferred from a camera to the Surface just like you can on a desktop PC. Reply
  • karasaj - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    I don't know if you're still answering questions Anand (or any staff) but do you think Surface RT would suffice for a university student who just needs to rapidly type on Microsoft office for ~50 minutes without it feeling sluggish at all? That and streaming netflix are probably all that I need to do with Surface, if I can do that, then I'd pay for surface over an ultrabook (i.e. vizio ct14-a0) for the portability and battery life. Reply
  • B3an - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    I think Surface would be the best option for that kind of stuff. It's perfectly suited for it. My brother is at uni and wants the same kind of thing, and he's getting a Surface. Reply

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