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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  • Dev69 - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    The current Surface RT price point \functionality exemplifies the Microsoft products stereotype of not purchasing the first version.

    Let the early adopters beware :)
    Reply
  • frabber - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    too expensive, unless we can see, unlike Apple, price falling after some months, Reply
  • samiur666 - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Anand so is it possible to connect the tablet to a TV and stream a movie from netflix or a thumbdrive? I find myself often doing doing with my ASUS Transformer and I see you mentioned some issues with HDMI output but I wasnt sure.

    Thanks
    Reply
  • WP7Mango - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    I'm not Anand but I can answer the question -

    The answer is yes! You can do it via HDMI or wirelessly via DLNA. I think the HDMI issue might be a sync thing, because HDMI output to my Samsung 1080p TV works perfectly.
    Reply
  • agentbb007 - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    This was a really great review thank you Anand! The editors at cnet need to learn a thing or two from you. I got so upset after reading another praise Apple bash MS article on their site I have sworn I will never type that URL in my browser again. Instead I will come to your site to get a true non-biased review of hardware. Reply
  • OldAndBusted - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    "Through two seemingly simple additions to the design (but incredibly complex to actually develop and implement), Microsoft took a tablet and turned it into something much more. "

    It's funny, but those are the exact two features that I care the least about. I don't have one at present, but when I had an iPad, I used it as originally demonstrated by Steve Jobs - in my easy chair in front of my TV. I can't imagine using a tablet as a desktop computer, so the kickstand and keyboard cover just come across as silly to me. Without the kickstand, could Microsoft have made the Surface a millimeter or so thinner?

    That said, I still find myself interested in the Surface. I do wish though, that Microsoft would allow third-parties to skin that start screen, it's ugly. It may work brilliantly, but aesthetically, it's an eyesore. Bright primary colors, monochrome icons, tiny, tiny typeface on the tiles. It's a mess. And the tiles/icons for Office are even crazier. Yes, they've at least added color to the icon within the tile, but the icon is tiny. With the tiny typeface. Just a horrible interface.

    And yet. I think I still want one.
    Reply
  • kyuu - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Can't disagree more. Especially compared to the ugliness of iOS's chiclet app icons on a grid.

    WinRT/8 is definitely the best looking of all the touch-based OSes by far. The last thing MSFT should do is allow OEMs to start screwing with the UI (and introduce performance issues as OEM skinning and bloatware always does).
    Reply
  • bronopoly - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    This may seem like a silly question, but can I plug the surface into my pc via the surface's USB port? I really wouldn't like transferring something to a usb drive and then transferring it to the surface (even though I can't even do that on my iPad). Reply
  • lhotdeals - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    I have always been a fan of Anandtech reviews, this one on one of the most anticipated tablet does not disappoint. This is how reviews are supposed to be done rather than some filled with subjective judgements and unfounded claims. Reply
  • bd1 - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    is visual studio available for RT ? Reply

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