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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  • Krysto - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    So their (real) excuse for using a lower resolution is that they didn't use a more powerful chip? Ok, but the problem remains that they're using a chip that can go in $200 tablets as well, a lower resolution display, and also a much smaller battery than the iPad, and yet it still costs $500.

    The extra storage is irrelevant, since they need that for cover for the greater size of Windows and Office, and they shouldn't make the user pay for it. Also how do they explain the fact that Google will use a much more powerful chip (Exynos 5 Dual) and a much higher resolution (2560x1600) in their upcoming Nexus 10 tablet, and yet will still cost $500 or less?
    Reply
  • phexac - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Yeah the more comments like this I read, the more I realize that I was too generous in my post below. Surface seems destined to be a crap release and Anand did a terrible job at presenting an honest review of it. Reply
  • shompa - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Is WindowsRT sandboxed?
    If the OS is sandboxed: how do apps access the microSD slot?

    I have seen many Windows Phone/Androids that have to reformat the system and reinstall everything to get the apps to "see" the microSD.

    Can you install apps to the microSD?
    Reply
  • scorpian007 - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    You can't install apps to the microSD card, it's only for media (photos, videos, music). Reply
  • phexac - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    This really seems to me like a tablety take on the netbook, and those turned out to be underpowered pieces of crap. MS looks to be going down the same road with an OS that tries to be like a desktop OS, but that can't really run all the OS programs. When it tries to run Office, it starts choking.

    We have no retina display.

    App launch times are horrid for a tablet.

    I really don't see the point of this device. If I am going to type or actually produce something, I am going to do iton my macbook air. If I want a tablet, I really don't care about a crappy attachable keyboard for $130+. If you say well I want a cheap laptop, well then you are back to the netbook argument, except the Surface is 2x or more the price, in the same price range as most fully-featured laptops, except it actually doesn't even have a fully functional desktop OS. This is a device typical of Microsoft, which never seems to think about how people will use the device and what they will want to use it for. They come up with a device that tries to straddle the fence on everything, and as a result ends up doing everything shitty (and with a shit screen, given the retina display and other displays following it being out there). Reading this review leads me to see complete and utter failure for MS in this device. And this is the reason they are making Windows 8 into an abomination? Pretty sad honestly, though not really unexpected.
    Reply
  • N4g4rok - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    "App launch times are horrid for a tablet."

    There weren't any numbers relating to App launch time. He made a statement about them being a little longer than he expected. How does that equate to 'horrid'?
    Reply
  • andrewaggb - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    he also said switching once they are 'open' is really fast, so this might be ok. Reply
  • TheBasicMind - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    I think Microsoft really have something. Though I did wince reading you tried to adjust trackpad scrolling by resorting to the registry. I see the registry and access to it as part of a MS mindset that is not about openness or any positive philosophy (like LINUX), but instead about fear of having missed something. It opens up an untestable number of configurations a world of potential system problems and pain. I've not missed it in any way shape or form since moving my computing away from MS. And it is part if a computing past I have actively and willingly left behind. This is the company where still in Word, after several generations of releases, if you leave the document map open while editing cross references, you are guaranteed to have a badly corrupt document within 2 hours of working on it (GUARANTEED). How many combined years of user pain does that represent?.The only explanation for this fundamental lack of quality control is that it became like a messy room, which when mess was left long enough, just became a part of the background (I did abandon after Vista and have heard from many sources Windows 7 was a big improvement). I know other OS's have their problems (though in my experience, nothing like MS's offerings) I'm sure Surface is different (it has to be for the sake of MS). I think it may well hit the right spots for me. However over the years, the MS brand has become a kind if giant anti-brand for me and MS have to overcome that as well. They have a very high mountain to climb. So for me it will be surface 2, if and only if Surface 1 is a roaring success. Reply
  • Jxpto - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    "Switching between applications is faster on Surface/Windows RT than any competing mobile platform. There’s no double tapping of anything, no pressing and holding, just an edge gesture swipe like you’re flipping through pages of a virtual book".

    That's not accurate at all... You don't even need to move your hand to the edge to switch between apps in the iPad. It's just a 4 finger gesture... And also just a four finger gesture to bring the task switcher... Or a not her gesture to go to the home screen. So in what is the Surface better regarding this??
    Reply
  • turnipmaster - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Firstly, out of 32GB, the OS require at least 10GB+, so we know that this is no lightweight solution.
    The load times seem outrageous, my trusty Lumia 710, after a reboot, loads the Nokia maps app in ~2 seconds, this on an old Arm A8 based SoC. My Nexus 7, has the same Tegra 3 as the Surface as is damn sight faster at opening apps.

    The wisdom of a psuedo facsimile of Windows 8, that can't run legacy / x86 apps yet obviously brings additional performance demands over a mobile focused OS, like WP8 is lost on me. If MS knew this, why didn't it chose a higher spec SoC, they haven't even used the fastest Tegra 3, the T33 would have been a nice boost over a regular Tegra 3.

    I personally think WP8 could have been tweaked to be awesome on the surface, but Microsoft intended to use it to push their weird vision of Windows 8 RT. It is a shame that performance detracts from a cool device with a lot of potential, especially as Apple has blind-sided them, with a big boost to the iPad's performance with the A6X.
    Reply

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