In the world of tablet computing there stands one king: the Apple iPad. I presume every article written about a tablet will generally start this way and say, “The Android blank blank can best the iPad in blank blank areas, but in the end the iPad is a better deal in its price range.” I believe that manufacturers have to understand one thing about the niche markets Apple creates, even though tablets are currently crawling into the mainstream market: You cannot directly compete with Apple unless you are putting an ecosystem around the product. Sure the Apple iPad is great, but I could name better tablets. However, I would not suggest buying those tablets, because other than the tablet itself you are not getting much else. Apple is the market leader because of the fact that their ecosystem provides end-to-end solutions for just about everything. Apple is the forerunner of innovative software solutions and has been doing a great job in the consumer space so far.
What does all this have to do with Microsoft’s new tablet, the Surface RT and Pro? Well, Microsoft is the only other company that can offer the ‘total package’ Apple users blather about, and I believe it can do it far better.
On the hardware front, I have not seen anything as refined in both look and capability in the tablet space. The Surface sports a liquid molded magnesium casing which includes a single USB and micro-SD slot 3.5 mm audio jack, along with very interesting covers called the ‘Touch Cover’ and ‘Type Cover.’ Both of these covers allow for typing on either a touch keyboard or mechanical keyboard, respectively. The display is a 10.6 inch, 1366×768 resolution, 208 PPI screen with Microsoft’s Clear Type HD technology. It has two cameras – one on the back and one on the front (with an unknown megapixel count). The back most likely will be at least 720p. The CPU/GPU combination on the RT edition encompasses an ARM CPU/GPU, probably a Nvidia SOC, while the Pro edition sports an Intel i5 CPU probably coupled with the integrated Intel HD4000 graphics processor (which is strong enough to run most modern games). There is no word on the actual battery life of the tablet, but the RT version packs a 31.5 Wh battery while the Pro carries a 42 Wh battery. In comparison, the new iPad has a 42 Wh battery which lasts about 10 hours – but then again it is not running a more power-hungry Intel core.
An extremely interesting feature, that I never thought to imagine on a tablet, was the addition of a built-in kickstand for hands-free use. Another interesting feature is having effective active cooling in a 13.5 mm thin device (only the Pro version has active cooling, though). I feel that the quality and overall design of the Surface surpasses anything I have seen from both Apple or Android manufactures and am looking forward to other PC OEM’s crack at crafting a Windows tablet.
Apple takes a simplistic approach to its mobile OS, iOS. Each device you receive, whether it’s an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad, offers no surprises since they’re all the same for the most part. With the recent upgrade to iOS 6 (to modernize the aging OS) Apple adds even more to its mobile OS. iOS offers many applications and utilities such as iCloud, FaceTime, Siri, iMessage, Multitasking, App Store, and other countless features to make it the most polished mobile operating system on the market.
When the Surface hits shelves, Microsoft will have to do a bit of product differentiation, because the Microsoft Surface RT and Pro are quite diverse on the OS front. To say the least, the Surface RT has a mobile OS that’s a watered down version of Windows 8. Comparing it to the Windows Phone 8 OS will probably give most users an understanding of what they would get if they chose this flavor tablet. The Microsoft Surface Pro is where everything gets thrown out the window. Its operating system is Windows 8, no limitations – just 32-bits of full-featured-desktop-applications Windows. Full-blown Windows in the tablet space is a game changer. Sure, you also have Android OS, but they are still years away from offering an ecosystem as sophisticated as Apple or Windows, and are still very much a consumer-only mobile OS.
This category usually goes to Apple, hands down. Its ecosystem of apps ranges from gaming to business, which enables the iPad to be used in both personal and professional settings. From an RT perspective, the Windows Store is relatively new and does not have nearly as many apps or developers developing on the platform. The same cannot be said about the Microsoft Surface Pro, however. I would have to say that the Pro blows the Apple iPad out of the water when it comes to apps/applications. Pretty much every program a consumer has on their Microsoft computer will be able to run on the Pro tablet such as Photoshop, MS Office, and yes, even retail computer games. The implications are astounding; you can literally bring a full featured tablet sized PC with you where ever you go. You can emulate thousands of games; play anything you’d like in the palm of your hands. The best part for Microsoft is that there isn’t an app for that – they are the only ones who can offer that experience.
The Microsoft Surface is the tablet to get in the coming months. I am sure that the revision of the Apple iPad will be great and will offer great things, but it will not come close to what the Microsoft Surface Pro can and will offer. The price of the Microsoft RT edition is pegged at $200; which, given its capabilities, makes sense. The Pro edition is said to range up to $1000. I know that sounds like a lot, but given its hardware and software, it’s worth every penny, and is much more cost effective than the $500-600 iPad, which is limited by its ARM CPU to only apps rather than full blown applications. It’s exciting to see productivity move back into the mobile scope, with no more need for compromise.