Will the Microsoft Surface tablet unseat the iPad?

by Frank 28. October 2012 06:00

I run a software company called Knowledgeone Corporation that produces a content management system called RecFind 6. We need to be on top of what is happening in the hardware market because we are required to support the latest devices such as Apple’s iPad and Microsoft’s Surface tablet. Our job after all is to capture and manage content and the main job of devices like the iPad and Surface tablet is to allow end users to search for and display content.

At this time we plan to support both with our web client but each device has its special requirements and we need to invest in our software to make sure it perfectly suits each device. The iPad is by now a well-known partner but the Surface tablet is still something of a mystery and we await the full local release and our first test devices.

As we produce business software for corporations and government our focus is on the use of tablets in a business scenario.  This means using the tablets for both input and output meaning, capturing information and documents from the end user and well as presenting information and documents to the end user.

When looked at from a business perspective the Surface tablet starts to be a much better proposition for us than the iPad. I say this because of three factors; connectivity, screen size and open file system. To my mind these are the same three factors that severely limit the use of the iPad in a business environment.

Let me elaborate; I can connect more devices to the Surface, the slightly larger screen makes it easier to read big or long documents and the open file system allows us to easily upload and download whatever documents the customer wants. Ergo, the Surface is a much more useful product for our needs and the needs of our corporate and government customers.

So, after a superficial comparison, the Surface appears to have it all over the iPad or does it?

Maybe not given the early reviews of the buggy nature of Windows 8 on RT. Maybe not given that Windows 8 will never be as easy to use or as intuitive as iOS. Maybe not given that the iPad just works and no end user ever needed a training course or user manual. I very much doubt that end users will ‘learn’ Windows 8 as easily as they learnt iOS.

One unkind reviewer even referred to the Surface as a light-weight notebook.  I don’t agree though with its attached keyboard it is very close. I do think it is different to a notebook and I do applaud Microsoft for its investment and innovation. I think the Surface is a new product as opposed to a new generation notebook and I think most end users will see it that way too.

As is often the case both products have strengths and weaknesses and the real battle is yet to come as early adopters buy the Surface and test it. This is a critical time for acceptance and I hope Microsoft hasn’t released this product before it is ready. The early reviews I have read about the RT version are not encouraging especially as everyone still has awful memories of the Visa experience.

Microsoft is super brave because it is releasing two new products at the same time, the Surface hardware and Windows 8. Maybe it would have been smarter to get Windows 8 out and proven before loading it on the Surface but my guess is that Microsoft marketing is in one hell of hurry to try to turn the iPad tide around. There must be a lot of senior executives in Microsoft desperate to gain control of the mobile revolution in the same way they dominated the PC revolution. The Surface plus Windows 8 is a big-bang approach rather than the more conservative get-wet-slowly approach and I sincerely wish them all the best because we all need a much better tablet for business use. Apple also needs a little scare to remind it to be more respectful of the needs of its customers. Competition is always a good thing for consumers and Apple has had its own way with the iPad for too long now.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my iPad but I am frustrated with its shortcomings and I am hoping that more aggressive competition will force them to lift their game and stop being so damn arrogant.

I am about to place my orders for some Surface tablets for testing as soon as the Windows 8 Pro version is available and promise an update sometime soon about what we find. Watch out for an update in a month or so.

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