Posey's Tips & Tricks

The Future of Microsoft Surface

To find lasting success for Microsoft's tablet, the company needs to show how the device has lasting staying power compared to the competing iPad.

Over the weekend I had to travel to Pennsylvania. While I was there, someone casually asked me if I ended up having to travel with my laptop. I answered that I had left my laptop at home, but had brought along my Surface tablet just in case. They then proceeded to ask me why in the world I would use a Surface tablet when I could just buy an iPad instead.

I won't bore you with my answer because I don't want to turn this blog post into a head-to-head comparison. There are plenty of comparisons on the Internet. Besides, I have been writing about Microsoft products for almost 20 years, so even if my comparison was completely objective I think that bias would probably come into question. After all, I haven't exactly made a secret of the fact that I really like my Surface tablet.

The next day I was still thinking about the question that I had been asked and it made me start thinking of the future of the Surface tablet. I don't think that too many people would argue against the idea that the iPad is the trendy tablet of the moment.

As of right now I personally consider the iPad to be a fad. I think that if Microsoft wants to ensure long-term survival of the Surface tablet then it needs to work to prevent this fad from becoming a standard.

To show you what I mean, think about the state of IT 30 years ago (full disclosure: I was in elementary school 30 years ago). Roughly 30 years ago, IBM introduced the PC. The IBM PC wasn't the only computer that was available at the time, but businesses gravitated toward the PC because of the business applications that were available for it. The end result was that the PC became a standard, beating out competing computers from companies like Commodore, Tandy, and eventually even Apple (which found success primarily in selling to schools and graphic arts companies).

Right now Apple is on the verge of doing the same thing that IBM did so long ago. The iPad hasn't become a definitive standard yet, but it could very easily happen. If Microsoft wants to end Apple's dominance of the tablet market, it needs to take away the iPad's cool factor before the iPad becomes a standard. If Microsoft can put a stop to iPad envy then the Surface tablet might actually have a chance. One idea might be to start running a guerrilla ad campaign that portrays the iPad as a has been.

The good news for Microsoft is that Apple hasn't learned from history when it comes to the idea of the iPad becoming a standard for decades to come. The original IBM PC came with a very high price tag that put it out of reach of many home users. Eventually however, IBM allowed other manufactures to create PC clones. I'm honestly not sure how this arrangement was reached, but the point is that by allowing other manufacturers to create PC clones, IBM ensured that the PC would become a standard. Even today, numerous manufacturers build PCs and all of them still supports the original 8086 instruction set from the original IBM PC.

Apple hasn't allowed other manufacturers to start building iPad clones. In fact, Apple has received a lot of criticism for tightly controlling virtually every aspect of the iPad. That could ultimately help Microsoft.

Before I wrap up this blog post, I want to quickly revisit a topic that I discussed a few months ago in my first look of the Microsoft Surface tablet. In that review I mentioned that the keyboard cover worked, but that typing was awkward because the keys didn't really move when pressed. There was no tactical feel to let you know that a successful key press has occurred.

This morning I upgraded to Microsoft's new type cover. The type cover's keyboard is a huge improvement over the original keyboard cover. As a matter of fact, I am writing this blog post in the Miami airport on my Surface tablet. That is a feat that I cannot imagine attempting with the old keyboard.

The new keyboard isn't perfect. I can't type anywhere nearly as quickly on the type cover as I can on a regular PC keyboard. Even so, the type keyboard goes a very long way toward bridging the gap between tablet and laptop. For the first time I feel like I can use my Surface tablet to produce content, not just to run apps and browse the Internet.

I only have two issues with the type cover: The first issue is that you have to use it on a solid surface. When I first started writing this blog post, I had the tablet and the keyboard in my lap. Many of the key presses weren't registering because the keyboard would flex when I pressed on keys that were located near the center of the keyboard.

The other issue that I have with the type cover is the price. Maybe it's just me, but $139 just seems like a steep price for a keyboard. Even so, the fact that this keyboard has improved my productivity makes it worth the price.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a seven time Microsoft MVP with over two decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written many thousands of articles and written or contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and healthcare facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. When He isn't busy writing, Brien Posey enjoys exotic travel, scuba diving, and racing his Cigarette boat. You can visit his personal Web site at: www.brienposey.com.

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Reader Comments:

Mon, Mar 18, 2013

iPads are appealing because there is basically exactly one way to do everything (click the hw btn) and they are idiot proof (not a bad thing). The surface gives you added ability and control, more than one way to do something (the btn is one way), and is almost (but not quite) idiot proof. Unfortunately Microsoft is trying to play the Apple game and in so doing is losing it's identity and also what makes it appeal to it's customer base: CHOICE.

Fri, Mar 15, 2013 ahanse sun burnt oz

*Apple hasn't learned from history*... Microsoft still thinks they can make history...iPad is successful because it appeals to the masses and if Apple can get it to appeal to the enterprise then so be it... Microsoft better do something outstanding quickly because the pond is getting crowded.

Thu, Feb 28, 2013 Gareth Merseyside, England

I love my surface. I had an Asus TF101 for 18 months and found it gimmicky. It was frustrating that I couldn't easily access excel and word documents on it, I found I was using my windows phone. The surface was a godsend. I can be at home and add notes / documents quickly on the surface, then read / edit them if I’m out and about with my phone or on my PC at work (and vice versa). The multi-tasking is a breeze. My wife had the ipad1 and now on an ipad 2, and recently bought an Iphone. She thinks they are great for syncing music, but that’s it. She is now considering ditching the ipad for a surface.

Tue, Feb 26, 2013

A good write up and good comments. I like the Surface Pro, but!! I really need an ultrabook running W7 Pro. Something like the Samsung series 9 second generation 13.3", but at half the price. A surface Pro redesigned as a 13 inch clamshell running W7 Pro for $700 would get my credit card out. Surface does a lot, but is sadly lacking. Short battery life, only 4G RAM, only 126G SSD, poor keyboard ergonomics, and an OS and UI that are better suited to a tablet than a laptop. I hope to see an MS follow on with a Haswell I7 processor, 256G SSD, 8 G RAM, Clamshell design with the weight in the keyboard, 13" display, and 4G. Also give me Windows 7 Pro or W8 with an XP mode to handle my old, but expensive too replace, software apps. Price it at $1000. Til then I'll get along with my Lenovo S10 netbook running XP. It is a little heavy and slow, but has done all that I need. It will take something better than Surface Pro to make me buy a new device.

Tue, Feb 26, 2013 Marc Wagner Bloomington, IN, USA

A great blog, Brien! For some history, IBM doesn't get the credit for IBM clone machines. Bill Gates does! He was smart enough to make sure his agreement with Microsoft was NOT EXCLUSIVE! From the start, there was PC-DOS and there was MS-DOS. PC-DOS was for the IBM PC and MS-DOS was for the clone makers. When Windows NT was conceived of, Microsoft was going to use the NT kernel for OS/2 v.3 (for IBM) and for Windows NT 3.x for the clone makers. IBM balked at that and walked away from Microsoft forever. IBM tried to make OS/2 v.3 compatible with Windows applications but failed miserably. The clone business made it possible for Microsoft to survive without IBM. In the mean time, the IBM PC was becoming a commodity and IBM could not afford to sell commodity desktop PCs so they left the desktop business. Also being a hardware maker, like iBM, Apple could not afford to sell commodity PCs either so they started catering to customers who were will to spend more for great design. The iPad started out as nothing more than a giant iPhone without voice capabilities (but now with Skype). The MS Surface RT is positioned as an "iPad Killer" in the sense that it is a direct competitor to the iPad at a competitive price. Microsoft has to wino over consumers who use Windows in order for Windows RT to survive. In that sense, the Surface RT is superior to the iPad as a "companion device" to the Windows notebook. Microsoft needs also to convince the enterprise that the Surface Pro is a superior Windows notebook REPLACEMENT when compared to the iPad. If the Surface RT is adopted in sufficient numbers, Windows RT has the potential to be a viable alternative to the Android tablet as well when sold at $299-$350.

Tue, Feb 26, 2013 Ron Ohio

Any potential competitor to the iPad has to be competitive on price as well as function. While the surface has a chance on function, the price is holding up sales along with poor battery life in the pro. Enterprise is truly looking for a solution that minimizes overhead. However with slow adoption of BYOC, a device with long battery life, native application capabilities, and enterprise management abilities would go a long way to speed adoption.

Tue, Feb 26, 2013 Praveen USA

I used iPad 2 since it is out and never find it a usable device for complete computing. I am always challenged with a road block even for surfing the web. I have my Surface for few days now and much more productive than I had been for months on the tablet. I think it is time for recognition for Microsoft's commitment and innovation.

Mon, Feb 25, 2013

There are millions of people who surf the web, play games, and write emails. That's all that they need and the iPad is perfectly suited for that while the surface is overkill.

Mon, Feb 25, 2013 John

Having clones doesn't matter anymore. All those companies have outsourced manufacturing. Why would Apple need to have multiple differently branded devices being made at the same factories in China, when it already has the strongest brand? Adding an HP iPad, a Dell iPad, an LG iPad, etc, wouldn't help. This isn't the 80s/90s when everybody owned their own factories. They all use the same factories now. A single company who can make a huge capital investment in those companies (not to mention components) is in a better position than multiple companies making small investments. That's why the mobile market is now split between Apple and Samsung and everybody else is getting crushed. Apple has the capital advantage as first mover and Samsung has the capital advantage because it gets preferred loans from the Korean government.

Mon, Feb 25, 2013

30 years ago, IBM did all in its power to prevent PC clones. But some clever lawyers and engineers figured out a legal way to clone the BIOS and get around IBM. If you research technical magazines from the 1980s, you will also find that PCs were thought to be a fad and that mainframes would maintain their dominance. 30 years from now, kids that are in elementary school now are going to be asking you what is a PC?

Mon, Feb 25, 2013 Michael Dean Leeds, UK

I introduced the iPAD into our enterprise by designing two apps. Some of our guys had never sent a text message but were able to use the device. It has helped us double our turnover as our clients are excited about the new way of working the iPAD gives us. However I don't really think anyone at Apple cares about the use of the device in industry and that is why I seriously hope that the surface works. I really like the surface and I expect Microsoft to take its positioning in the workplace seriously. If they do I will be moving over to the surface within two years. But it MUST have 3G / 4G or whatever mobile connectivity is the key for me.

Mon, Feb 25, 2013 EVVJSK

Your comment about getting 3rd Parties to to create hardware SHOULD help reduce the cost of the type keyboard AND should all someone to make it SLIGHTLY thicker and as a result more stable/usable. Microsoft also should quick changing user interfaces for the sake of changing user interfaces (ie. Microsoft Ribbon in Office, Countless Windows UI changes over the years possibly including Windows 8 (although touch may have brought about something of an interface change). People like to do stuff and quite worrying about learning new interfaces. Microsoft may be their own worst enemy by forcing changes down users' throats.

Mon, Feb 25, 2013 Price Tulsa, OK

I use a computer for work. What kind of real work can be done on an iPad? I guess if drawing pictures, sending emails, and using a web interface were the only things those of us in the USA workforce had to do on a tablet computer, the iPad would be a good fit. As a CPA who works with companies who have to do numbers, create reports from numbers, interact with server-based accounting systems, use the tools available with MS Office, and collaborate with coworkers with this info, I find the Windows 8 tablets do a much better job of delivering the capability to do a corporate America job than does the iPad. What am I missing?

Mon, Feb 25, 2013 DaveN

For those who don't find the Surface to be a good fit for their needs, check out the ThinkPad Tablet 2. It's the size of an iPad, weights slightly less, and runs the full version of Windows 8. Lenovo advertises 10-hour battery life, and we played HD video for about 7 hours as a test - it was still going strong when we had to leave the room. With every intention of buying a Surface Pro, I ended up agreeing with those who find it too heavy and the battery life insufficient. The Tablet 2 eliminates these concerns (although it's limited to 64 GB storage plus microSD).

Mon, Feb 25, 2013

gangnam style is/was a fad. The iPad has been out for 3 years

Mon, Feb 25, 2013

I really like the SurfacePro, but with its current price point, I just cannot justify purchasing one. I hope the price comes down, then I am sure you will see great uptake from the public.

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