There have probably been other two-word combinations directed at Cupertino from Redmond over the past few years, but these two may prove the most effective.
If you’ve bumped into this blog in the past you will know I am self-diagnosed Apple Fanboy, so the following is particularly difficult for me to write. Indeed, it feels rather like a confessional.
Scalable, the company I work for, developed a Mobile Device Management module for its Asset Vision product a while back, initially with support only for iOS; no surprise there. Recently we’ve had several of our customers ask us what our plans are for Windows 8 mobile devices, specifically Windows RT on Surface.
So it was with an overwhelming sense of betrayal that I found myself lurking outside the Microsoft store in Austin’s Domain shopping center, just before Christmas. Crossing the threshold was harder than it needed to be; was anyone watching? Would they keep it to themselves? I switched my iPhone off to ensure my whereabouts couldn’t be tracked.
My initial sensation on touching Surface was guilt. Was I really doing this after all these years of being a one-brand guy? Obviously that feeling was not going to provide me with any objective feedback, so I shook it off and started enjoying myself a bit more.
Once the adrenalin rush had subsided the cash was quickly handed over; there was no way I was leaving a credit card trail. The well-formed Surface box was put into my rucksack and I snuck out.
Almost two months later and my iPad has only been used when Surface has been out of battery power or there was a particular App I needed. This was never meant to happen. It was only supposed to be a bit of fun…..
So how did this happen? Surface is not without its faults. In true Microsoft style you are helpfully informed from time to time that a reboot is imminent because a life-threating situation has been avoided by a new patch recently applied. Copy and paste is a complete mystery. The touch sensitivity of the display is not as good as my iPad 3 and I am certain the programmers were drunk when the mail app was developed – although the setup is very Apple-esque.
Surface comes with an Office 2013 preview – but you drop into the desktop layer to use it; I didn’t get the keyboard cover, as I’m a cheapskate unless the products carry a fruit logo, so Office 2013 was utterly useless to me – trying to use the Office menus without a pointing device redefines what it means to fat-finger a document.
The Surface was not designed for my use-case. Like most people I use my iPad in bed, or occasionally as an alternative to twiddling my thumbs. It is a content consumption device, definitely not a content creation device (with the exception of the odd email). The inclusion of Office 2013, a kickstand to hold the screen at angle similar to that of a laptop, and the option of an external keyboard, suggests Microsoft sees Surface as a content creation device; a laptop alternative.
However, there are two aspects to Surface that actually make it a more satisfying content consumption device than iPad. Firstly, the screen is 16 by 9. Apple themselves acknowledged the virtue of this aspect ratio with the iPhone 5. Watching movies on Surface is way better than on iPad; the screen size seems vast in comparison.
The second strength of Surface became apparent when I picked up my iPad after an extended period just using Surface. The Surface navigation options available by swiping your thumbs in from either bezel make it incredibly fast and intuitive to switch between apps. A quick swipe in from the left and you cycle through all the active apps, a double swipe and the whole list of apps appear as selectable thumbnails. Swiping from the right brings you the context-sensitive search and home options. Since we are all afflicted with ADD to varying degrees, being able to cycle to exactly which app you need without the bizarre (it now seems bizarre anyway) double-click of the home button, seems so much more sensible. The way Surface exploits opposable thumbs to switch between apps makes iOS feel old.
So would I swap my iPad for Surface if only allowed a single tablet? Heck no!!
App availability is not the problem, as that will be solved in time and, with a few exceptions, the most notable of which IMHO are Flipboard and Zite, you can get what you need in Microsoft’s App Store. The bigger problem for me is Apple’s ecosystem. iCloud, iTunes Match, Movies in iCloud, home automation, the list goes on. None of my stuff will work with Surface.
Unlike Android devices that seem to be quite derivative, Microsoft now appears to be thinking differently; quite an achievement for a company weighed down with such legacy obligations.
Although the complete Surface RT package is a long way from perfect, in a landscape full of barely distinguishable options, the Windows touch UI stands out as truly innovative.