Microsoft announced the Surface with most of the attention aimed at their clever keyboard cover and the tablet’s built-in kickstand. However, the heart and soul of the Microsoft Surface will be its software. And I believe the keyboard and the kickstand are byproducts of a software decision.
As Chuck Skoda aptly said: “The keyboard cover does one thing critical to the design of Windows 8, enable classic Windows apps.”
A software decision begat a hardware decision that begat another hardware decision. And this is how Microsoft expects users of the Surface to create on their tablets.
Creating on an iPad
Out of the box the iPad already comes with some great apps. Writing and note-taking, email, Web, video chatting, reminders, and more. In fact, if I was forced into a hypothetical situation where I had no choice but to use a stock iPad to do my job, it could be done. It wouldn’t be easy. But it would be possible.
Of course, not everyone can say that. The only way I would be able to squeak by working only on an iPad would be through extensive use of Safari on the iPad. I’d also have to hire some people to take care of any future web designing I may do on my sites.
However — suppose I were able to negotiate my hypothetical situation to allow the use of 3rd-party apps and a Bluetooth keyboard? Well, as a matter of fact, that’s the portable setup I use right now.
When traveling, I take only my iPad. Loaded with a handful of 3rd-party apps, the iPad makes a great work device that causes me negligible loss in productivity.
When at my home office sitting at my desk, I work much faster and more efficiently on my Das Keyboard, 23-inch Apple Cinema Display, and my MacBook Air. But for the times I am away from home, the iPad works just fine as a competent, capable, work machine. There is virtually nothing I can’t do on the iPad. Moreover, the iPad’s LTE connectivity and indestructible battery life make it a great traveling device with advantages that far outweigh its disadvantages.
So far as I see it, there are two sides to the going-iPad-only coin. One of practicality and one of sentiment:
Practically speaking, are you even able to use the iPad as your only computer for a while? Will you be unreasonably handicapped in your needs or responsibilities?
I posted a survey to Twitter, asking people if they could use the iPad as their only work computer if they had to? Out of 1,814 total responses:
4% — Yes, right out of the box using the stock apps.
34% — Yes, thanks to some 3rd-party apps.
21% — Probably, but it wouldn’t be easy or enjoyable.
41% — No way. I need a Mac.
As you can see, only less than half could said they could not use the iPad as their only computer. This is far less than I expected, even considering the nerdy, developer-friendly demographic of my Twitter followers. I received many replies on Twitter from folks saying they need a Mac but only because of a particular program such as Xcode or Adobe Creative Suite.
Secondly, if there are no practical hinderances to keep you from using an iPad as your only device, then you must get over your prejudice against the iPad as a primary computer. For the many people that could use an iPad as their only computer, they are either afraid or unwilling to. Perhaps it is the fear of the unknown, or perhaps it is an unwillingness to give up the familiar work environment of a Mac.
Is the iPad slower or more cumbersome than a Mac for certain tasks? Of course. But as I mentioned above, the iPad also has advantages which could outweigh its handicaps for some.
Apple has answered, and is answering, the practical question through iTunes App Store and the plethora of 3rd-party developers. There are hundreds of thousands of apps in the App Store that are empowering people to build things and communicate with people in ways that used to be limited only to traditional computers.
The prejudice of using the iPad as a primary device is one that will only be eroded over time and through word of mouth. As more families adopt iPads as their home’s primary computer then it will lead to even more doing so. Likewise, as more and more professionals find ways to use their iPads as a competent work device, then they will lead the way for even more professionals following suit.
Microsoft’s Proposed Solution
Microsoft is attempting to answer the practical and prejudicial conundrums surrounding their tablet by allowing the Surface to run classic Windows applications and by shipping it with a keyboard and trackpad disguised as a cover.
Microsoft needs a compelling reason for customers to see the Surface as a legitimate computing device. And since they don’t (yet?) have a gangbusters App Store, they built a keyboard cover instead.
But… what if the Surface for Windows 8 Pro’s ability to run classic Windows apps is akin to the iPad’s ability to run pixel-doubled iPhone apps? An inelegant but necessary solution that will not only justify marketing speak such as, “look at all the apps this tablet can run,” but also that can tide some users over until native apps are developed. Which, or course, raises the question: who will develop Windows 8 apps?