News, Views, and Reviews
Many years ago, 2001 to be exact, Microsoft introduced a strange product that didn’t catch on at that time: a Tablet PC. Just like it sounds, it tried to shrink the function of a full computer into the form of a small tablet. For a time, they even had a special Windows XP “Tablet PC” Edition of their Operating System. This “Tablet PC” OS included important features necessary at that time to make tablets work, such as “Pen Computing” and voice recognition, to compensate for the lack of a keyboard and mouse. With their next OS, Windows Vista included the Pen Computing, voice recognition, and other tools, MS stopped developing a separate “Tablet PC” OS. But outside the business world, few people had even heard of these strange devices. No surprise – they were too expensive for every day use.
But in 2010, Apple released the iPad, and the world hasn’t been the same. At first, people wondered what it was or even who would use it? It’s too big to put in your pocket, like a smart phone, but it isn’t as big or as powerful as even a laptop, let alone a full-powered PC. But, mostly because it’s not as big or as powerful as a PC, it is relatively affordable. The big trick, I think, was the development and successful marketing of smaller applications or “apps” instead of full computer programs. Soon, everybody wanted an iPad or one of its competing tablets. Let’s face it: most home computers are severely under-utilized by normal, every day use. Most people are content with simple entertainment and “apps” like surfing the internet, checking their email, or watching videos on YouTube or Netflix. “Work” computers are rarely needed at home. The iPad and other tablets are small, portable, and capable of handling normal, every day use. In just under two years, what is even considered “normal” has changed dramatically. Once met with skepticism and even derision, tablets have all but replaced home computers. Apple’s App store has over 800,000 Apps, with over 40,000,000,000 downloaded to date. To compete with Google’s popular “Google Maps” app, Apple tried to recreate the entire program themselves with less than popular results – and now faces the prospect of simply paying Google over $1 BILLION just to use “Google Maps” instead.
Not to be outdone, Microsoft revealed their new product, The Surface, at a special press conference last year. Manufactured directly by Microsoft, the Surface entered the crowded tablet computer market with a few fancy tricks of its own. Two of the main “tricks” of the Surface are its built-in “kick stand” (part of the back flips out and supports the Surface at a comfortable viewing angle) and the detachable, flexible cover that also acts as a keyboard. The construction is pretty impressive, resulting in a heavier but sturdier 10″ tablet than most on the market. The Surface has another trick, but it’s a potential game changer. At the end of 2012, MS released the Surface RT to compete with “normal, every day use” tablets like the iPad, with the Surface PRO to follow in early 2013. The PRO version returns to the vision of 2001: a full powered Tablet PC. Featuring the specs of a PC tower, including Intel’s i5 CPU, the Surface Pro utilizes the official Windows 8 PRO Operating System, and is capable of running real PC programs.
Now that it’s been released, I have to ask: Who Will Go Pro? The industry has changed, probably for ever. People are content with simple, and they’re usually content with cheap. The top of the line Surface Pro – plus the best keyboard cover – pushes the total cost over $1,000. Granted, a 10″ tablet is far more portable than a full powered PC, and even more portable than a laptop. But who needs a tablet with that much power? More to the point, who even needs “real” PC programs anymore? Apps are simple and cheap. Many are free or only 99 cents. Don’t misunderstand me, the Surface PRO has a lot going for it. It has a unique, sturdy build. The Windows 8 OS was designed with touch screens in mind, so the user interface is super slick and fast. The Touch Cover is quick and responsive, and the Touch Type Cover is surprisingly easy to use. Playing real PC games like the World of Warcraft or League of Legends on a tablet is unbelievable. But the gaming enthusiasts that spend over $1,000 are more likely to buy a gaming laptop than a tablet. Similarly, a “professional” or business person probably already has an Ultrabook or laptop, too. In other words, what is “normal use” anymore, and is it worth over $1,000?
Personally, I’d love to see the Surface succeed. Maybe this iteration isn’t perfect, but it has to gain momentum for MS (or anyone else) to even consider another version. After a few years of people being convinced that they don’t need programs anymore, it might be a futile effort to say, “Hey, look! You didn’t think it was possible, but now it is!” Will people abandon the cheap and easy for what, more power? Some people might. Some people haven’t jumped on the tablet bandwagon BECAUSE they haven’t been powerful enough. Until now. But will those “power users” be enough to make it successful? That remains to be seen. For what it’s worth, Microsoft has really put themselves out there, and I can’t wait to see what happens.