Microsoft Surface: why I might switch (update: didn't switch)

Well, it turns out some people are actually reading my post about Time Machine backups. So let’s create some more content on this nice little blog.

Today I finally watched the full Microsoft keynote about it’s new wunder-device, the Surface tablet PC and even found time to drop a comment or two. I really like the fact that it’s a real alternative to an actual PC since it’s more powerful than a regular tablet and it runs any x86 software you throw at it. What sold me in particular was the demo they used running Adobe Lightroom. On the hardware side the keyboard covers look very nice, the software itself seemed a bit buggy yet (finger swiping sometimes didn’t work, as well as the palm lock when using a stylus). At this early stage this is acceptable and no biggie, but only because Microsoft obviously found itself comfortable in its new role: being the underdog and copycat. Copying the magnet lock for the cover and some design aspects, they yet enriched the design with useful elements like the stand and paid great attention to detail. They stress that out in the video more than just once ;)…

Let’s take a look at the things I currently do with my beloved and portable MacBook Air (2011, core i7):

  • Surf the web
  • Read and write a ton of emails
  • Stay in contact with friends and family using Skype, facebook, ...
  • Edit photos while on road trips worldwide
  • Watch HD movies and TV series on the plane
  • Take notes during classes
  • Read PDFs and eBooks
  • Do some programming whenever necessary
  • Control my servers from wherever I am
  • Transfer files from and to friends and family
  • Support and debug on site
  • Do some work (see below)

An iPad could do some these things, but not all or only too complicated to fiddle around with. Plus it’s expensive, limited on storage, has no USB ports to extend storage or functionality and is too slow to do real RAW photo editing on the go. It works great as a device to consume media and even produce it in a very limited way, but for some serious business you need more flexibility. And business will be what will drive sales for the Microsoft Surface. Imagine a day at work, for me it has to do with accessing the companies’ network (sometimes over a wired connection), handling and editing spreadsheets and word files, creating presentations and working on papers to solve or illustrate problems and processes. It would be impossible or at least very cumbersome to do most of these tasks on an iPad or any other other tablet available right now (including the Nexus 7 I was eyeballing lately).

This is the perfect niche for a “new” device like the Surface. It aims at productivity and flexibility and is the first device that actually fulfills the proclaimed status of being in the post PC era. You can’t just drop everything you’ve been doing for the last decades and limit yourself to mostly consuming (at least not in most jobs and life situations). For me, post PC means a transition of handling regular PCs and creating new ways to interact with those devices, like through the use of touch screens and even a stylus for some situations. Steve jobs hated the idea of the stylus, and for most tasks it’s truly obsolete these days. But the classroom environment on campuses worldwide makes using one on a tablet a nice way to take notes in school books, papers or whatever. I can also see myself doodling on it during a presentation. It’s just intuitive like scribbling with a pen into your paper book, you don’t have to take that extra step of having to process how to add a note to whatever document you’re editing right now using a keyboard and a mouse. And it’s way more precise than your clunky finger tip.

From a product perspective, Apple showed the world a couple of times that for some categories the sealed “we make the whole banana” process of product development and manufacturing, including hardware and software, just works best. For that reason I’m a faithful mac user for over 6 years now. You just open your MacBook and it works. Throughout the years I never had any really bad bugs or quirks that destroyed the work I was doing or did. Updates, hardware, software, no problem. The only thing I was missing was some real processing power on the graphics side. That’s why I opted in some months ago and built a small AMD and Nvidia workstation, powered by Windows 7. In combination with a SSD this setup is a blessing when it comes to photo editing and sorting.

So, depending on the final price of the most powerful Surface tablet with x86 hardware, I might be adopting the Microsoft approach to mobile computing and buy it. That said, my MacBook Air will have to go then. And I’m not yet comfortable with that thought… Let’s see what the future brings.

Don’t miss to check out the keynote:

Written on August 17, 2012