Reflections on a Surface

I really like my iPad. But I have no experience writing apps for it, and find the Excel and Word “substitute” apps on it both counter-intuitive and limited (not surprising, they only cost $10 each). Conversely, I have decades of experience writing software for Windows, and am a very proficient Office user. So when Microsoft announced their Surface tablet I was intrigued. Enough to buy one, in fact.

After using it for a couple of days I’ve found a bunch of things to like about it:

  • The keyboard (I bought the more expensive one whose keys actually move) is awesome. I also like the way it magnetically snaps to the side of the tablet.
  • Being able to run full-fledged Excel, Word, Powerpoint and OneNote is great!
  • The tile-based interface is more useful than an icon-based one. That’s particularly true when the tiles carry “live” information.
  • The built-in stand is wonderful!
  • Even though the unit itself is a couple of ounces heavier and a couple of millimeters ticker than the iPad, the overall package is thinner and lighter because you don’t have to wrap it in a covering to get a kickstand.
  • I love being able to create content easily using tools I’m familiar with (e.g., Excel, Word).
  • You can expand the storage on the Surface. You can also plus in peripherals using a standard USB port!

I also noticed a few downsides:

  • The touch interface isn’t as robust as the iPad’s. It’s rare to press, say, a link or a button on a webpage on the iPad and not have it work. Not so on the Surface, which is more finicky.
  • The wi-fi connection takes a while to come back when the unit comes out of sleep mode. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed a pause on the iPad.
  • The tablet/store/media ecosystem for the Surface doesn’t even come close to the iPad/iTunes environment.
  • The provided apps are generally not as polished as their iOS counterparts. Except for the Office ones, of course, which are far superior to their iOS alternatives.

On balance, I think Microsoft may have a winner here. The pluses outweigh the minuses, and almost all of the minuses can be fixed over time, either by evolving the software or through expansion of the ecosystem if the product succeeds.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to give you a more in-depth report. Because it was stolen today from outside of the San Carlos Peet’s. So if you see someone struggling to use a Surface with my photo on the login screen, let me know :(.

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