Where does Microsoft Surface fit?

Phillip Smith comments on my story about Microsoft matching Apple’s tablet pricing.

He argues the iPad is as different from the PC as the PC is different from the minicomputer. Smith goes on to say Apple has moved to the new era while Microsoft is still stuck in last-era thinking.

An interesting point.

I disagree partly because the post-PC era is so young, we still don’t know where it is going.

And anyway, Microsoft is having an each-way bet.

Microsoft’s double-edge strategy

There are two Microsoft Surfaces. One has Windows 8, the other has Windows RT.

Both Surfaces are closer to the PC model than Apple’s iPad. They are stepping-stones on the post-PC path. The iPad was a great leap forward. Although Apple and Microsoft are heading in roughly the same direction, their tracks are not parallel.

The Windows 8 version is, essentially, a PC dressed in tablet clothes. It runs PC software and will largely be used as a PC replacement. Microsoft’s subliminally emphasises this in all the promotional material – you almost never see a Surface tablet without a keyboard. Which is not a huge step from the Ultrabook.

The more tablet-like Windows RT device will only run apps from Microsoft’s app store and it offers better battery life.

Presumably corporations will love the Windows 8 tablet as it stays in their comfort zone. The RT device is more likely to appeal to consumers.

While many Surface customers will at least have considered an iPad before opting for Microsoft’s tablet. It won’t be true the other way around.

Think Ultrabook

You can connect the dots like this:

  • Old school PC,
  • Ultrabook,
  • Touch screen Ultrabook
  • Windows 8 Surface
  • Windows RT Surface
  • iPad.

Sure Windows 8 is a brave, risky, out-on-a-limb departure for Microsoft. But it is still Windows. It is still essentially a personal computer operating system. Even on a tablet. Even when reworked for touch controls. Maybe not so much with RT, but even that version is still a PC operation system.

Underlining this, Surface runs Microsoft Office. An umbilical cord back to the PC mothership.

Sure, there are people who use iPads like PCs, but one can also work on those devices in an entirely non-PC like manner. Theoretically that’s also a possibility on the Surface. I just don’t expect many Surface users will end up using it that way.

None of this is about one device being better or worse. They are tools designed from different philosophical perspectives and, best of all, they offer a real choice, not just cosmetic differences.