Microsoft Surface Is Futuristic, But Apple Has Nothing To Worry About Yet [Opinion]

Microsoft Surface Is Futuristic, But Apple Has Nothing To Worry About Yet [Opinion]

When Microsoft announced the Surface I was shocked. Not shocked because Balmer was doing something gutsy, but shocked because the Surface actually looks cool. Like, it’s probably the coolest looking tablet I’ve ever seen, other than the iPad, and if that crazy Touch Cover keyboard thing actually works well, then holy shit, the future is here.

Even though it’s not made by Apple, I had to try the “Surface with Windows RT” because I wanted to touch the future, and I really thought that maybe Microsoft was going to pull it off and create something that amazed me. After playing with the Surface and comparing it to an iPad though I found out that the future isn’t quite here yet, but it looks promising.

Microsoft Surface Is Futuristic, But Apple Has Nothing To Worry About Yet [Opinion]

Hardware

The first thing that you notice when you pick up the Surface is how well designed it is. Surface is designed better than 90% of tablets on the market. Its body isn’t made of brushed aluminum like the iPad, but the black metal casing has it’s own beauty. The body is wider than an iPad when held in landscape orientation, which is nice because you have more screen real-estate, but it does feel odd to read off a 16:9 tablet in portrait mode.

What I didn’t expect about the Surface was that it’s kind of heavy. It’s 2lbs when you’re carrying it around with the Touch Cover keyboard, which doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re used to the 1.44lbs of an iPad 3 you can actually notice a difference. Remember when the iPad 2 was announced and Steve was bragging about how a couple ounces of less weight make a big difference? Yeah, it’s kind of like that.

The Touch Cover keyboard is interesting, but typos erupt from it like lava from Mt. Vesuvius

Despite everything that Microsoft’s marketing team has tried to say to spin the display quality of the Surface, it’s definitely not as good as an iPad with Retina display. When you’re browsing the web or reading you will see pixels. The display looks great when you’re watching video, but after that you’ll be back to noticing the pixels. I never realize how beautiful Apple’s Retina displays are until I use a device that doesn’t have one, and the Surface’s display was just another reminder about why I love the iPad.

If you care a lot about expandability then the Surface is a much better tablet than the iPad. You can pop in an SD card, or charge your iPhone from the USB port. Then there’s the kickstand, which is a nice little feature. It pops out very easily and keeps the Surface steady whenever you want to work on some spreadsheets or watch a movie. Microsoft did a great job of making the kickstand blend into Surface when it’s not in use.

The most intriguing aspect of the Microsoft Surface is the Touch Cover keyboard. When the defining feature of your tablet is the keyboard you better nail it. Microsoft almost got it right, but not quite. The Touch Cover keyboard is interesting but typos erupt from it like lava from Mt. Vesuvius. It works a little bit better than I thought it would, but barely, and I don’t have the nearly the same typing speed while using it as I do on my Bluetooth keyboard that connects to an iPad.

It’s difficult to get used to the amount of pressure to apply to the keyboard because there is no tactile feedback. You can’t float over the keys lightly or it won’t register your keystrokes, but putting too much pressure into a keystroke becomes jarring because you’re pounding onto a flat surface.

The fact that the keyboard also acts as a cover is a really nice feature. After using the Touch Cover keyboard I’m hoping it’s something that Apple will steal and bring to the iPad.

There’s also a trackpad built into the Touch Cover keyboard. If you ever get tired of gorilla arming it while the Surface is propped up on its kickstand, you can move your finger around on the touchpad and a mouse cursor will appear on screen so it’s like a laptop. The mouse cursor makes you feel like you’re using a regular old computer again, which seems like a bad idea on Microsoft’s part because it detracts from the magic of touching your data and living in a new world of gadgetry.

Microsoft Surface Is Futuristic, But Apple Has Nothing To Worry About Yet [Opinion]

Software

The Surface runs a variant of Windows 8 called Windows RT. It has a desktop mode but can only run a very few number of actual desktop apps. It can’t run old Windows apps, unlike Windows 8. Even though I haven’t played with Windows 8 much, the Windows RT looks very similar to the full-blown version of Windows 8, which is both a blessing and a curse.

One guy at the Microsoft Store started getting very very confused as to why he couldn’t install iTunes on the Surface if it runs “Windows.”

I took a visit to my local Microsoft Store last night and sat at the Surface table while listening to customers ask retail staff about the device. Most people seem pretty confused about the software. One guy started getting very very confused as to why he couldn’t install iTunes on the Surface if it runs “Windows.” Other people asked about their favorite apps that run on Windows 7 and were disappointed to find out that it wasn’t available on Windows RT.

Microsoft’s Windows RT operating system is going to confuse a lot of users because it looks so much like  full blown Windows 8 even though it’s really not. Windows RT is to Windows 8 as iOS is to OS X. Except Apple’s done a much better job marketing their two OSes. With iOS and OS X, Apple has two distinct operating systems that do borrow some elements from each other, but you always know that when you’re on an iPad you’re not using desktop quality software. Illusions of Windows 8 are rampant in Windows RT when you’re using the Surface. You keep running into limitations that you aren’t expecting because everything looks similar to the new Windows desktop computing environment.

Even though Microsoft is trying to pitch the Surface as a tablet that is completely different than an iPad – because its software is more advanced and it has a cool keyboard and kickstand – there’s not enough of a desktop computing type feel behind the Surface and its software to make you lust after it. You can run Office, but you can’t play great games. You can surf the web but there’s no magazine quality news apps.

Windows RT’s Metro interface for the Surface is extremely cool. Microsoft has done a heck of a job trying to come up with a new user interface design that feels like the future is here. It’s more minimalist than iOS but information is more immediately available on a Surface verses the iPad.

“Surface feels like a crippled touchscreen netbook, while the iPad comes across as the beefed up superhero of the iPhone”

One of the biggest problems that Surface faces is getting an ecosystem of apps that can rival iOS. During the iPad mini keynote, Tim Cook bragged that the iPad now has 250,000 apps on the App Store. When you’re looking for apps for the Surface, it’s readily apparent that there’s not as much selection as on an iPad. The Windows Store couldn’t even fill out a “Top 100 Free Games” section, because there were only 91 free games available.

Is It Better Than An iPad

No. Not yet at least. Surface feels futuristic. It can morph from tablet to laptop in seconds but it doesn’t perform great as a tablet or a laptop. It’s not truly great at a few things like the iPad, so there’s no compelling reason to get one yet.  There’s a lot of potential in Surface, but it usually takes Microsoft a few tries to get hardware right, and we think that’s also going to apply with Surface.

Physically, Surface looks a lot like a tablet and a little bit like a laptop. But in terms of software and performance, Surface feels like a crippled netbook, while the iPad comes across as the beefed up superhero of the iPhone. We’re really excited to see Microsoft competing in the tablet space, but their software and ecosystem needs a lot of work before people ditch their iPads for a Surface.

Microsoft Surface does enough to get you excited about the future of computing, but it can’t deliver it.

In the swirl of confusion at the Microsoft Store, I helped a family figure out how to get back to the “homescreen” by pressing the Windows logo on their Surface unit. The dad turned to me and said, “This is for work, when the iPad is for play. But my laptop does my work better than the Surface, so what’s the point?”

iPad users are amazed that their device can do so much despite its tablet form factor. Surface users are going to feel disappointed that their device can’t do as much as they dreamed of, despite its laptop-like features.

For the Surface to beat the iPad, Microsoft must convince developers to bring their apps over, otherwise consumers are just buying a beautiful slab of metal and glass that does absolutely nothing other than run Microsoft Office. Great design must be accompanied with truly amazing functionality, and the Surface looks good, but the coolest thing you can do on it right now is update a spreadsheet in Excel or watch Netflix.

Microsoft Surface does enough to get you excited about the future of computing, but it can’t deliver it. It’s more like an appetizer that’s priming you for the main course – the Surface Pro. Except when the appetizer isn’t satisfying, yet costs as much as the main course should, who’s going to want to wait around for more?

Related
  • Adrayven

    You should also note, early adopter beware, Microsoft is not known for updating older hardware. They usually release a whole new system and leave those with the older version crying because they can’t get the updates.. so, you end up spending $500+ every year just to stay up-to-date..

    They did that with Windows Phone 6,7 and now Windows Phone 8 users..

  • patstar5

    Surface pro will be the true surface. It will replace both laptop and tablet. But price will be very high…. Was going to get the rt but I think I will wait. Might get a different tablet with full windows 8 like Samsung series 5 slate.

  • easydone101

    So it’s not okay for Samsung to steal from Apple, but it is for Apple to steal from Microsoft?

  • jyeesf

    I don’t get it… Hanging onto legacy hardware like a keyboard and a trackpad is considered “futuristic”??

  • aardman

    Some people point out to the kickstand as the feature that highlights just how well the Surface is designed. I think of it as indicative of just how ill-conceived the whole concept of the Surface is.

    The Surface has a kickstand because it is being asked to do something that it isn’t suited for. Microsoft wants the surface to take on the extra function of laptop substitute. The problem is that a tablet with a keyboard appendage has all the key components behind the screen as opposed to a laptop where all the heavy bits (except the LED screen) are underneath the keyboard. So on a laptop, it is no problem to keep the screen upright without the whole thing tipping over. Not so on the Surface -you need the kick stand to keep the thing from toppling over. This means you can’t use it on your lap comfortably. Airline tray tables are probably out as well. You can’t hold it on top of one arm while you type with your other hand either, something I’ve had to do with a laptop in some unavoidable situations.

    The kickstand, and its close relatives, the prop and the shim, have always been a hallmark of cheap, poor, or lazy design. If your product is top heavy and is prone to toppling, you put a kickstand. If you don’t want to spend money on a finely counterbalanced hinge, you put a prop. If your door frame leans, causing your door to swing shut all the time, you put a prop. If your table legs are uneven, you put a shim.

    The surface is an interesting design school exercise –Can a tablet be designed to function like a laptop without losing it’s tablet-ness? The lesson learned from this exercise should have been, no it’s not possible, the functional gap is too wide, the compromises too great. Instead, Microsoft took a billion dollar gamble. Seems to me that only a company that is making its first foray into computer hardware manufacturing would make such a gamble.

  • tayloradubose

    im all for futuristicness and advancing tech but its good to see MS fail as always

  • CharilaosMulder

    So it’s not okay for Samsung to steal from Apple, but it is for Apple to steal from Microsoft?

    No, it would not be ok. Just like it isn’t ok that Samsung steals from Apple. Microsoft does that too, but they made an agreement with Apple and pay a fair amount of money for each Surface that is sold with a bunch of Apple patents in it. Samsung on the other hand doesn’t pay for using technology patented by Apple. That’s where the problem is.

  • markrlangston

    I see dozens of problems with Windows 8 and RT but here are two that readily stick out to me after reading this article.

    Microsoft will clearly push developers to make Metro-style apps and ditching traditional Desktop applications. I’ve actually been making this point for a while but I believe this means Microsoft is playing on a field that Apple clearly dominates. If developers are laser focused on mobile/tablet apps then it makes financial sense to port the app to the iPad while they’re making the Windows 8/RT app. With 100,000 million iPads in the field it only makes sense to port your app to the device with the biggest market. That’s the iPad now and forever.

    Secondly, if Microsoft is truly working on a Metro-style version of Office 2013, which is promised for both iOS and Android, then Desktop basically becomes irrelevant, right? Other than managing files and using Notepad the Desktop “app” will become obsolete once the RT version of Office 2013 is no longer necessary. And I doubt MS would cripple the Metro version to ensure the Desktop version remains relevant. Not to mention their advantage of being able to do “real work” in Windows RT. So much for the no-compromise approach.

    I really question Microsoft’s plan for the future and if they really know what they’re doing. With Apple you can almost set your watch to what they’re gonna do. Sure there are few surprises here and there but they’re so big and so popular that it’s almost impossible not to know their next move. With MS I don’t see the same pattern.

    Releasing a Surface mini doesn’t make any sense and it’s clear by the design that the Surface is not a consumption device like the iPad or Nexus. There’s no ecosystem for magazines or books and reading a magazine on a 16:9 aspect ratio is odd to say the least.

    That’s not to say that MS is doomed to fail. But surpassing Apple and becoming the dominant player in the world of computing is not likely to happen.

  • Garion

    “The dad turned to me and said, “This is for work, when the iPad is for play. But my laptop does my work better than the Surface, so what’s the point?”

    THIS is the Surface’s problem in a nutshell!

  • Steffen Jobbs

    Microsoft marketing the ZunePad RT as the tablet that can do everything is going to lead a lot of consumers’ disappointment when they find out it can’t do everything. However, it’s better for Microsoft to sell at least a few million tablets rather than none at all. At least they’re trying instead of ignoring the whole tablet situation that Microsoft is facing.

    Microsoft was so sure that a Windows netbook would sell in higher volume than any tablet because the Windows netbook with a keyboard and full–sized ports was supposedly capable of doing so much more than a tablet. At least the ZunePad has a USB port, SDXC card slot and an HDMI-out port. Apple’s iPad has none of those. Hopefully, the Lightning port might be better in the long run if Apple allows user access to it.

  • Andrew Newsome

    ipad 3 = 652g
    surface = 676g

    weight comparison.

  • Andrew Newsome

    I’m really sick of the whole “Apple is the best, everyone else sucks” attitude on this website.

    You give a decent review, but then you add things like “Surface feels like a crippled touchscreen netbook, while the iPad comes across as the beefed up superhero of the iPhone”.

    I really like Apple products, but other companies ARE allowed to have products that are nice as well. Just because you write for cult of mac doesn’t mean you have to believe Apple does everything right, never gets it wrong, every product is 100% perfect, and every other company never gets anything right, always has to redo their decisions and products, etc.

    I come to cult of mac because i like reading about Apple related news. I don’t want to see constant posts about how *competitor company* has no chance against Apple, and how they are doing everything wrong, and how Apple does everything right. Really, i just want an unbiased website.

  • tN0

    Microsoft never said that the Surface RT is the no compromise device. That’s what Windows 8 devices are about. The first Surface is their perspective of a tablet + netbook. You can do what most people do on a netbook: Office and surfing the web but additionally you get a tablet with touch and apps that’s always connected on one device. You can’t do everything with it (read: no Photoshop, no Crysis). But you can use it as a tablet like the iPad and put it on a table if you want to write something with a keyboard.

    Recording a lecture and taking notes at the same time is a killer scenario IMO.

    On top of all this is that you get a real file system (even with “TimeMachine” built in) and support for a lot of devices out of the box.

    There is obviously a lot of work to do on the software side. But this may happen very quickly.

  • tN0

    Releasing a Surface mini doesn’t make any sense and it’s clear by the design that the Surface is not a consumption device like the iPad or Nexus.

    I wouldn’t bet money on this! They already talked about a “Surface family” (that sounds more than two devices to me) and the naming of the first devices is interesting as well:

    “Surface for Windows RT”. I’m almost 100% sure that next year we will see a 7″ cheap consumption device called “Surface for Xbox”. Released alongside their next generation console. A lot of info already leaked a while ago about a 7″ Surface.

    And a Surface for Windows Phone should be expected as well.

  • extra_medium

    I’m really sick of the whole “Apple is the best, everyone else sucks” attitude on this website.

    You give a decent review, but then you add things like “Surface feels like a crippled touchscreen netbook, while the iPad comes across as the beefed up superhero of the iPhone”.

    I really like Apple products, but other companies ARE allowed to have products that are nice as well. Just because you write for cult of mac doesn’t mean you have to believe Apple does everything right, never gets it wrong, every product is 100% perfect, and every other company never gets anything right, always has to redo their decisions and products, etc.

    I come to cult of mac because i like reading about Apple related news. I don’t want to see constant posts about how *competitor company* has no chance against Apple, and how they are doing everything wrong, and how Apple does everything right. Really, i just want an unbiased website.

    The whole defensive “us vs them” attitude of the writers and most of the readers just isn’t based in reality. If we are truly for advancing tech, and getting the products we need we should WANT apple to be worried about the competition. Otherwise we will continue to get “innovations” like desktop computers that we might move once or twice in their lifespan being 2 pounds lighter and having a pointless thin edge when looked at from the correct angle.

  • extra_medium

    “The dad turned to me and said, “This is for work, when the iPad is for play. But my laptop does my work better than the Surface, so what’s the point?”

    THIS is the Surface’s problem in a nutshell!

    I’m 100% sure this extremely convenient conversation actually happened and isn’t just the writer’s personal opinion being worked into a fictional interaction.

    The surface is marketed for work and play, just like the iPad. It isn’t any more of a problem for one than the other.

  • Aaron

    “…disappointed to find out that [their Windows software isn't] available on Windows RT.”

    Microsoft has an uphill battle with this one. “Hi, I would like to buy a Surface tablet.” “Okay, do you want the one that runs Windows RT or the one that runs Windows 8?” “What’s Windows RT?” “It’s like Windows 8, except you can only run apps from our app store.” “Will it run XXXXX?” “The Windows 8 version can.” “How much is that?” “$1200.” “What? The regular tablet is $500! I’m not going to pay $700 more just to run XXXXX. I can buy an entire laptop for that much money!”

  • Zod Buster

    lets see.. an unbiased opinion on a non apple product from an apple site…
    ha ha ha

  • Bradycheck

    Your Bias just oozes out in each paragraph.

  • Bradycheck

    I don’t get it… Hanging onto legacy hardware like a keyboard and a trackpad is considered “futuristic”??

    Keyboards aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

  • IDPMaster

    What every reviewer FAILS to disclose is that EVERY SINGLE app developed for WINDOWS 8 WILL RUN on RT…..imagine 12 to 24 months down the line…..this discussion about backwards compatibility will be worthless……3 to 4 years from now…..we will an ecosystem that runs the VAST majority of apps on both 8 and RT and one that is still separated…. IOS and OSX

  • jpadhiyar

    And to top that all, Apple also announced an upgrade at the right time. There’s really no way right now to beat Apple in their own game, is there? But all said and done, Surface seems like a really great way forward.

  • Andrew Newsome

    Don’t get your panties in a twist. This isn’t the only review that points out the RT fails to deliver. Go to gizmodo and you’ll find an even harsher review, and they’re PC devotees. Just because you don’t like the review doesn’t mean the reviewer has a bias. Until the consumer gets to work with the surface, only then will the truth be known. Until then, suck it up. This site has been bashing Apple for the past month over iOS 6 maps (unfairly in MHO), but if I don’t have a problem, then the problem is theirs, not mine. Their hasn’t been a MS vs Apple flame war for many a time, so don’t look for one on the back of one review. Microsoft have been missing the mark on a variety of products over a number of years. Why should the surface be any different? They’re software developers, not hardware designers. The only product that hasn’t flopped is Xbox. But that’s been losing money from day one. No matter how hard MS try to emulate Apples hardware success, they just don’t have what it takes. It’s not what they do.

    My comment is based on this website as a whole rather than just this review specifically.

  • technochick

    I’m really sick of the whole “Apple is the best, everyone else sucks” attitude on this website.

    The site is called “Cult of MAC” not “Cult of Unbiased Technological Discussion”, you should expect what you are getting.

    Also, no one is holding a gun to your head and making you read this site. Clearly you don’t like the site, so time to move on. Go find another one to read. It shouldn’t be hard there are hundreds to chose from

  • technochick

    I can’t wait to hear some of the Guru Counter conversations.

    Guru: Welcome to the Guru Counter, I’m Guru Mark, how can I help you?

    CX: Oh hi Mark. I’m having trouble with my Surface

    Guru: Well I’m here to help you with that. What seems to be the problem?

    CX: When I bought this Surface the sales person said that it’s just like a laptop but better because it’s a tablet . . .

    Guru: That’s right!

    CX: Well I can’t seem to install iTunes on it.

    Guru: Oh you can’t install iTunes on it.

    CX: I can’t?

    Guru: Nope, you can only install Metro apps from the Metro store

    CX: So I won’t be able to install Final Draft?

    Guru: Nope

    CX: Or Photoshop?

    Guru: Nope

    CX: So it isn’t really ‘just like a laptop’?

    Guru: It’s better, it’s a tablet**

    CX: Thanks for nothing.

    Guru: You’re welcome, that will be $39.99. Cash or Credit

    ** if you’ve ever seen Idiocracy, Guru Mark sounds like the Brawndo people

  • iMobileRescue

    Super detailed stuff. I wonder how many tries it’s going to take them to get it awesome, where it’s totally worth buying? – I do like the idea of it doubling as a tablet, from a laptop. That in and of itself is something the iPad really doesn’t have. But, a dealbreaker? Or sealer? No. Not really. I agree.

  • Norman Gunn

    Great article Buster!

  • topscientist

    What every reviewer FAILS to disclose is that EVERY SINGLE app developed for WINDOWS 8 WILL RUN on RT…..imagine 12 to 24 months down the line…..this discussion about backwards compatibility will be worthless……3 to 4 years from now…..we will an ecosystem that runs the VAST majority of apps on both 8 and RT and one that is still separated…. IOS and OSX

    Uh, they don’t note it because it isn’t true. You have no idea what you’re babbling about.

    RT will only run the new style START apps that are purchased through the MS app store. It’s unknown at this point how many software authors will adopt this model. It carries enormous costs and may well fail altogether. Microsoft has abandoned development paradigms that haven’t worked before (e.g. Silverlight).

  • Steven Quan

    @Andrew Newsome – if you don’t think the Surface feels like a crippled touchscreen netbook then tell us why. Don’t just sit there like a little baby crying. The author made his point and backed it up. You’ve made your point, now convince us you’re right.

  • JayKyte

    ‘I’m really sick of the whole “Apple is the best, everyone else sucks” attitude on this website.’

    Cos this is a website …for Apple fans…

About the author

Buster HeinBuster Hein is Cult of Mac's Social Media Editor. Hailing from Roswell, New Mexico, but now spending his days in Phoenix, Arizona, he wastes most of his time eating burritos and reading Spanish romance novels. Twitter: @bst3r.

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