Surface & iPad Collision Course

Ok, I’d been looking around for a Surface I could try out. Even though I have my doubts about Windows 8 and especially RT I also am excited about a lot of the features that these operating system(s) have. But amid the parts that I hate and parts I love, there is the simple fact of the pure and simple comparison of Surface + Windows RT versus iPad + iOS 6. Thanks to Brad Wilson I was able to do a physical comparison between the Surface and the latest iPad. Here’s what I got out of both with a summary to wrap it all up nice and neat.

iPad vs. Surface

Surface & iPad Side by Side (Click for high rez image)

The first thing I did was take a good look and check out every physical corner, fold, rounded corner, seal, button (or lack thereof) flick panel and “kick stand”. This first comparison was done between only the tablets themselves, no keyboards were attached.

Screens & Touch

Both devices started fine. Both screens swiped the active panels or app icons back and forth with no problem. These things were smooth and simple. The applications started fast on the iPad, a bit slower on the Surface. Just to make sure I had some apples to apples comparisons, I loaded Google Maps via browser along with iOS 6 Maps (which are still horrible * ) and Bing Maps (which also are still horrible * ). Google Maps via browser of course is slow on tablets, regardless of which tablet. This makes for a frustrating experience with mapping and routing. I look forward to having a decent Google Maps app on either of these platforms again, I’m however not holding my breath, but if they’d just cooperate and stop their nonsensical fighting that would be splendid.

Quality

As for construction both devices are light years ahead of any other tablet out there. Weight however is a little frustrating, as both are pretty heavy devices to hold in one hand for any extended period of time. Many of the Android Tablets are dramatically lighter. The feel however, touch of the screens, the kick stand, and about every single thing is comparable in quality between both devices. To put it simply, Microsoft and Apple have done a spectacular job at hiring the right manufacturing facilities to build their devices and have done a good job in designing the devices.

Strength

Will the Surface hold up as well over time as the iPad? Especially with the kick stand and other parts, the Surface does have a little more risk around these elements. Give a 5 year old a Surface and I’d put hard money on the fact that 5 year old will make that kick stand give way in short order form regular wear and tear. The iPad of course, doesn’t have any of these concerns – it’s a single, well built, strong device. The screens I hear however, favor the Surface, but so far have seen no evidence that one or the other screen is stronger than the other.

Applications

Alright, this is where there is no competition. Surface has almost no applications in comparison to Apple’s iPad. This is of course barely a fair comparison at this time since it has been on market for a few weeks and the iPad for years. The iPad has had the App Store to build off of and millions of developers while the Surface has had almost nobody except Microsoft’s internal developers & immediate partners. Barely anything beyond that exists. This however, makes the few applications the Surface does have almost impressive. However…

The applications that do exist have one big problem. Especially the native application Microsoft itself has built, such as the messaging and email client. They’re buggy. It is state no simpler than, “They are buggy.” I’ve seen it over and over again on Twitter, Facebook and every other social media and critique outlet. Let’s take a few applications for a test drive.

Applications – iOS 6 Maps & Bing Maps

The maps, Bing and iOS 6 Maps are both complete crap. They’re years behind Google Maps. So in this case we’re comparing a limited feature map set against another limited feature map set. Overall as for options, Bing Maps at least has transit. On the driving front, since I don’t do this myself (*see below), the driving instructions and traffic are useless to me. However, I did check out driving directions and traffic – both are moderately competent at getting this information. No more so than Google Maps though. As for finding things in cities or urban areas that have high livability – such as Urban Seattle, Portland, San Francisco or New York – both are horrendous.

Biking, neither of the maps applications have biking directions. I guess the rather large contingent of developers that bike to work everyday in New York City, Portland, San Francisco just don’t matter to Microsoft or Apple. They’ve just left that out. It’s pathetic in my opinion, as Google Maps has extensive and informative biking information and logistics planning. Bing & iOS Maps 6 both I’d rate as unmitigated distaters except for those that live an average suburban auto dependent lifestyle. Everybody else – i.e. a dramatically large part of the tech sector for one, is left out.

Walking – again, both maps are broken. Transit, don’t even get me started on how behind and outdated both of these maps options are. Finding great coffee shops and…  oh just forget it. Don’t get either of these devices for the mapping. You want a mapping device get an Android Tablet or an Android Phone. Hands down, no competition.

Evernote is Free!

Evernote is Free!

Applications – Evernote

Evernote has simply become a huge part of my day to day flow. I pay for the unlimited or extreme or whatever version they call it. I don’t want any limites and I find it more than worth the money (they could even raise the price 2x and I’d still pay it). So how does Evernote play out on the Surface vs. iPad. Well two things made this interesting. Over the time I started and am finishing this write up, Evernote completely updated and revamped their user interface and thus the user experience changed. Fortunately for either product, for the better.

But… when I first logged into the Surface and tried to get Evernote going the swiping and determinig what a right click was or double tap was extremely frustrating. The Surface made the iPad Evernote version seem intuitive, simple and usable by comparison. Both allow almost identical functionality, but with the surface the challenge is finding out how to get at that functionality.

If you find it, this is what you get when you right click or double tap or whatever it's called.

If you find it, this is what you get when you right click or double tap or whatever it’s called.

So in this category, the iPad is hands down an easier to use Evernote device. Once you get used to it, does that really matter? Probably not. But I’m not sure why someone would want to buy, purposefully  a device that has a learning curb.

Evernote on Surface & iPad

Evernote on Surface & iPad

Summary

Overall, I found the Surface pretty sweet in a number of ways. However, I know for a fact, that those things I found sweet are things an early adopter, nerd, geek, techno type would find sweet. Not the person who just wants to get things done and carry on with life. The person who wants to just view internet content or write an email, go with an iPad. If you want some simple, suburban driving directions to help avoid traffic, either device will do. If you want to just get on with life with a sexy and easy to use device, the iPad is fine.

I could go on about the USB and this and that feature, but Microsoft has horribly missed the mark in that way. These are devices for short term use, not working. If you get a Surface with the intent to work, get ready to get a carpal tunnel operation in a few years. I wouldn’t advise using either device for any significant amount of work. If you want to do work, get a laptop or proper computer. Apple and Microsoft have many to choose from.

In the end, if you have an iPad, stick with it. If you have no tablet and want to get one – go with either an Android tablet or an iPad depending on if you want a controlled garden of elegance (iPad) or want total freedom of devices and interoperability (Android).

With that, cheers and good luck being happy with whatever you get.

* Some context needs to be added to the maps situation. I don’t drive, not because I can’t but simply because I find it a horrendous and wasteful activity for my time. I might sound or come off aloof, but I don’t mean to, but simply – I have zero use for a map application that only provides driving directions or traffic. I haven’t had to deal with these problems in almost a decade now, even back when I did drive. So thus, driving and path finding through traffic are not one of my problems. What I do use maps for however are walking, biking and transit directions. All the better if the transit directions actually provide real time information as Google Maps does in some of the more advanced partner cities like Portland, San Diego, etc. Also I want street level information that is accurate and defines the businesses and other related information. Google Maps does this, but iOS 6 Maps and Bing Maps are outdated and routinely provide inaccurate information compared to Google Maps. Not to say Google Maps couldn’t use improvement here or there, but it is by far years ahead in information and capabilities versus the other two.

5 thoughts on “Surface & iPad Collision Course

  1. I own a surface, ipad original, and ipad 4 (bought a month before the surface came out and decided not to trade in). As additional evidence of my unbiased nature, I can also admit that I purchased a couple of macbook pro’s for my wife and I about a year ago. I also own an apple TV, two ipones, my first computer was an Apple ][+, and the one I had in college was a Mac Classic.

    My impression of the surface is pretty favorable. I think you’ve done a good job of pointing out some of the limitations, of which I think the biggest is the current horrid state of the MS app marketplace. But, I think there’s a pretty darn good chance that with win 8 desktops making their way in to the ecosystem we’ll see a lot more apps starting to show up soon. I also really miss the IOS “claw” gesture to close apps.

    You also touched on some of the more obvious benefits of the surface (USB!) so I wont mention them again. To me, the surface comes closer to bridging the gap between a tablet and a laptop without losing the benefits of a tablet. The fact that it comes bundled with MS Office (RT) is nice and the remote desktop experience is so much better than on the ipad. The snap-in keyboard is a huge plus. It’s true I can use a bluetooth keyboard on the ipad but then I have to worry about bluetooth/batteries/power. Ironically, MS win8 is more open then IOS as well. I would have thought that Apple would learn from the “clone wars” mistakes from the past but outside of switching to BSD, that doesn’t appear to be so.

    I think the Ipad4 currently beats surface in entertainment (because of the current app marketplace). But, the surface wins as being the most useful device.

  2. I don’t think MS is missing the mark. The surface isn’t just a tablet like the iPad. It enables many more scenarios that I just cannot do with an iPad. I disagree that it is only supposed to be a short term use and not working. The device allows me to do both, and not have to be limited to one like the iPad. The USB support should not be understated as it includes built in support for millions of PC peripherals out of the box. Printers, network devices, etc… all just work. The fact that it can do more than a simple tablet leads me to actually do more with it as opposed to saying, why would I do that on a tablet. It isn’t just a tablet in my opinion, but the in between step of tablets and laptops/ultra books.

    With my 3 hour commute (3 hours each way! by train) I need a device I can use for both entertainment and work. The surface gives me that in spades. If I need to connect to a network share, work on a spreadsheet, work on a word doc, there are so many scenarios that I can do here that I just could not on an iPad. I haven’t found any entertainment options yet on the iPad that I can’t find on the surface as well (Netflix, Hulu+, etc…) so the app issue isn’t as much of a problem yet for me. I think that the number of apps isn’t as important as making sure the more popular apps are available. But again, just my opinion.

    On a sidenote, I am biased (Spent 6 years working as an engineer at Microsoft), but that does not take away from the fact that I can do pretty much anything entertainment wise that an iPad can do, plus a whole other deminsion in productivity tasks. And I have to say, that the typecover is about a million times more comfortable for typing than the touchcover, I use it for hours each day and have no issues, the touchcover works great but just doesn’t give me the tactile feedback I need.

  3. Forgot to mention, the experience you had with evernote would be the same for someone using an iPad for the firs time. Using a new OS and new device always means a learning curve. Intuitive is subjective to what you are used to using.

    • This I highly doubt, I’ve seen so many young children playing with these things – the Surface was a catastrophe, putting it nicely versus using an iPad. I mean, the buttons are basically invisible (swipe where, touch what part of the device).

      At this point though, I’m just laying out the observations, which the consumer market is backing me up on in droves.

      As for everything you said you’d do on your “3 hour commute” someone can do on an iPad. Has been able to do pretty much since the iPad 2. Some of those features might be “addons” like the office apps capability. The same issues can be had for the Surface / WinRT. Regardless, it is all there with both tablet devices. The real questions boil down to, what do you like the feel of, where do you already have your app investment, and do you trust Microsoft to move forward in a leadership position. They’re already 5… no, let’s call it what it is, 6 years late to the tablet market that consumers wanted and didn’t know they did. I really love some of the products Microsoft creates, but they need to build a reputation of leadership, something they’ve destroyed over the last 10 years.

      Don’t look at me, just look at the new device market. Microsoft has a combined share of < 5% including phones and tablets (I'm being conservative here). Meanwhile Apple has over 90% in some markets and even in new markets (like China) they at least have somewhere between 11%-13% of phones sold, controlling at least 5% of the market even after being in the market only a few months.

      Do I think Microsoft has the capability to straighten its mess out? Absolutely. Do I think they will? If they deliver like their marketing does, and continue to fail to connect with people – prospective consumers of their products, they're going to be in a world of hurt in the next 2-3 years.

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