Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Microsoft Surface - A Failure in Design?

The Surface tablet is being pushed hard by Microsoft as part of its $1,5bn Windows 8 marketing campaign. Pop-up stores have been set up in shopping malls across the US, hoping to convince holiday shoppers to purchase the Microsoft branded tablet over the Android and Apple competitor devices. Microsoft made a big deal about the design of the hardware, and features like the Kickstand, but I believe the combination of the ill-conceived hardware and the dumbed down version of Windows 8, known as Windows RT, will ultmately fail in the market.

 Microsoft are very proud of the Touch Cover, which uses magnets to attach to the tablet, similar to Apple's Smart Cover, but offers a touch keyboard built in. This turns the Surface into a laptop alternative, except for one key point: it's not lap friendly. The Surface only works well in this configuration when placed on a hard surface, like a desk. It definitely does not work in "lean-back" mode, like when you're on the couch watching TV, which is when I use my iPad the most. Detach the Touch Cover, and the Surface turns into a bulky tablet that feels awkward in portrait mode, due to its 16:9 aspect ratio. And that Kickstand also only works in landscape mode.

The 16:9 display may be better for movies, but I prefer reading in portrit mode on my iPad, and alternate between portrit and landscape depending on specific app designs. Perhaps Microsoft are targeting the Surface to appeal to enterprise first, and I can see how it would be great for taking notes in a meeting, but for $600 (with Touch Cover) there are plenty of more versatile laptops I'd recommend before the Surface. One of the Surface's selling points is that Windows RT comes with a version of Microsoft Office. That might be useful to access files when you're away from your desk, or for inputting data when you're on the road, but anyone that uses Excel for document creation and/or data manipulation will tell you that a 10.6" screen is hopelessly small. So who will the Surface actually appeal to? I'm not sure, and I can't think of a use case where I'd reach for the Surface before the iPad.

Thanks for reading.