Quitting the iPad cold turkey (or how I learnt to stop worrying and love the Surface)

It would be no surprise to anyone who knows me that I purchased a Surface RT. Most of my career has been built around Microsoft technologies and I am quite a staunch supporter of the company – so why wouldn’t I drink the Kool Aid and buy their first foray into the tablet marketplace?

To set the scene we need to get a few things clear about me.

History of tablets
Tablets are not a new concept, and certainly not to Microsoft (look up the HP slate or Project Origami). Apple did not invent the concept, they simply made it popular like the smartphone. Microsoft and others have attempted to create tablets over the years but there were various factors standing in their way. In Microsoft’s case it was due to the fact that they were trying to make a desktop OS work on a screen without a physical keyboard & mouse.

My views on Apple
I am not an Apple hater, in fact  I deeply respect the way they have changed how the world views technology and the way we communicate. That being said I don’t see them as innovators – just great designers and marketers.
They did not invent: the smartphone, the tablet, the portable music / MP3 player, media library management, digital music purchases, or the graphical user interface – they just made them simple and marketed the hell out of them.
Apple is a consumer electronics / computing company which has made serious inroads into business and enterprise by making its technology appealing and accessible to all users.

My views on Microsoft
Similarly to Apple I do not see Microsoft as innovators. I do however see them as having the largest breadth of any software firm and the largest creator of platforms – not just products. The amount of jobs that exist in the world built on various Microsoft platforms (eg. servers, desktops, databases, mobile development, web development, application development, middleware, gaming, etc.) is something most people simply cannot fathom.
Being one of the biggest and oldest software firms in the world it is easy for many people to wag the finger when they don’t like something Microsoft does. They are not the only company that makes products/features/decisions that bother people – they simply reach into our lives more than most others.

My digital home
In my home there are a number of occupants: myself, my wife, our 6 month old daughter, and two dogs. Therefore only two technology users at this point in time.
Between us we have:
1 x HP ProLiant MicroServer (running Windows Server 2012 Essentials)
1 x Asus notebook
2 x iPads (Gen 2, and Gen 3 with 3G)
1 x Xbox 360 with Kinect
2 x Nokia Lumia 900 phones

Why so much technology in one house with only two users? To put it simply I’m a nerd at heart.
Why do we have iPads? Because they are fantastic tablets and perfect for the consumption of information or light interactions.
I love(d) my “new” iPad. It went with me to meetings, conferences, weekend trips, overseas, and anywhere else I went. Originally the Gen 2 iPad was actually mine and my wife lamented how often my face was lit up by its glare. As she became more heavily pregnant I found myself getting less and less access to it – so I allowed her to claim the device and instead bought myself a Gen 3 iPad to call my own.

What did I use the iPad for? Email (5 accounts). Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter. Banking. Web browsing. Gaming. Listening to music or watching TV shows / movies while travelling. Some light SharePoint access.

Getting a Surface
Windows 8 is not new to me – I’ve been using it on my work laptop since the Consumer Preview was released some months ago.
In fact Windows-based tablet computers are not new to me either. My work machine is a Lenovo X201 Tablet which is very powerful, but thick and heavy by comparison with an iPad (or Surface). Previously it ran Windows 7 however I only used it as a tablet in meetings.
Around 18 months ago I received an ExoPC Slate as a gift, however it sat on the shelf gathering dust because it too ran Windows 7 and simply was not tablet friendly.

When the Surface RT was available for pre-order I looked at the pricing and it didn’t make sense to me – it wasn’t cheaper than the iPad. I thought Microsoft would try to be aggressive and undercut Apple in order to capture some market share and momentum. While I mulled over the decision the pre-orders sold out.
Looking back at my previous blog post about comparing Surface to the iPad it got me thinking – not only was a single Surface more like having two iPads in the house, it was also like having a personal laptop too. It also included Office 2013 for personal use. All of a sudden the price tag actually looked cheap.
The key thing that held me back initially about the Surface RT was the inability to install traditional applications on it – only those from the Windows Store. I thought about our Asus laptop usage and realised its primary purpose was to run Windows Media Center. Up until this point we hadn’t used the Xbox as a media device (except for Zune) as the System Video Player is not exactly a pretty interface.
Much to the chagrin of my wife I formatted our Asus laptop and started using the Xbox to play video files from the HP MicroServer. It was passable.

Finally I caved and bought the Surface RT online. After waiting a week it arrived.

Life with the Surface
Unboxing the unit was very exciting – finally a non-iPad device! Within a few minutes of signing for the package the Surface was online. It already knew my profile information as I use the same Microsoft account on my work laptop – so all my mail account settings, social network connections, contacts, calendar and everything else was already working.
As I was already familiar with the Windows 8 user interface I immediately updated all the pre-installed apps (including Office 2013) and installed a few others such as Xbox SmartGlass, Skype, Lync, Wikipedia, eBay, and a whole host of others.
I was curious to see how long it would take until I went back to the iPad because it could do something the Surface couldn’t. So far it’s been 3 days and my iPad has not been touched once (it’s literally in the same spot I left it when the courier rang the doorbell).

As of last night my wife signed in to the device, configured her profile and started using some of the apps. It only took a few minutes for her to grasp the Modern user interface functionality and start using it like a seasoned pro. She doesn’t really get passionate about technology like I do so the transition from her iPad to the Surface will be at her pace.

Also of note is our Asus laptop has not been turned on since it was formatted and installed with Windows 8 the day before the Surface arrived.

 

What don’t I like about it?
Let’s be fair – the Surface is a version 1 product. The Modern user interface is also a version 1 product, despite being built on top of a strong desktop operating system with long history.
The Surface is amazing for what it is, but by no means perfect.

What are some of the issues?

Screen rotation – not as smooth or as nice as on the iPad, but it gets the job done.
User switching – takes a few seconds to switch between signed in users, leaving you looking at a blank screen.
The stand – the angle means it has to be at arms length in order to view the screen properly.
App loading – not as fast as the iPad, sometimes a second or two longer.
WiFi only – my “new” iPad had 3G so I didn’t have to use the ample bandwidth allocation on my phone via Internet sharing.
App Store – my favourite iPad game Minute Commander is not available.

 

The above issues are by no means showstoppers. To be honest my feelings about them all are relatively benign. I will survive.

What are some of the things I really love about it that other tablets don’t have?
– Multiple user profiles
– Profile settings move with me between Windows 8 devices
– Free streaming from Xbox Music
– Tight integration between my Microsoft account, Skype, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter
– Office 2013 is included!
– The build of the hardware (yes, it has already been dropped with no visible marks)

Personally will I use a Surface for work purposes? No, not even the Pro.
Why? Because I’m an IT Pro – I need tablet functionality but also plenty of power, more than a Surface Pro or most commonly available tablet notebooks can offer.

Revisiting the current inventory of equipment in the Strant household, I expect that it will reduce to:
1 x HP ProLiant MicroServer (running Windows Server 2012 Essentials)
1 x Xbox 360 with Kinect
2 x Nokia Lumia 900 phones
1 x Surface RT

Would a Surface RT replace a desktop computer or laptop? Would an iPad or Android tablet?
The answer is that the Surface RT is less than a PC, but far more than a tablet.
In a world where we no longer need as much local processing power or storage, where connectivity and cloud are ubiquitous – the Surface brings the best of both worlds.

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