An hour after Microsoft showed off its new Surface, I got a little snippy on Twitter: “If I see one more person ask if the iPad’s in trouble tonight, I am going to freaking scream. One word, people. ‘Kindle.'” On Tuesday morning, I turned on my, um, iPad, read the same coverage, and thought, “Gee, the Surface actually sounds kind of cool.”
Why my schizophrenia? It comes down to form, function, and pragmatism. My impulse had been to see the Surface as a device intended to sell software, in much the same way Amazon’s Kindle is meant to sell books. It seemed like an underwhelming idea.
But on closer examination, it seems like Microsoft’s done some things to position itself as a more refined, more broadly useful device than the iPad. The Touch Cover is a clever solution to my biggest issue with the iPad, the lack of an integrated keyboard or non-clunky solutions to its absence. Having USB ports means I don’t have to email documents to myself for printing. Yes, I know there are options for that, but who wants to do more research — or spend more money?).
Surface would be the pragmatic choice for another reason: My Dice laptop and home PC are both Windows machines. Life is just easier when you deal with one platform. I’m sure I’d get even more use out of my iPad if I had a Mac but Dell gave me a lot more bang for my hardware buck than Apple would have.
Finally, there’s one thing I can’t get out of my head: When the Macintosh was introduced in 1984, Steve Jobs insisted that it shouldn’t have a fan because fans weren’t “elegant.” Then Apple discovered that overheating computers weren’t elegant either. When the Macintosh SE rolled out in 1987, it had a fan. With the Surface, Microsoft may have done Apple one better by combining a truly powerful and elegant tablet with features that may not be uber-cool but sure are useful. Those keyboards ad USB ports, for example.
Microsoft hasn’t released Surface’s pricing yet, but I’ve seen a lot of speculation it’ll have to be aggressive — more aggressive than the more than $600 to $700 range Redmond’s hinting at. Plus it’s not clear whether the covers and keyboard will be included. I have to believe that Microsoft is smart enough to understand it’s no Apple in the premium department, and that high price tags would just send people back to the more established worlds of iOS and Android.
One last thing: I purposely didn’t get into the iOS vs. Windows 8 question. Sometimes religious wars are beyond me. But if you want to kick one off, feel free to do so in the comments below.