Surface: "the only Windows 8 Device that makes sense."

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I am extremely glad that Microsoft created the Surface. Surface RT with touchcover is the ONLY Windows 8 device that actually makes sense to me from a physical design and interaction (software and hardware) perspective. This is something Apple has always done right.

You only have to look at the '<strong>frankenstein</strong>' products that OEM's have come up with to realise that they don’t really understand the vision for Windows 8. They have not given thought as to how these designs will work in the real world, every day.

Majority of them are overly elaborate, trying to be anything and everything. To be honest it will just totally confuse the average consumer.

There are fundamental flaws in some of these 1st gen Windows 8 OEM devices:

Laptops with Touch Screens

I am talking about laptops which literally have a touch screen stuck to them. We have already seen laptops from HP and Sony which fit this category.

What the problem with these laptops? Well as soon as you open them up and try to interact with the touch screen you will realise how awkward it’s going to be. Every time you touch it will shake because there is nothing supporting it apart from the hinge, it will feel flimsy. Even if the hinge is super stiff it will be hard to open and will loosen up over time. Trying to play a touch screen game where you are enthusiastically poking and touching the screen every second you will soon realise how gimmicky this kind of device is.

Secondly you cannot have an immersive experience you would get with tablet since you cannot cradle or hold it close to you i.e. reading a digital book. Even if you are sitting on a table the keyboard will just get in the way of the screen and the app you want to interact with. I am talking about full on interaction here, with both hands (multi touch). In conclusion touch screen laptops are no more useful than a standard laptop.

Hybrid Devices

Here I am talking about devices like Sony Vaio Duo, Lenovo Yoga 13. Hybrid devices are ones that I would class as having full keyboards that can either be folded away or detached. The problem with these devices is that they want to do everything, be a tablet and a laptop.

The problem with these devices is the keyboard. It adds unnecessary weight and thickness when using the device in ‘tablet form’. If you plan to use the device more like a laptop then you get the into the same problems as the ones mentioned above. The Yoga 13 is interesting in that it can adapt but the problem with this is that you are stuck with a bulky keyboard, and when its folded back in ‘tablet form’ plus it will be ridiculous to hold especially if you are placing your hand flat underneath it because you are going to feel the keyboard keys randomly pressing against your palm which going to feel very awkward.

Surface

So now we get to Surface. Firstly let me quote something that Balmer said in his opening speech when he announced the Surface, it something that rings very true when looking at the all the OEM offerings.

“It was always clear that our unique view of what software could do would require us to push hardware. Sometimes in ways in which the makers of the hardware themselves had yet to envision”

Surface is truly a reference design for Windows 8. Firstly the Surface is a tablet. Thin, light that can be held close in your hands to deliver an immersive experience.

Microsoft knew people want to create as well as consume. They wanted a physical touch type keyboard but a traditional one would add bulk and not be practical in a mobile device. So touch cover was the solution. But then they have to address the fact that the screen needed to be propped up in that scenario, and that is the genius of the integrated kickstand. Together the kickstand and touch cover allows the device to transition to a productivity device, unlike the OEMs designs solutions it doesn’t add weight or thickness. Surface is a no comprise device. Take the following mobile scenarios:

- Reading a digital book for long periods of time on a train (its thin and light and gives you the most comfortable experience when holding the device near to you, try that with a Yoga or touch laptop)

- Playing a game like Contre Jour that requires touch dexterity (Surface allows you play games and apps like this which would otherwise me more awkward on a touch laptop with a flimsy touch screen or holding a bulky hybrid device)

- Watching a movie (simply open the kick stand)

- Writing a report or writing long emails (with touch cover and Office RT this becomes possible again without adding weight or thickness to the device)

I hear you say that Windows RT is a compromise in itself. My view is that RT is a new platform and the apps for it at the moment are not mature. The complexity and features of RT apps will grow and become comparable to traditional x86 applications over time. You only have to look at the HTML 5 version of Contre Jour and Office RT to realise what is possible.

In conclusion I think Surface RT with touchcover is something special. Personally I don’t think people have actually realised what the potential of this device truly is and the end experience is is able to offer compared to all the crazy ill thought designs the OEM’s have produced so far.

In the future I think the next version of Surface Pro will be just as thin as RT as it is likely to incorporate Intel’s new Haswell processors which will allow Microsoft to make this possible. Only thing holding the Surface RT back will be lack of apps, but I am hoping that situation will change once developers get on board when Windows 8 is officially released.