Microsoft's Surface tablet: Three years too late?

Microsoft's Surface tablet: Three years too late?

Summary: Microsoft user interface researcher Bill Buxton told the Globe and Mail that he expects Microsoft to be offering three years from now a tablet device that will be like a slimmed-down mini Surface. That sounds all well and good... except for the three years part. And the Windows part ....

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Microsoft user interface researcher Bill Buxton told the Globe and Mail that he expects Microsoft to be offering three years from now a tablet device that will be like a slimmed-down mini Surface. That sounds all well and good... except for the three years part. And the Windows part (unless Buxton is expecting Microsoft to make some pretty radical changes to the version of Windows running on these things.

Microsoft execs have been thinking about ways to make the Surface multi-touch tabletop more affordable and portable for at least two years. (Remember "Oahu," anyone?) So far, however, the Surface remains a "big ass table," as it was dubbed in a spoof video a while back.

What is Microsoft positioning against the iPad and Android slates that have begun to debut? Its partners are introducing some interesting-looking tablet/slate-like designs (like the new Dell netbook/tablet convertible and the Windows 7-based ExoPC slate (which was supposed to be branded Ciara last we heard) shipping on October 15). But these new models still aren't addressing limitations like relatively short battery life (the ExoPC reportedly is around 4 hours, compared to the eight-to-ten I'm getting on my iPad); instant on/off; and availability of a plethora of cheap or free apps purchasable through a common app store.

I think Microsoft and its partners aren't going to have any true slate contenders until mid-2011, at best, as I've said before. And even then, Apple, Google and their partners aren't going to be standing still waiting for Microsoft and its PC partners to come out with Windows Oak Trail slates which may or may not sport some kind of new user interface crafted by Microsoft to make them multi-touch-centric.

I've gotten a number of questions from readers about how I like my iPad, which I've now had for close to two months. Am I really using it much? What kinds of things has it proven good for? What isn't so good about it for us Windows-centric users?

I've used and continue to use my 16 GB iPad with 3G and wifi a lot. (In spite of AT&T's overly pricey 3G data plans, I'm glad I got one with both, as wifi hotspots are still few and far between in many places.)I toss it into my purse when I am going out for a few hours and don't want to pack up my laptop and lug it with me. I use it to surf the Web, check my mail, read books using the Kindle app, keep up with Twitter (via the Osfoora Twitter client, which I still like a lot more than Twitter's own iPad client or other alternatives).

I've run up against the inability to view Flash and Silverlight streaming content about once every other day. It's annoying, but not a deal breaker for me. I've been accessing my Office documents using Dropbox. And I've used Splashtop Remote to get my Zune music library to play on my iPad... not an elegant solution, but it's something. (I'm still hoping Microsoft opts to port the Zune software to the iPad, but know that won't be happening any time soon.) On the browser front, I'm an AtomicWeb gal, as I really can't like in a tab-less Safari environment.

I'm not a gamer, so even though everyone keeps telling me I must buy Angry Birds for my iPad, I've still not shelled out the $5 or so. I've also found very few magazine/newspaper sites compelling enough to download them. (The New York Times and Slate apps are OK, but I still like accessing their respective Web sites better. My absolute favorite new app is WikiHood (which I found via a recommendation from the Houston Chronicle's Dwight Silverman). It's the most up-to-date, interactive local travel guide ever and the only good reason I've found to turn on location-sensing (other than keeping up with the weather, via the Weather Channel app).

The best and most useful iPad apps I've found have come through recommendations of friends and people I trust. Although there are hundreds of thousands of iPad apps out there, I've found it hard to find good ones. Top 10 or 25 lists always seem to recommend the same handful, and recommendations on the app store site often feel gamed to me. (That said, if you're interested in more business/productivity-focused iPad apps, I would recommend lists compiled by my ZDNet colleagues Jason Perlow and Adrian Kingsley-Hughes as starting points.)

I am definitely using the iPad to consume and not create. I'm not saying that in a critical or bad way. About 80 percent of my job is about content consumption, not creation. I know I could create on an iPad if I wanted, but I still find it faster and easier to use my laptop to do so.

Would I still shell out for a Winpad? If it allowed me to seamlessly connect my PC and Zune HD, (and maybe a Windows Phone 7 -- though I'm taking a wait and see on that one), all using the Zune software client instead of iTunes -- and had true instant on/off and 10-hour battery life -- my answer would be yes. But I'm sure glad I didn't wait a year ... or three... just to get the true portability that I've wanted and needed for the past couple of years.

Topics: Hardware, iPad, Laptops, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Tablets, Windows

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Did you come to the iPad from an iPhone ... ?

    I ask because that certainly helped me zero down apps I wanted, and what I wanted the iPad to do for me (rather than the other way around).
    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
  • RE: Microsoft's Surface tablet: Three years too late?

    The instant ON/OFF issue has been taken care of with the sleep function for the PC. With a tablet sporting SLC SSDs, the ON/Off is now equal to those of ARM devices. What we call ON/OFF on ARM devices are also sleep function, as they are not "Truly" turned off. See (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-8CohCh2q4) and convice yourself.
    eInfinity
    • RE: Microsoft's Surface tablet: Three years too late?

      Hello eInfinity, I have yet to own or be assigned by my employer a PC with a sleep function that works reliably. Running Windows XP, Vista and 7, none of them predictably come back to a stable state, especially if any kind of internet connectivity is involved. Sleep is a LONG way from working the way users need it to.
      justin.donie@...
      • RE: Microsoft's Surface tablet: Three years too late?

        @justin.donie@... That's a shame because all my Win7 PC's go to sleep quickly and wake up in less than 2s.

        You need to check that your machines' BIOS are up to date since the BIOS controls bringing the PC's major components out of sleep and is controlled by the hardware manufacturer, not the OS.

        Also make sure your drivers are up to date: bad drivers can prevent the machine from sleeping and resuming smoothly.

        Finally, apps can prevent a machine from sleeping. To see if any apps are causing your machine not to sleep, run the following from an evelevated command line:

        powercfg -requests
        De-Void
    • RE: Microsoft's Surface tablet: Three years too late?

      @eInfinity
      MSFT Instant ON/OFF:
      I T D O E S N O T W O R K.

      Rinse, repeat (endlessly).
      Jeremy W
      • RE: Microsoft's Surface tablet: Three years too late?

        @Jeremy W - Does for me. See above.
        De-Void
  • RE: Microsoft's Surface tablet: Three years too late?

    Three years is about right for something like Surface. I wouldn't compare it to an iPad, surface does much more and is a whole new paradigm. Sure, people are playing with their iPads for now while its still new, but give it a few more months and they will be leaving them at home to collect dust. Meanwhile Microsoft is researching how to make Surface more innovative. Two entirely different concepts you are comparing here.
    Loverock Davidson
    • The reality distortion field....

      @Loverock Davidson <br><br>is alive and well. MS must have spent about $100B on R&D by now. Maybe you can list their successes and the return on that "investment".<br><br>Wake up LD. MS is a dinosaur. 3 years from now the whole world will be using light and cheap iOS and Android tablets, while MS will still be trying to figure out how to compete using Windows 8, 9 or whatever. What are you going to say then? :-)

      Edit: In case you have not seen this:<br><br><a href="http://www.zdnet.com/blog/hardware/ugly-dell-convertible-windows-7-tablet-is-ugly/9709?tag=content;search-results-rivers" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.zdnet.com/blog/hardware/ugly-dell-convertible-windows-7-tablet-is-ugly/9709?tag=content;search-results-rivers</a>
      Economister
      • RE: Microsoft's Surface tablet: Three years too late?

        @Economister The same crap he's been spewing since 2005...he'll be spending the holidays trying to figure out how to use his Kinect with his Xbox 360 so don't bug him too much.
        cyberslammer
      • RE: Microsoft's Surface tablet: Three years too late?

        @Economister
        This may come as a surprise to you but a lot of the Microsoft R&D projects end up into the Microsoft line of products. This is why its called R&D. Its a term you should familiarize yourself with.

        I saw the link, comes as no surprise that a known Microsoft hater would would hate a product running a Microsoft Windows. Although his complaint wasn't with the OS, it was with the hardware itself which Microsoft wasn't involved with. Personally I like it, its a multitasker.
        Loverock Davidson
    • RE: Microsoft's Surface tablet: Three years too late?

      @Loverock Davidson Another WRONG post from Loverock...wow, can you keep up with the inaccurate predictions or are you going to report my posts and flag it again?<br><br>iPhone<br>iPad<br>iPod<br><br>All are still selling like hotcakes, and with a new iPad on the horizon and the iPhone still flying off the shelves, you are once again WRONG....<br><br>Windows touch = FAIL.

      Where's the Windows phone?
      Where's the Windows touch pad?
      How's that Zune coming?
      cyberslammer
      • Um. Dude

        @cyberslammer

        Incase you haven't noticed Windows Phone hasn't been released yet. And the Zune is coming along just fine. In fact, there are rumors of another device coming our way.

        There are also Windows tablets out there if you look. Archos has one, and ASUS has a few convertibles out now capable of running Windows 7. I am typing on mine now as we speak.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • RE: Microsoft's Surface tablet: Three years too late?

        @NStalnecker Oh wow, another Zune device? I bet that's got all what, 30 people excited about it? And Windows tablets? Sorry, a point and click OS on a tablet does not make it a tablet...add a mouse and it's still a laptop.
        cyberslammer
      • @cyberslammer

        The fact that the Zune team is still going, producing another device, means there is considerable interest in the device. 30 people would not constitute "considerable interest".

        And now that the Zune marketplace is going international, it will be nice to see what it does for the numbers once WP7 is released.

        Look around, there [i]are[/i] people out there who prefer the Zune to the iPod. Just because it is a Microsoft device, doesn't mean that it is automatically hated.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • uh

        @NStainecker
        "The fact that the Zune team is still going, producing another device, means there is considerable interest in the device. 30 people would not constitute "considerable interest". "
        the fact that zune is still going simply means microsoft is willing to lose, by their own account, a cool 100 million a year on it.

        now, that may translate as successful to you but in the real world where business's run on this thing called profit and loss, and products that don't move get cut out of the lineup, it simply means what ballmer said it means.

        ballmer: we may not be the first or the best but we just keep coming and coming and coming...

        translation: we'll pump money into it until you die.
        sportmac
      • Uh duuude...

        In case you haven't noticed, the Zune doesn't even sell in Europe.

        Why not, Nicholas? No confidence in it? Hmmm?
        LTV10
    • Not likely to "leave at home"

      @Loverock Davidson

      Watch this movie http://www.apple.com/ipad/business/profiles/hyatt-hotels/#video

      and then tell me that iPads will be gathering dust.

      Yes, it is an Apple advert. But, note the mention of Lotus Notes, among other things.
      davebarnes
      • RE: Microsoft's Surface tablet: Three years too late?

        @davebarnes They are adopting the iPad at a lot of hospitals here to do patient checkins and use them in the ER for quick analysis and diagnosis for check in...doctors and nurses really like the iPad because it's portable and has a long battery life and they can carry it from one place to the next without having to close and open a lid...but I suppose Loverock would refuse service from a hospital if he saw the doc coming up to him with an iPad, he'd more than likely go into shock and scream.
        cyberslammer
      • RE: Microsoft's Surface tablet: Three years too late?

        @davebarnes
        So Hyatt Hotels want to waste money and wonder why they are going broke just like the rest of the hotel industry. Lets just see how often these iPads get used at the hotel, very little I'm guessing. So yes, they will be gathering dust and the hotel industry sinks further. LOL Lotus Notes, people still use that piece of garbage? LOLOLOL!
        Loverock Davidson
      • RE: Microsoft's Surface tablet: Three years too late?

        @davebarnes Don't listen to Loverock. He's never said anything that's remotely worthy of being a qualified answer, he's in Windows denial all the time, the numbers speak for themselves....

        iPad > Microsoft
        iPhone > Microsoft
        iPod > Microsoft

        Stick to what Microsoft does best, operating systems....I would say stick to video games but they are really going to blow it with this Kinect thing...PS3 and Wii will win on that front.
        cyberslammer