Surface: Companion device or PC replacement?

Moderated by Andrew Nusca | December 10, 2012 -- 07:00 GMT (23:00 PST)

Summary: Yes, tablets are outselling PCs. And yes, Microsoft's tablets run Windows. But could the Surface serve as a full-fledged PC replacement?

Zack Whittaker

Zack Whittaker

Surface to rule


PCs aren't dead

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes


Audience Favored: PCs aren't dead (75%)

Closing Statements

More portable PCs

Zack Whittaker

Tablets are not only capable devices but in many cases they offer nearly if not all of the functionality that PCs offer, just with greater portability. For the Surface in particular, it's geared more towards the enterprise and business user, while retaining that 'fun' element for bring-your-own-device (BYOD) employees.

Whether you are an iPad fan, a Surface user, or a Nexus owner -- or any other tablet for that matter -- the vast majority of what we do on a daily basis, whether at work or at home, can be done on a tablet. However, despite my argument that the Surface (and other tablets) are good enough to replace the traditional PC, the rest of the market has yet to accept this fact. This means that while many PC-only elements are slowly making their way to tablets -- such as business, productivity, or enterprise solutions -- in many cases they're not quite there yet.

PC is still king

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

The truth is that while Microsoft's Surface tablet is by no means ready to replace the PC, the truth is that no tablet -- not even the iPad -- is ready to take on that role. The problem isn't the form factor, or the power of the device, or even the operating system, but instead to the overall maturity of the platform. While it is easy to think that tablets are at the cutting-edge of technology, they haven't had anywhere near the time that the PC has had to be refined.

Tablet are, without a doubt, the future of the PC. I can see a day -- not that far in the future -- when a tablet will be powerful enough to double as a PC, and we'll plug it into a dock connected to a larger screen, keyboard, and mouse when we want the benefits of a desktop system. We already have tablets that can transform into notebooks, so the next logical step is to have tablets that can transform into desktop systems.

If Microsoft remains committed to Surface beyond Windows 8 -- and right now, it's hard to tell if that commitment is there -- then the Surface platform will evolve over time and could be well positioned to shape the future of tablet computing.

Five years from now, the boundaries between the tablet and the PC will have blurred to the point where there will be little or no distinction between the two, but for now the PC is still the king.

The real winner is us

Andrew Nusca

They may have fought tooth-and-nail, but these Brits are a lot closer in position than they think. Nonetheless, I declare Mr. Kingsley-Hughes the winner of this debate for making the most compelling and nuanced argument. No matter how good today's tablets can be, they're still ill-equipped to do what we do best here at ZDNet: work.

Tablets have made significant inroads in the home where computing is occasional and lightweight (except for you, telecommuters). And they're fantastic for roving executives of all stripes, whether for presentations or correspondence or monitoring. When push comes to shove, though, certain types of productivity still rule on the PC. (For example, I'd never dare to engage in interface design with a tiny tablet and my pudgy finger.) That's why we still use the PC, and that's why the term "companion device" exists in the first place.

I look forward to a time when I can do everything my work day requires on a tablet or similar -- the day when my trusty PC becomes the companion device. For a lucky few of you, that's already happened. Until cubicle emancipation truly catches on, however, the PC still rules. A desk job requires a desk tool.

But let's not forget: the real winner in this scenario is us. Between the phone, tablet and PC, we can now compute on-the-go, standing still and sitting down. All Microsoft and its peers need to worry about is being in all of the places we seek to work and play. (No pressure, guys.)


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  • Android tablets

    Android tablets are going to outsell PC's
    Reply Vote I'm for Surface to rule
    • ..But Not for Long.

      Android tablets are going to outsell PC's? ..But Not for Long.
      Reply 3 Votes I'm Undecided
      • Tablet screen size is too small

        No way a 10' screen could replace a 27' one. The users experience falls short on a tablet.
        Reply 4 Votes I'm Undecided
        • Only for iPads & Androids

          Not a problem for my Surface. I can plug in a 27" monitor to my Surface and either duplicate or extend my desktop. I love it!
          Curtis Quick
          Reply 4 Votes I'm Undecided
          • 27" monitor

            So are you going to lug your 27" monitor around with you on the road!!??
            Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided
          • Why would..

            you want to lug a 27" laptop around?
            10 - 12" are fine for portable. leave the 27" at home.
            Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided
          • 27"

            Logistics and potential back strain aside, I would have nothing but respect for the person I saw walking around town with a 27" Surface or iPad.
            Reply Vote I'm Undecided
          • What a ridiculous thing to say.


            Your argument is ridiculous, and (hopefully) you know it. No one lugs a 27" monitor with them. Which device allows you to plug into that monitor when you get home, and use it as a fully functional computing device, though?

            Grasping at such straws is not a valid argument.
            Reply Vote I'm Undecided
        • I find the (16:9) wide-screen Surface RT ...

          ... far more comfortable to use than the iPad's 4:3 screen. The point though is that it is trival to plug the Surface RT into a larger screen. Not so trivial with the iPad.
          M Wagner
          Reply 3 Votes I'm Undecided
        • PCs are and will be more powerful...

          PCs are and will be more powerful for some time to come. Sure tablets are portable, but the screen and computing power is minor. Not all tasks can be done on tablets.
          Reply Vote I'm Undecided