Five ways Microsoft's Surface is better than iPad: Gallery

This article spotlights features in both Surface models that are better, more innovative, and potentially more game changing than their counterparts on the iPad.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

With all the discussion lately about Windows 8, Microsoft's relatively odd Surface products, and even the question of whether Apple has lost its mojo, I thought it might be instructive to look at things in a more positive light.

While I can't directly recommend the purchase of a Surface RT over an iPad or Chromebook, or a even Surface Pro over a similarly equipped ultrabook, there are some features in both Surface models that are better, more innovative, and potentially more game changing than on the iPad.

Way 1: Active tiles

Say what you will about the iPad's launcher interface, it's definitely long in the tooth. In fact, it's pretty much the same interface that Apple has been using for 20 years.

The nice thing about Microsoft's much-maligned Start screen is that the tiles dynamically update. That may be a pain for a desktop user, but on a tablet, it could be a big help.

On the one hand, it's almost impossible to tell which tile will launch YouTube, because the tile has a picture of whatever was recently watched or is currently being featured. But, on the other hand, dynamic tiles used in, say, a medical environment. could give professionals an at-a-glance view that the iPad launcher can't come close to duplicating.

Way 2: Named sets of applications in the launcher

The iPad lets you group sets of applications into folders, but the icons in those folders are impossible to discern to the naked (or at least, over 40) eye. The iPad also lets you stick a pile of apps on a page, but it doesn't give you the opportunity to name the page.

The Start screen allows you to group applications, and assign those groups labels, which appear above the groups. The icons remain full sized, but you can get a nice overview by simply zooming out. It's a very clean interface for a challenging problem, and it gets you active tiles, named groups, and a bird's eye view, all in one clean interface.

Way 3: Ability to run apps side by side

You can run two apps, side by side, on one screen. No more flipping back and forth like on the iPad. Granted, it's not real windows like, you know, Windows, but it's a huge improvement over the Fisher Price iPad interface.

Way 4: Real Microsoft Office

As our own Mary Jo Foley reported, it may even be a longer wait than we all thought for a real version of Microsoft Office to arrive on the iPad.

There's no doubt that Microsoft's licensing is twisted and sick, as evidenced by the fact that Microsoft includes a product called "Office" on the Surface, but you're not allowed to use it in, you know, an office unless you buy another license. It boggles the mind.

Even so, if you want real, true Microsoft Office, you can't get it on an iPad. You can on a Surface device. One ding against Microsoft: There's no Outlook on the Surface RT. Seriously? What could it possibly have been thinking?

But if you want the real-thing Word, Excel, and PowerPoint on your tablet, you'll want a Surface, not an iPad.

Way 5: Actual USB

Both Surface variations allow you to plug in some (not all, but at least some) USB devices. That means you can finally put files on a thumb drive and move them onto your tablet. You can also use an external keyboard and mouse, so you no longer have to smush your fingers all over the screen to get anything done.

You'd think Apple would have figured this out years ago, but instead, it effectively ceded its entire file system to Dropbox.


So there you go. I can't tell you to go out and buy a Surface (especially the Surface RT), but there are some good ideas in the design that the iPad is sorely lacking.

My hope is that Apple will innovate and move its launcher interface out of the 20th century, and that Microsoft will do a better job of both meeting tablet owners' needs along with the needs of the rest of its traditional Windows users.

Yeah. Well. I know.

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