We ventured out to The Mall in Columbia this afternoon (and into the evening). As we always do when we visit the Mall, we stopped into the Apple store to look (drool) on the iPads and new iPhones and other lovely products they sell. We do, after all, love Apple. From there, we carried on with the actual mission -- Donna needed some makeup and a purse and some other ... things. She didn't find a purse she liked. She did find a large quantity of makeup and the other ... things.
Now, here's where the whole identity crisis comes into play. No, it has nothing to do with the large quantity of makeup and the other ... things, although I suppose I will enjoy them in my own way.
No, this is what has shaken me to my hyperbolic core:
This is a Windows Surface RT tablet device (with optional tactile keyboard). And the user experience is mighty good. Better than all of the Android devices I've looked at. Better in some ways even than Apple's iPad.
Although different from the iOS and Android devices I've become accustomed to, I found it to be largely intuitive and responsive. And, adding the keyboard (it's snaps into place, held firmly by magnets like Apple's MagSafe power supply cables) turns the surface into a full-fledged notebook of sorts. Damn, that's sexy.
Unlike the iPad, the Surface allows the user to add storage by either a microSD card or a USB device. The Surface has a full-sized USB port, as well as a micro HDMI port, allowing the surface to connect to an HDTV or projector for viewing presentations or video, or playing some variant of Xbox games or content (I'm not clear on how the Xbox functionality works, but I have seen that you can even use an Xbox controller with with Surface). And, of course, WiFi and Bluetooth are in there, too. Also included are a full version of Microsoft Office Home and Student edition, so the device is actually ready to do real work when it comes out of the box.
Starting price for a Surface is the same as the base price for a current-model iPad: $499.
Of course, like the iPad, the Surface has its drawbacks, largest being that it can't run regular Windows apps. That's not significantly different than the iPad, which can't run MacOS apps, I suppose. So, perhaps it's not really a drawback.
There are some real questions:
- What apps are or will be available for the Surface. It's a little hard to tell, because you need a Windows8 or WindowsRT device to access the Windows Store. That's a little bit of a pain in the ass. Apple allow access to their App Store through iTunes, which runs on Windows, so you don't need a Mac to load apps onto an iPad or iPhone.
- How long will Microsoft support RT? Will it grow like iOS does alongside MacOS? Or will it be treated like Microsoft's previous attempts at an OS for portable devices, WindowsCE and Windows Mobile?
- What happens when Intel is finally able to offer a processor that can compete with the ARM processors currently favored by tablet and phone manufactures? Will Microsoft abandon the ARM architecture in favor of an Intel chip, obsoleting WindowsRT?
- Can Windows8 be made to run apps compiled for WindowsRT?
- How will Microsoft's cloud, which promises to seamlessly link desktops, tablets and phones, fare against competition from Apple and Google?
Despite these drawbacks, I just plain like the Surface -- in some ways more than the coveted iPad I'm surprised to say, and definitely more than the Androids I've encountered.
Microsoft are set to release a "pro" version, which will be running the full Windows8. It will, of course, cost a good bit more (about a $900 starting price), and it appears it will not include Office.