The Surface Question

There has been this interesting situation playing out online between technology journalists, bloggers, analysts, and regular consumers concerning the Microsoft Surface RT. It’s an interesting situation for many reasons, but the biggest one has to be in the gulf between users’ satisfaction and reviewers analysis. For those that don’t know, the Microsoft Surface RT is a tablet PC that runs Windows RT (Windows on ARM); this version of Windows doesn’t  run applications built for previous versions of Windows. The device received many mixed reviews with many saying that the device wasn’t ready for primetime.

For many reviewers and tech bloggers, the Surface RT had too many big and little issues preventing them recommending the device. For starters, and this was the one that surprised me, was the lack of support for legacy/desktop applications. This was tied into the desktop being on the device (more later). Second was the screen size and quality. A lot of reviewers seem to have wanted an iPad that ran Windows (including a Retina-like display).

The regular buyer’s reaction to the Surface has been much different. In some ways it stems from the same place as many reviewers. To most the Surface is like the iPad and Android tablets; its a touch device and treated as such. I don’t think many view it as a laptop replacement or in the context of being late, but only as a new device to play with.

The differing views of the Surface and of Windows RT’s place is interesting because it brings up certain realities and preconceptions intrinsic to Windows. In some ways I feel the customers that have bought and kept the Surface have more realistic expectations of the device than reviewers. This isn’t to say that the Surface RT doesn’t have issues or that Windows RT is perfect; they’re not.  I think many reviewers tend to overlook how people use tablets. While the iPad and a few other tablets were built with both portrait and landscape views in mind, most have been built for primarily landscape. While portrait is used for things like eBooks and digital print, the vast majority of digital content is orientated for wider screens. This also ties into the other overlooked aspect of tablets; many try to use them as laptops. Outside of covers, the biggest accessories for tablets are styli and keyboards. These are things to make an iPad or any other tablet more PC like. There is a whole line of business dedicated to keyboard docks along with making tablets laptop replacements.But I think most reviewers were expecting something there that wasn’t there to begin with. The same is true for Windows RT.

Windows RT was never going to have a migration path for desktop applications, it was about the new run time layer and providing Microsoft with a place to start over. It also had the effect of forcing any developer or software company that wanted to target the Surface to make a tablet optimized application. This is why there was no Clover Trail (Intel chip similar to ARM) version and why the Surface Pro wasn’t first.

After a few trips to local electronic stores it has become clear that the Surface is necessary for Microsoft and Windows 8. They needed a device that would make people want to try Windows 8 on tablets and buy it.  They also needed a device that would pull in developers. None of the planned devices would do that nor are many available to purchase today.     

To be truthful the thing that is selling Windows 8 as a tablet OS and is making in roads is the Surface. And the fact that people are buying it even after the reviews can only be good news for the platform.

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