Ten Things I prefer to do on Microsoft Surface versus my Apple iPad

Patrick Moorhead / November 6th, 2012

My primary tablet of choice for years has been Apple’s iPad. The iPad, iPad 2, and the New (now old) iPad (3). This is after trying at least 20 other tablets with Android phone, Android tablet, Kindle Android, Windows 7, webOS, and QNX operating systems. Before Surface, I used my iPad 2 primarily in productivity mode with a Logitech keyboard in “fridge toaster mode” and used my iPad 3 as my primary entertainment device when paired with the HumanToolz stand. I find that combination suited my distinct needs.

After all of the contextual “research”, I have finally found a device that could make me leave the iPad at home, that is, after some improvements. After using Microsoft’s Surface for about a week, there are some usage models that I prefer to do on the Surface over the iPad. Before you decide to go directly to the comments section and flame me without reading the article, my next column will be on where I still prefer the iPad in specific usage models, which are many.


I have been critical of Windows 8 email earlier versions, but in the final throes of pre-launch, Microsoft redeemed themselves with a very solid Mail update. The email client is fast enough, is threaded, pulls in avatars from other services that personalizes the experience and easily handles attachments in a way that I am familiar with Windows. Emails are very quick with Surface’s keyboard, too. It’s not perfect as I want a unified inbox, in-message web links, and shortcuts like “add to calendar”, but given this is only version 1.0, I am certain Microsoft could enable it if they wanted to. Question is, how good will they make it until it pulls business from Outlook?

Random, Unplanned Web Browsing

Internet Explorer on Surface is a full, PC-grade browser, unlike Safari on my iPad, but it feels as fast as a tablet browser. While I run into sites that are just ugly on the iPad, Internet Explorer just works as it doesn’t need to cut corners. I never get a down-featured mobile site either, which I routinely get on iPad Safari. Like Mail, it’s not perfect either as it doesn’t even have synced bookmarks. For planned browsing where I go down my favorites list I still prefer the iPad, but I have to think Microsoft will add this or lose many customers to Google Chrome, which works very well on X86-based Windows 8 tablets. In fact, on my Intel Clover Trail-based tablet, I’ve already shifted to Chrome because of the lack of IE bookmarks.

The other thing that is, quite frankly, emancipating is being able to interact fully with a web site or service. I am very disappointed with the lack of Metro-based social media apps, but overjoyed that I can do EVERYTHING on my tablet with a social media site I can do with my full PC. Literally, upload, download, post, reply to every and any site without worrying about if that app has connected with that API or not. IE supports every Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Pinterest feature. Why? It’s simple, because it is full-featured PC browser with access to the system’s file system and peripherals. That, paired with Nvidia’s quad core Tegra 3 that accelerates HTML 5 drives a complete web experience.

Does this mean I don’t want apps? No way. I want apps for speed too, but want the web when I want the whole experience. I want it all.

Writing Research and Blogs

On my iPad, my blog workflow today moves from iPad Evernote to WordPress on the iPad and then final edit on a PC. If you have ever worked with iOS WordPress and photos, you understand why. With Surface, I start with Word then publish inside the app to WordPress. One app, one device; what could be simpler? And it is so, so much easier with the type cover with a trackpad to pound out a 1,000 word piece of work. For research papers, there is no substitute for Word. It’s just the gold standard of productivity. Enough said.

Wireless Printing

While not that sexy, I have appreciated the consistency of Surface’s wireless printing. Like web browsing, it just works. When printing from my iPad, half the time it prints garbage or ten pages when I really only wanted the first page. This has come in handy for my kid’s school projects and when printing out contracts to sign and scan. For the record, no, Surface doesn’t support my HP or Neat scanner and I do that on a full PC.

Task Switching

It seemed for the longest time, Apple was “holding out” for easy task switching. Then came the very much appreciated two finger gesture for the iPad. I thanked Apple profusely for this. Microsoft and the Surface take this a few steps forward with the simple left thumb flick, which allows the user to keep both hands on the device and task switch. When I am showing friends and family the Surface, they are all “gee whiz” on this very simple feature. I liked webOS and QNX task switching better than Windows 8, but must say, I have warmed up to Windows RT and 8 task switching, and certainly prefer over my iPad.

Instant Access to Information without Opening Apps

If you want to get an Apple fan boy riled up, just start a discussion about Live Tiles or Android panes. You can just see the blood pressure rising and the next hour of conversation is around ease of use and what normal consumers want. Well, I like Live Tiles because it saves me time and some don’t because they are “confusing”. Without even touching the Surface display I can see emails, calendar, and weather, stocks, Tweets, breaking news, updated podcasts and about 100 other pieces of information. I think other consumers will prefer, too, after some time as icons are so 1980’s. I believe Microsoft jumped ahead of the curve on this tile concept and Apple will follow at some point.

As the industry moves to large surface usage models and environments for full rooms, kitchens, bathrooms, etc., live tiles will be commonplace. And, yes, I had PointCast and Yahoo widgets and stopped using them because they became a hindrance over time, but these tiles are different, as they are the experience, not an add-on.

Rental Videos

I watch a lot of rental movies and TV from the Apple Store on my iPad. I do this a lot while crashing on the couch or in bed. I use the HumanToolz stand to prop up the iPad 3 on my chest so I didn’t have to hold it. When Amazon Prime came to iPad, I still used the iPad, but switched to Prime. It wasn’t about the deals, it was that Prime enables streaming and the Apple Store does not on the iPad. I sometimes had to wait over an hour for an Apple Store video to download. I get the QOS challenges with streaming, but somehow Amazon and Netflix deals with those. Plus, Apple deals with streaming on my Apple TV just fine, so it’s just frustrating. With Surface, I use the Xbox movie store where I can stream or download and play. This is a lot more convenient than the iPad.

One broadcast channel app that was quite good was the ABC Player. My wife and I watched “Revenge” together and Surface provided a better quality and stable video experience than the iPad. I haven’t had the chance to test every service, but I also thought the Netflix and Hulu+ experiences were also very solid.

Anything that Really Requires a Mouse

As I use my iPad for productivity in addition to entertainment, I attempted presentations with Keynote and spreadsheets with Numbers. I tried for years to love these on the iPad but ended up abandoning them after each new release. Pages was fine but spreadsheets and presentations were nightmares even for editing files I created first on a PC. The lack of a mouse was the biggest issue for me as I had to learn a bunch of new gestures on a small 9.7” screen. With Surface, I have a keyboard, trackpad, optional mouse, Excel and PowerPoint. If you’ve done spreadsheets and presentations, you know how much easier this is and can relate. As in web browsing, this is an area where the four Nvidia Tegra 3 cores are making an impact.

Group Music Listening

I still prefer personal listening of music on the iPad as it’s faster and simpler, but in a group environment, Surface is just all that better. Microsoft essentially took the Xbox music experience and put it on Surface. If you’ve never experienced it, you should, as it’s as much about the video as it is the music. As you play a song, you are fed some incredible transitions that go way above cover art.

Sharing Anything

With my iPad, it’s up to Apple to determine what app or service I can directly share to. Like rental movies, this is Apple simplifying for the consumer and ensuring QOS. Also, if all apps had access to all Apple APIs, Apple couldn’t fully monetize its connections. Microsoft has chosen a different another route, one that is more partner-friendly and inclusive. This isn’t Microsoft jut being the good citizen, it’s part of their business model of monetizing the OS and they are years behind in the tablet war.

In Metro, I literally click on the “Share” charm and any, and I mean, any app that has a “contract” to share, I can share with. Let me use sharing pictures as an example. On my iPad from the Camera Roll, I can share a picture to 2 non-Apple apps, Facebook and Twitter. On Surface, I can share that same picture to 6 different non-Microsoft services and apps and that’s only two weeks in before many social media apps even surface.

Hate my iPads?

I love my iPad and it has been the “chosen one” for many years, for basic productivity and for fun. I cannot tell you just now many times I received flak years ago, before the iPad, for forecasting three years ago that the tablet would be the primary content consumption device for the home by 2015. I think there are many more believers now. I am here to say that the iPad finally has some authentic competition, stiff competition, and that’s from Microsoft Surface and from other Windows RT and 8 devices. Holistically, the iPad has it more together, but then again, it doesn’t do as much, either, and has a multi-year head start. Surface is far from perfect, has its flaws, but also delivers a much better experience than expected, and selectively delivers a preferred experience in certain usage models.

Next week, I will outline usage scenarios where I still prefer my iPad.

Patrick Moorhead

Patrick Moorhead was ranked the #1 technology industry analyst by Apollo Research for the U.S. and EMEA in May, 2013.. He is President and Principal Analyst of Moor Insights & Strategy, a high tech analyst firm focused on the ecosystem intersections of the phone, tablet, PC, TV, datacenter and cloud. Moorhead departed AMD in 2011 where he served as Corporate Vice President and Corporate Fellow in the strategy group. There, he developed long-term strategies for mobile computing devices and personal computers. In his 11 years at AMD he also led product management, business planning, product marketing, regional marketing, channel marketing, and corporate marketing. Moorhead worked at Compaq Computer Corp. during their run to the #1 market share leader position in personal computers. Moorhead also served as an executive at AltaVista E-commerce during their peak and pioneered cost per click e-commerce models.
  • Patrick – thank you! Like you, I try to use the right technology for the right job, and have been slightly frustrated that I can’t use my iPad for more things, because it’s so good for lots of other things! I’ve been looking for a good, practical, non-partisan review of the Surface for a couple of weeks and I think I have just found it! Before I rush off and buy one, however, I’ll wait for your next post. Thanks again, Don

  • adrianoconnor

    Don’t have much to add, but I think you might have been waiting needlessly for iTunes to download your movies — I know my iPad 1 can start playing a movie after just a few percent has finished downloading. My daughter watched Tangled that way this weekend. We only waited about 30 seconds from hitting download to starting it.

    Anyway, glad you’re enjoying the Surface. You’re the second person I’ve read to comment on Word as a blog editor. I’ve also read that Word is a bit of a pig in terms of speed, so hopefully they’ll make some improvements there. Haven’t read much about OneNote, but I imagine that works pretty well.

  • Brandon

    By the way, IE does support sync’d favorites (and URL history, etc). You just need to sign into Windows with your MS account (or connect it in PC Settings). Works across the desktop version and the new UI. Give it a try!

    • Erik

      IE isn’t available on all platforms. Chrome is available on Win, OSX, and iOS. If IE were available on iOS, I’d consider moving back… but for now, if you want cross platform syncing, Chrome is the devil. 🙂

  • mobilemann

    nice one sided piece. I can’t comment as i haven’t had enough time on a RT device.

  • benbajarin

    I agree with you Pat about the wordpress posting. That is probably the one single thing I do regularly that I need to go back to my Mac to do. I know Harry McCracken at time and even James Kendrick at ZDNet can do this on their iPads but I prefer it on a mac.

    You and I may be may be having different experiences with the touch cover keyboard. I find the thing entirely unusable and a heavily compromised typing experience. I typed my column for yesterday on the iPad mini entirely on the Surface just to try it. It took me the entire plane ride to San Diego to get 700 words out, where I could have been done in 30 min if I didn’t make so many errors on the keyboard. Even after an hour of straight usage with that touch cover, I made as many errors as the beginning. I am going to get the Type Cover when I get home tomorrow.

    I think the key that I have found is that the Surface the attempted convergence of a PC and a tablet has left the device with a compromised PC and a compromised Tablet. I am yet to find something the Surface does better than my PC. I know the argument would be for mobility, but there will be some pretty slick super mobile PCs on the market over the next year.

    Realistically if anything my time on Surface has convinced me the best experience will be a notebook paired with a tablet, perhaps a 7, inch which would truly provide the best of both worlds not a compromise of both worlds.

    But i’ll end that there is a market for the compromised converged experience, I am just not sure how big it is and it is not the Pure tablet market which is the one growing much faster than the PC market.

    • Type cover is the best by far than all of the others out there. The type cover is a real typing experience the provides the satisfying tactile press and click of using a typewriter, so much better than the island keys that barely register. I tried using the touch cover and couldn’t even spell my own name, it took 5 tries to get it right. For someone who writes a lot for work, school and personal the touch cover was just not going to get it done, although I do love the colors. I wish the type cover would come in other colors:)

      • David

        The expression is “better by far than.” If you want to use the word “best,” the wording would be “best of all the ones out there.”

    • Dre’ Reavis

      Sorry I’m coming in late to this, but why not simply connect a “real” usb wired keyboard? Or a wireless USB keyboard from Logitech? They work extremely well and don’t cost near what the Microsoft offerings cost.

  • FalKirk

    “…there are some usage models that I prefer to do on the Surface over the iPad.” – Patrick Moorhead

    Exactly the right approach. Pick the right tool for the job at hand.

    I’m a little surprised at your comments about web browsing and printing. And Ben just chimed in with a dissent regarding typing. But to each his own. Your experiences are a welcome addition my own.

    I look forward to your follow-up article on what you prefer to do on the iPad too.

    Think of the Windows Desktop as a hammer and the tablet as a PC (or the other way around – I don’t care). The question is, is there a tool – like the Surface – that will act as both a hammer and a screwdriver – or better yet, represents a wholly new tool that does enough things BETTER than a hammer or a screwdriver and so, become its own category? Articles like this are a start on answering that type of question.

  • jamesdbailey

    I found the comments on the browser to be interesting. The reports on the Surface are showing that the browser is pretty slow in comparison to the competition. I would love some real world comparisons for complex sites. How quickly does The Verge load on the Surface for example?

    Also, I’m at a loss to figure out in what way the iPad browser is deficient compared to a “PC-grade” browser. Are we talking plug-ins or regular HTML browsing? Certainly there are times that I reach a page on the iPad that requires Flash for example that I can’t properly view but I really don’t consider that a flaw in the iPad’s browser. Just a legacy website where usually there are dozen with equivalent information that are more technologically up to date that I can use instead.

    All I know is that I spend far more time browsing on my iPad (when not at work) than I do on my notebook. I’d love to know more about what I may be missing.

    • azbull

      Go experience it yourself if you haave a MSFT store nearby.

    • 9 seconds or less to load the Verge on my office network, may be even faster on my home network. I just like having the full PC experience on my Surface. I like browsing full sites and not mobile versions.

  • i like Windows 8 Tablet but with proper click keyboard & traditional mouse, not even touch mouse but click and wheel mouse

    also why Windows RT when could have Windows 8 with back compatibility

    • Unless you’re an enterprise customer / user, majority of people don’t need backwards compatibility. The Surface for Windows RT is a great device for those that are looking for a pure tablet that will run Office and don’t care for backwards compatibility.

  • Comparing the ipad to the new Windows 8 devices I like to call ‘Taptops’ seems off. One is a true tablet the other is a hybid of a tablet and a latop, so comparison is difficult, like comparing Apples versus oranges – on steroids. -Jp Boudreau @internerdx

    • Surface for Windows RT is not a Windows 8 device. A Windows 8 device is a full-blown PC that can run legacy Win32 applications in addition to the new Modern UI applications.

      Surface for Windows RT cannot run legacy Win32 applications with the exception of Office 2013. It’s a “pure” tablet device.

  • kongqueror

    I keep hearing that the Surface RT is a “compromised device”. As a laptop replacement, I can surely see that – lack of legacy compatibility (which the Surface pro addresses), not a “real” keyboard, etc.. But as a tablet, outside of a an app catalogue still in its infancy, how is it actually compromised? If a tablet is for relaxed media consumption, surfing/browsing, online socializing, isn’t it as capable as the iPad (even more so with expandable storage)? I just don’t see how it’s a compromised tablet unless if you the number of apps determines how good a tablet is. And with the Surface RT, if you have the full blown experience with a browser, would that negate or minimize the need for an app?

    • “If a tablet is for relaxed media consumption, surfing/browsing, online socializing, isn’t it as capable as the iPad…”

      For these specific things you listed, yes it’s as capable as an iPad.

      “And with the Surface RT, if you have the full blown experience with a browser, would that negate or minimize the need for an app?”

      No. Developing native apps still gives the user a much better user experience compared to using a browser. There may be a time when that may change but at the current moment, that’s just not so.

      • kongqueror

        “No. Developing native apps still gives the user a much better user experience compared to using a browser. There may be a time when that may change but at the current moment, that’s just not so.”

        As far as 10.1″ screens are concerned, I disagree. The Surface RT has a full-blown browser and a high-def screen, the same as Ultra Books. So with your thinking, all these users with Ultra Books and IE8/9/10 are having inferior experience with Facebook for example. I do agree that apps are superior on my smart phone because the screen is just too small and the browser is not up-to-snuff – which were the main reason the apps were created in the first place.

    • I find the most of the complaints come from either Apple fans or techies and much less from the average user. I love my Surface RT. I also own ipad3. I can do so much more on my Surface than with my ipad, but I still prefer ipad for certain things such as games. I do not care so much for buying into an “ecosystem” so I just enjoy the fact that I can actually write research papers start to finish on my Surface without having to go from ipad to PC. In an online school environment the ipad cannot even make paragraph breaks which is so annoying. I can accomplish all I need for work and school on my Surface even though I still need my ipad for textbook epubs.

  • BBfan

    Just get a Blackberry Playbook its the biggest bang for your buck no doubt, it`s even getting a Playbook 10 update next year.

  • David

    “Usage models”?

  • David

    I’ve never done a usage model in my life. What’s it like?

  • JCraig

    It seems to me that for about HALF of the 10 activities listed by the author would be better done on ANY laptop, not just the Surface. Wouldn’t any trusty laptop likely be preferable for activities such as emailing (with your preferred mail client), full browsing that doesn’t encounter mobile-only limitations, writing research and blogs using Word, task switching (simple on either a Win7 or MacOS laptop), or “anything that requires a mouse”? If so, seems that the truly-unique-to-Surface activities list is pretty brief. Or am I missing something?

    • Robert Lamaster

      Yes, you’re missing something. The point wasn’t about “unique-to-Surface” activities. The point was that these activities could be done on a Surface tablet, and in some cases in a (arguably) better way than on iOS. Sure, you could say a laptop (of any manufacturer) could also do these things, but this is comparing tablet against tablet. Your first statement, “ANY laptop, not just the Surface” implies the surface is a laptop, which it isn’t.

  • Robert Lamaster

    Always important to make distinctions between Windows 8 Pro, Windows 8 RT, and Surface. Many who read reviews/blogs don’t do the research and confuse these topics. There are five important points to remember. (1) Windows 8 RT is the “app only” version of Windows 8, similar to iOS in that regard. (2) Windows 8 Pro is the apps + “desktop-type” programs version of Windows 8. (3) “Surface” is the name of hardware, which (depending on which Surface you purchase) can run Windows 8 RT OR Windows 8 Pro. (4) Both types of Windows 8 can both run on other non-Microsoft hardware, such as other tablets, laptops, and desktops. (5) While Windows RT essentially requires “touch”, Windows 8 Pro can be run quite well on non-touch systems.
    For example, as a network administrator, I run Windows 8 Pro on the desktop computer I use for day-to-day administrative tasks, my home desktop computer, my work laptop, my personal laptop, and even a touch-screen “car-puter”. I’m looking forward to having a Surface Pro (Windows 8 Pro) to get a good network administration experience in a highly portable form. I am also an iPad user, but only for where I need a highly portable experience. I am expecting that my Surface Pro will eliminate that need.

  • Steve

    Sounds like this Patrick Moorhead sucks at the teat of Microsoft and his opinions are based on nothing more than preference rather than real world examples. I have two words of rebuttal…app support! Microsoft is playing catch-up and it’s this kind of misleading reporting that causes people to run out and buy a Surface just to find out how good they had it with the iPad. Microsoft groupies always come back with the Flash argument. This, however, is a moot argument since the surface has some strange version of Flash installed that is buggy at best.

  • Drad

    “. Before you decide to go directly to the comments section and flame me without reading the article,” FLAME!!!!!

  • David Fisher

    Most unbiased non-religious review I’ve read of the surface. Normally iPad users just rip it to shreds without serious thought. I know this is an old blog, so I’d like to see an update if possible,

  • Capt. Jack

    Here it is nice and simple for you –

    Apple products are for gays

  • Libbie

    I just got one yesterday & my biggest frustration is that there isn’t enough info about them out there…I am trying to do something as simple as import a photo imbedded in an email to my camera roll & I can’t find directions or help anywhere online. WIth my iphone if I have a question I google it & have my answer in one second…my husband & I have been trying to figure this out for about an hour…needs a better help page & just more users contributing to Surface for dummies forums 🙂

  • Mathew

    Why in the world would you write and blog using Microsoft Word to WordPress and not just write in the WordPress dashboard? Very bizarre. The only thing I can think of is the Surface Pro doesn’t have the processing power to allow you to type which would be pretty bad frankly. Is that what the problem is?

    • Mathew

      Why would you need a wordpress app? Just open your IE and access your dashboard.

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