The Apple iPad Tablet vs. the Microsoft Surface Anti-Tablet

on June 20, 2012
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Last night, Microsoft introduced us to the their Microsoft branded Surface Tablet. Never have we seen such a clear line of demarcation between Apple’s and Microsoft’s visions of what a tablet should be. And at the end of the day, it is those differences in outlook that will determine the fate of each company’s respective tablet offerings.

Historical Background

For ten long years Microsoft tried to get us to use their desktop operating system on a tablet device. What we really wanted, they told us, was the brain of a desktop in the body of a tablet. Didn’t work.

In 2007, Apple introduced us to the first modern tablet to use touch – and only touch – as the user input. They called it the iPhone. Three years later, Apple introduced us to the iPad, and while the tech world sat on its collective hands, Apple proved that size really does matter – at least when it come to tablets.

Microsoft’s Tablet Vision

Now here we are just over two years later and what is Microsoft telling us with the introduction of the Surface Tablet? They’re telling us that what we really want is a keyboard so that our tablet can be used more like a notebook computer. What we really want is a pen so that our tablet can be used like a PDA. What we really want is a kickstand so that our tablet can stand more like a notebook computer. What we really want is a trackpad so our tablet can BE a notebook computer. (A trackpad on a tablet computer? Really? Just think about how redundant that is.)

The Microsoft Surface is not a touch tablet, it’s the ANTI-touch tablet. While Apple is doing everything in its power to embrace touch on the tablet, Microsoft is doing everything in its power to negate the influence of touch on the tablet. Microsoft is saying: “Sure, touch is nice, in a pinch, but what you really wanted all along is a tablet that runs like a notebook.” With the Surface, Microsoft has come full circle, back to where their tablet efforts began. But they’ve added a twist. Not only did they put the brain of a notebook in the body of a tablet but they made the tablet look and act like a notebook too.

The Lure of Everything and the Best of Both Worlds

“But wait,” you say. “Microsoft is not giving us the anti-tablet. They’re giving us a tablet AND a notebook. They’re giving us both. They’re giving us the best of both worlds.”

It’s a compelling argument. Why not do both? Why not have both a desktop and a touch OS on a tablet? Why not add a pen? Why not add a keyboard? Choice is good. Why not let the customer choose to use the device the way they see fit? Why not have it all?

Before we answer that question, ask yourself this one: Do you think for even one second that Apple – who had a two year head start on Microsoft – could not have added a kickstand, added an integrated pen or added an integrated keyboard to the iPad? Apple did not neglect to do those things…they CHOSE not to do those things. Why?

Focus and Simplicity.

“That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”-Steve Jobs

One of Steve Jobs’ greatest talents was as an editor, selecting what not to include in a product. Think of all the products that have way too many features. Now think about the iPod. The iPhone. The iPad.

“…the result of that focus is going to be some really great products where the total is much greater than the sum of the parts.”-Steve Jobs

Every iPod killer, iPhone killer and iPad killer had one thing in common – they all had more features than did their Apple counterparts. Yet they all had less success. How could this be? Simply put, simplicity may be the greatest feature of all.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”-Steve Jobs quoting Leonardo da Vinci

Apple realized – long before anyone else did – that touch was the key to tablet computing. Styluses and keyboards are useful, but they pull the tablet away from its essence. They’re to be used, if required, to supplement, not sustain, the tablet.

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas…”-Steve Jobs

Diverging Philosophies

Now, more than ever, we can see how differently Apple and Microsoft view tablets. Apple thinks less is more. Microsoft thinks more is more. Apple thinks “both” is the enemy of focus. Microsoft thinks “both” is the best of all worlds. Apple thinks that simplicity is the key to everything. Microsoft thinks that having everything is the key to success.

Apple’s philosophy is clear. The iPad is a touch device. It excels at doing the things that tablets are excellent at doing. If you want the benefits of a computer, buy a computer. Preferably one of ours.

“…we have a vision for the tablet. It’s a tablet that works and plays the way you want to. A tablet that’s a great PC. A PC that’s a great tablet. Surface.”-Steven Sinofsky, introducing the Windows Surface Tablet

Microsoft’s philosophy is also clear. The tablet is a PC. The PC is a tablet. If you want a PC that functions as a tablet, buy the Surface. If you want a tablet that functions as a PC, buy a Surface. Heck, we’ll make this easy for you to understand: Buy a Surface.

There Can Be Only One

To paraphrase that great philosopher, Sesame Street:

One of these things is not like the other,
One of these things just doesn’t belong,
Can you tell which of these won’t work like the others
Which is right and which is wrong?

Was Steve Jobs and Apple right about the what’s important in a tablet or will Steve Balmer and Microsoft’s vision prove to be the more perceptive of the two?

I’ll tell you this much – we’re about to find out.