[This article is the second of a two-part series that examines
today’s tablet industry and reports the latest updates on releases for
this year’s gadget releases. Click here to read the first part of the series, "World War Tablet: The $200 Strategy]
In 1939, the Second World War began and as events unraveled, the United States rapidly recognized the threat posed by Nazi Germany should it dominate the majority of the world. It would not be long before continued intimidation and attacks within their own turf would pave the way for a declaration of war.
Paralleling history, Microsoft refused to allow the rising threat of Apple to fully manifest itself. Already quickly capturing the market once controlled by the software giant, Apple was certainly “throwing rocks at Windows” by means of its critically acclaimed iPad. Thus it came as no surprise that last June, Microsoft decided to step into the arena with the unveiling of the Microsoft Surface, the start of a series of tablets set out to challenge the might of Apple’s iPad.
Taking a step back through the war, the one player who could prevent German dominance was the British Empire. Unfortunately, their attempts were futile and actions a calamity as the Germans became highly capable in overwhelming the British force.
Correspondingly, fellow tech giant Research in Motion (RIM), once considered a resilient rival to Apple’s rising potency, released their BlackBerry PlayBook in a move that attempted to re-control the perilous situation. Once dubbed as an iPad killer, the product not only encountered commercial failure but played a role in leading to the downfall of the once powerful tech company.
Following its commercial release, the PlayBook became a victim of critical reviews that downplayed the product, leading to discounts that would cost the company $485 million in charges and would ultimately lay a crippling blow on the company. Ranging from a lack of applications, memory problems to numerous software crashes, Tim Stevens of Engadget remarked, “What we see at the moment is a framework with solid fundamentals but a framework that is, right now, unfinished. We have hardware that looks and feels great but isn’t being fully served by the software.”
Though rumors have recently hit the Web that the PlayBook 2 is underway, a blogger from eWeek pointed out that RIM’s gradual descent from losing its position in the market would not only prevent the company from regaining its momentum but ultimately detract it from reaching a road to recovery. In addition, the article cites that not only has RIM’s consumer base migrated towards other products, its consumers and stakeholders are already losing faith in the company. Consequently, RIM’s declining financial condition along with rival products that outclass in both hardware and software are one of many reasons the RIM name is fading from the front lines of the digital age.
Bearing the identical title of iPad Killer, Microsoft’s Surface embraces more promise than the failed PlayBook as it claims specifications that can properly rival the iPad. In fact, both ZDNet and TechRepublic conducted a poll among CIOs from Asia, Australia, UK and the US consisting of different jury groups which voted a “Yes” to the question: “Will Microsoft’s Surface tablet provide a real alternative to the iPad?”
In an equally impressive reaction, Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple not only commended Microsoft but went so far as to say that “Steve Jobs was reincarnated at Microsoft”.
Two versions of the Surface are set for release chiefly being the ‘Surface’ and the ‘Surface Pro’ with the former running the Windows RT operating system with an ARM CPU processor while the latter will run Windows 8 Pro with an Intel i5 CPU.
In a move that reflects Google’s release of the Nexus 7, Avi Greengart, an analyst with Current Analysis suggests that “Microsoft clearly does not trust its partners to compete effectively with Apple, and Microsoft feels that the stakes are too high for it to wait for Apple to cement the iPad as a laptop alternative.” These partners are none other than the OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) which include Dell, HP or IBM.
Though not carrying the famous retina display that the new iPad has proudly offered, the Surface’s other features arguably outclasses the new iPad. For instance, a highlight of the device is its Touch Cover which utilizes pressure sensitive technology to create a 3 mm thick connecting smart cover that not only provides protection but contains an integrated keyboard placing it into a position equal to standard laptops. In addition, Microsoft has claimed that the touch cover senses keystrokes as gestures, allowing faster touch typing than is possible with on-screen keyboards.
Yet this distinct feature is just the tip of an iceberg that is to be revealed in the near future. While the Surface Pro boasts features that position itself against the ultrabook, the Surface remains the gadget to compete with the third-generation iPad. In fact, CNN reports that the Surface Pro is Microsoft’s attempt to “blur the line between tablets and the new wave of light, slim ultrabooks and their predecessor, Apple’s Macbook Air.” With the Surface matching the iPad’s 64 GB internal memory, the availability of a micro-SD slot is one feature that can potentially sway a customer’s decision. Moreover the presence of a USB 2.0 port gives a boost for file transfer and a plus to connectivity. In an examination of displays, details for the Surface remain unannounced with Microsoft only revealing a larger 10.6-inch screen with a ClearType HD Display, comparing to the iPad’s 2048×1536 retina display.
On the other hand, the Surface Pro not only possesses a better display than its smaller counterpart but also contains 128 GB of internal memory and is powered by the powerful core i5 chip which with a strong graphics processor would create an attractive business gadget. According to the New York Times, “The version of Surface running Windows RT would be the one aimed at the mass market. The one running Windows 8 Pro is meant for business users.”
However, not everyone has optimistically sided with the Windows RT with Deutsche Bank analyst Chris Whitmore arguing that “We see Windows RT struggling because the platform has: 1) limited 3rd party apps; 2) no backward compatibility with existing PCs; 3) a price point that will likely be higher than iPad; 4) unclear 4G/carrier support and; 5) uncertainty which version of Office will be supported (reports suggest it will not be enterprise ready).” Along the same line, Jay Yarrow of Business Insider asserted that the Surface “has an identity crisis because it can’t decide if it’s a tablet or a laptop.”
However Whitmore states that, “We expect the Pro will compete directly with touch enabled ultrabooks/corporate [laptops]. The Pro tablet has the potential to slow the rate of iPad penetration into enterprise accounts.”
In the end, details are a highly essential aspect of truly grasping the potential of the Surface tablet. With both price and release date still undisclosed there is not yet enough information to predict if Microsoft’s Surface tablet can completely match or outplay the iPad. In truth, the debut of the Surface has illustrated a significant departure from an orthodox history of releases and has marked a new chapter in their attempts at innovation.
Josh Topolsky, editor-in-chief of The Verge, was on the spot when he wrote that “what we saw today is only a little piece of Microsoft’s strategy for the next few years — and that strategy seems like it’s going to involve a much more integrated approach than the company has ever taken. That says one thing for sure: Microsoft is learning from the competition.”
Hitherto one thing is for certain, no matter who triumphs in the tablet wars, the reformation of the tablet industry will continue to indisputably play an instrumental role in our technological lifestyle.