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Goodbye iPad, Hello Surface

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prod_surfaceFamily2-1_WebThe advantage of being among the last to board a plane is that you get to survey the crowd to see who is using what in tablet and phone technology. On the SNA-OAK route, the hand-held technology is dominated by Apple products, with a few big-screened Android phones and a couple tablets thrown in to boot.

The other week, as I boarded a flight to Oakland, I spotted two Microsoft Surface users, in addition to myself, in the first five rows of the plane. Like a hiker stumbling upon an alien spaceship, I realized I was no longer alone. It wasn’t long before the IBM sales rep sitting next to me took an interest in my Surface 2. “I’m done with my current iPad,” she said. “How do you like that?” Ten minutes later she was ready for a Surface. She is not alone.

Microsoft’s Surface has not had gangbuster sales. The first was a flop, resulting a $900M write off for the company. This past October 2013, however, Microsoft introduced their second generation of Surface devices with major improvements all around, from screen resolution to battery life.

It is important to note that there are two Surface device types: Surface Pro 2 and Surface 2. The former runs the Windows 8 on an x86 processor meaning it will run all the common Windows apps that you know (Quicken, QuickBooks, Photoshop). Meanwhile, the Surface RT runs the ARM optimized Windows RT operating system that has a far more limited set of applications, but its battery life is much stronger than the x86 sister Surface.

In November of 2013 I bought the Surface 2, and have not turned my iPad on since. Let me count the reasons:

1. Sweet Keyboard Bliss – Yes, you can buy a third-party keyboard cover for the iPad, but the Surface Type keyboard has real tactile keys while remaining super thin. It is a feat of engineering that Microsoft has not gotten enough credit for, and it makes being productive on a tablet possible.

2. Office on a Tablet – Most people use tablets as pure consumption devices. They may occasionally fire off a fifteen-word email, but they are usually reading, flinging birds or posting status updates. The Surface comes with a near full version of MS Office, and when combined with the afore mentioned keyboard, actually gives me a great chance to assemble paragraphs of content at a fast pace.

3. Productive Consumption – Flip the keyboard behind the Surface and you have a keyboard free tablet experience that is ready to roll through content quickly. Like many people, much of my content is presented in digest form, based on what my friends are sharing. Links from Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn commonly guide me to the content I want to consume. Windows 8 allows a user to put two windows side by side on a screen (and yes they are still readable), which means I can put Facebook on the left panel and open an article on the right panel in Internet Explorer. There is no screen shifting as I switch from Facebook to Internet Explorer and back. As a result, I can queue up lots of content or just move on to the next article of interest if I quickly decide that the link was not that interesting. I would estimate that I can filter through content twice as fast on my Surface 2 as I did on my iPad.

4. An Integrated Experience – The integrated experience from my PC (Apple MacBook with virtual Windows XP, Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and OS X) to my phone (Windows Phone 8 Lumia 925) to my media center (Xbox One & Xbox 360) to my tablet is nice. I have a single login and a single user interface. While this is not critical, it is a nice to have. Android is not present on a PC form factor of merit. Apple’s OS X versus iOS interfaces are significantly different.

5. Kickstand FTW – The Surface devices introduced an innovative concept in the first generation, which they expanded on with the second: a kickstand. This might sound silly, but it is actually quite nice. The Surface does not rely on the cover as a stand. Rather, the stand is built in – with two angle options to boot. One angle is great for sitting at a desk. The second angle is great for standing at a counter. In all cases, the kickstand makes the Surface more versatile than my iPad ever was.

There are flaws. For one, the app store is weaker than Android and Apple. There are apps that are available on one or both of those platforms that are not available on my Surface 2:  an app from my credit union to deposit checks by photo, a teleprompter tool to manage my teleprompt during video shoots, a Facetime app that I could use to call my parents, and a strong integration with Google Apps Calendar (I have to rely on the web version rather than a native app). But, I am not missing anything that matters to my needs for a tablet. I have Internet Explorer, maps, solitaire, native news apps, weather, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, a native email application. Plus, until recently, I get things that others don’t such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook.

So why hasn’t the Surface taken off? For some there is a fear of Microsoft. Others are just Apple4Life, without hesitation. But for the vast majority of us who just want to produce and consume content without making a philosophical or political statement, the Surface is an option that deserves to be explored. If you don’t at least go to a Best Buy or a Windows Store to try one out, you are doing yourself a disservice.

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