Despite being an ardent iPad user, I’m excited by the announcement of Microsoft’s new Surface device. To explain why, I’d like to put aside questions of price, delivery date, OEM annoyance and app support, and instead focus on three key aspects of the device’s form.
It’s a tablet; it’s a laptop
The combination of Kickstand and Touch Cover means that the Surface can instantly take the form of either a tablet or a laptop. The Touch Cover is essentially the same form factor as an iPad Smart Cover, with the huge added benefit of a built-in keyboard. Thanks to the neat Kickstand integration, it can take the form of a laptop without requiring any additional hardware. Compare this to the iPad, which requires a 3rd-party stand and keyboard to achieve the same effect, and the Surface has a very neat advantage over Apple’s iconic tablet.
Hand-held portrait mode
The Surface’s Kickstand and keyboard case are intended for landscape use only. These are clearly aimed at the laptop use-case, or perhaps for watching a film. If you want to use the device in portrait, you’ll need to hold it in your hand. I don’t see this as a bad thing, however – the most common portrait use-case, reading a book or other long-form content, is more likely to be hand-held anyway. This feels a perfectly acceptable compromise to enable the landscape laptop use-case.
It’s also a notebook
Whenever I’m out of the office, my bag contains three things: a MacBook Air, an iPad, and a paper notebook. From what I’ve seen today, it looks as though the Surface can actually replace all three. Its screen has two input digitisers – one for touch, one for a pen – and when the pen is in use, the Surface ignores input from your hand, meaning you can rest your palm on the device while writing. You can switch between touch (for moving around) and pen (for annotating) quickly and easily. If the pen sampling is as good as Microsoft claim, the Surface would actually replace all three of the heaviest items in my bag – something the iPad’s touch-only digitiser can’t match.