Serious Surfaces, Playful Services

MS Surface

The Microsoft tablet announcement was welcome news on multiple levels. First of all, it is good to have some real competition in the future of touch oriented, mobile computing and communication devices. Apple has been dominating the field with their iPhone and iPad line of iOS devices and the Android camp, for example, has appeared to be unable to produce anything that goes beyond (or even reaches) the level of user experience and design perfection Apple has been able to achieve. It is probably necessary to have a unified vision of both software and hardware design principles to achieve real reference at this point. Now we seem to have two companies, Apple and Microsoft, that have reached that level, and the third one, Google, is forced to add the stakes, if they want to keep on the race.

Secondly, while I am an admirer and daily user of devices that belong to the Apple ecosystem (this note is written in iPad 2, using a Logitech keyboard case), they also have their shortcomings. The Apple world is very closed one: it is close to impossible to tweak the operation of software, examine the file system or make adjustments to the operating system without resorting to a cumbersome “jailbreak”. There are millions of users who are happy the way things are, of course, but if you want to seriously employ tablets, smartphones and computers in your daily work, such extra closed walls are frankly just unacceptable. Microsoft Surface tablets are part of the Windows 8 ecosystem and while I have my doubts about the hybrid Win8 interface on a traditional PC, it is clearly primarily designed for the next generation of hardware such as Surface Pro. There is some work that still needs to be done with a full desktop computer with very precise mouse and full keyboard, but it is getting more rare by the day.

My two key question marks: the first one is related to the quality of user experience, keyboard case and battery life: whether these tablets actually reach to the level where they seriously challenge ultrabook laptop computers, for example, as they appear to be priced at the ultrabook price range. The second question mark is the app ecosystem. You need to have different versions of the software for the ARM based tablet and for the Intel based one. Will the quality and diversity of applications and services be able to challenge those of Apple or Google? Time will tell. But it is good to have some options as we are moving to the world dominated by cloud computing, software as services, pervasive play and mobile computing.

Author: frans

Professor of Information Studies and Interactive Media, esp. Digital Culture and Game Studies in the University of Tampere, Finland.

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