If there’s one thing you’ll notice right away about Microsoft’s new Surface tablet and PC device it’s the one thing you won’t see on an iPad. A keyboard. In fact, on the surface, the Surface looks very attractive.
The keyboard is inviting, and the little flip out kickstand holds the Surface in an upright, albeit landscape-only mode.
In fact, the Surface doesn’t even look as if it was meant to be used in portrait mode, which is the way most iPad owners use Apple’s tablet.
Also attractive is Windows RT, which makes the Surface look somewhat like Windows Phone’s interface, which is unique to Microsoft (good for them; they didn’t copy Apple).
What’s even more striking about the Surface is how it’s positioned. Is it a tablet? Yes, more or less. Is it a notebook? Yes, more or less, but as a true notebook you need to get the more expensive Windows 8 version, which is priced like the ultrabook it’s not.
If differentiation is a key to successful marketing, Microsoft is banking on the familiarity of a keyboard combined with some (or all, depending on the model) of what makes up a typical PC notebook (Microsoft Office) wedded to a thin, relatively light touch screen device.
In other words, Surface is a hybrid. It’s not as good a tablet as an iPad. It’s not as good as a high end ultrabook, like, say, a MacBook Air. It’s in between.
That begs the question for Apple followers, will Apple build a touch screen MacBook, or add an officially Apple-sanctioned keyboard to the iPad? If so, why? If not, why not?
My view is simple. Microsoft couldn’t make up its mind, and decided not to compete with Apple head on. Instead, the Surface leverages what Microsoft has going for it– Windows, Office, and the Metro-inspired Windows phone interface (they really need a name for that).
Will Apple build an iPad with a keyboard? No. The iPad is inherently more usable as a handheld device, and I think Apple realizes the future of the iPad is small and light, sans keyboard, in favor of voice recognition.
Will Apple build a MacBook Air with a touch screen? No. The Mac is keyboard and trackpad driven, and OS X, which may be better at touch adaptation than Windows 8, still suffers from this obvious fact– a touch screen notebook adds nothing to the party other than sore elbows and shoulders.