Microsoft's decision to release its own branded tablet, the Microsoft Surface, takes its cue from Apple's success with the iPad. The ability to control the hardware directly corresponds to the ability to control the user experience, a recipe that has led to a lot of success for Apple and a lot of envy from the rest of the technology industry. But which one is better? The upcoming Microsoft Surface? Or the iPad?
Despite nearly an hour-long presentation, Microsoft actually provided very few details about the Microsoft Surface. We know it will come in two different versions: the basic version, which will compete with the iPad and Android-based tablets, and the pro version, which will compete with ultrabooks like the MacBook Air and will have a price to match. For the Microsoft Surface vs iPad showdown, we will concentrate on the basic version intended to compete with it.
Microsoft Surface advantages
The most obvious advantage of the Microsoft Surface is the Touch Cover, which is a magnetic cover similar to Apple's SmartCover with one major difference: it also has a keyboard and a touchpad. If Microsoft gets the Touch Cover keyboard right, this could be a big selling point for the Surface, especially for those who dislike typing on a touchscreen. But the advantage is somewhat offset by the fact that wireless keyboards and keyboard cases are also available for the iPad (as well as Android-based tablets).
Another advantage of the Microsoft Surface is the Windows-RT operating system, though this will also work against the tablet. Windows-RT will no doubt work well with other Microsoft products, such as Office, Exchange, etc., but the operating system will also be somewhat limited in app support until more developers get on board with writing software for it.
The Surface also contains dual antennas, which may help it pick up a more reliable 3G/4G signal. Microsoft spent a lot of time on the inclusion of a kickstand during the presentation, but this should be a virtual non-factor for making a decision on buying a tablet. There are plenty of cases for the iPad and Android-based tablets that provide this ability.
The biggest advantage the iPad has over the Microsoft Surface is the app store. There are over 650,000 different apps that have been downloaded over 30 billion times. While processing speed and hardware features are nice, the most important factor in buying a tablet will always be the apps. After all, we don't buy a tablet to hold in our hands and marvel at how fast it can go. We buy a tablet to do something.
Price has also been a big factor in the iPad's success. There are cheaper tablets like the Amazon Kindle Fire, but there are few tablets that can compete with the full set of features offered by the iPad and competitive price. Apple's decision to keep the iPad 2 on the market at $399 puts even more pressure on the competition, and it is unlikely that Microsoft will be able to match that entry level price. In fact, the Microsoft Surface may very well debut at a price greater than the entry level iPad 3.
Retina Display. Microsoft did not offer much detail about screen resolution, but they did slip in a tidbit on how the 'pro' version of the Surface will contain a display with a resolution high enough that viewers won't be able to discern the different between individual pixels. This is Apple's definition of a Retina Display. And while the Microsoft Surface Pro version will have it, the basic version will not.
More Unknowns than Knowns for Microsoft Surface
Unfortunately, there is much more that we don't know about the Microsoft Surface than we know. We don't know about processor speed. We don't know about graphics. We don't even know about price. No doubt, these specs are subject to change from now until the time Microsoft releases the tablet, so there can't be a faithful comparison between hardware specs.