Instructor: RL Malcolm
Illinois Central College
Date: February 19, 2013
The choice to purchase something, particularly an expensive product, is, or at least should be, based on good research and thoughtful process. What makes the product worth the money or investment? What kinds of need or desire does the product help fulfill. But when the choice is about picking out the right product from various options, the question becomes that of a comparison. Which product is worth more money or investment, and which one fulfills a need or desire better? The choice between getting a fourth generation Apple iPad or a Microsoft Surface with Windows RT is one such example. Both devices are tablets that are around ten inches and priced starting $500. They weigh similar and have essentially the same thickness. What, then, determines which device one should purchase? The answer lies in the use case and the demography of the user. How a user primarily intends to use the device or what might be his profession will play a key role in the deciding factor of choosing between the iPad and the Surface.
Entertainment is a large part of daily life when enjoyed appropriately, and both tablets offer a way for experiences them. The iPad offers a diverse form of entertainment through services that are highly recognized and well established. It comes integrated with iTunes, which is a multimedia service offering music, TV shows, movies, and podcasts. The iPad also offers thousands of games through the App Store, which integrates with Apple’s Games Center service. Many games on the iPad, such as Angry Birds and Temple Run have become iconic and popular casual games. Surface users must rely on Microsoft’s own Xbox services for music and video. TV shows and movies are obtained through the Xbox Video while music is obtained through the Xbox Music on the Surface. These Xbox services are newer and less popular than the iTunes services. However, for gaming the Microsoft Surface uses Xbox LIVE games service, which is very well-known. Many games on the Surface integrates with Xbox player profile that is used with the Xbox 360 games console, offers achievements, leaderboards, and social integration. Aside from gaming, the iPad remains a superior choice when it comes to digital multimedia distribution because iTunes has been prevalent for many years. Furthermore, many people have purchased movies, music, and TV Shows from iTunes throughout the years, and while iTunes users can take their music anywhere, TV shows and movies are restricted to one’s iTunes account. That is, in order for one to continue watching or re-downloading a previously purchased video, he or she must use iTunes to do so and watch the video on a device that runs iTunes. It is important to note that unlike a regular Windows PC, Windows RT devices, like the Surface, can only run apps downloaded from the Windows Store (Windows app store). Whereas on a regular PC on which a user can go to Apple’s website and download iTunes, users of Windows RT cannot download apps not available in the Windows Store. Thus, unless Apple develops iTunes for Windows RT and decides to publish it on Windows Store, users have no way to accessing their iTunes video on their Surface. Since there are more users invested in iTunes than in the Xbox service it may be difficult for them to consider choosing a Surface and leave behind the iTunes videos. Ironically, for users who are invested in the Xbox service, they can still enjoy the Xbox content on an iPad because, at the time of this writing, Microsoft plans to release Xbox music and video services for iPhone, iPod, and iPad. Looking beyond entertainment, though, productivity becomes a crucial factor, and these tablets play an important role in this.
Each of these tablets, the iPad and the Surface, offer their own take on productivity. For the iPad, Apple offers lightweight productivity apps, the iWork suite, for a fee. Each productivity app, such as word processing, spreadsheet, or presentation, costs ten US dollars, making it a premium option for those who want to get work done on their iPad. The iPad offers a notes app out of the box that syncs with the user’s iPhone, Mac, and the iCloud website, which is accessible via any device. The App Store on the iPad also offers thousands of third party productivity apps with varying quality and prices. In contrast, the Microsoft Surface with Windows RT comes with the fully featured Microsoft Office suite for free. The suite includes the full, desktop, versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. These apps look and work exactly as they do on a regular, desktop, Windows PC. In addition to the touch friendly UI, the surface offers the traditional desktop interface for those who need it. Users can run multiple programs at the same time and side by side and manage files and folders like they do on a PC. The surface also comes with a full USB port, making it possible for users to plug in a flash drive and transfer files. External keyboards and mouse can be attached via the USB port; Printers can also be connected for wired printing. Like the iPad, the Surface allows notes and documents to be synced to the web and other devices. The Surface also offers third party productivity apps on the Windows Store, though the quantity of apps on the Windows Store is much less than it is on the Apple’s App Store simply because the iPad has been on the market for much longer. But when it comes to true productivity, the Surface blows the iPad away simply through the power of Office, full USB capabilities, including printing, and a robust file system. The Surface is well suited for professionals and students who need a portable, light, yet productive device. For instance, a student can take a surface to class and use a stylus or keyboard to take notes on OneNote. Because surface runs Microsoft Word, the student can easily work on school papers on the Surface that can sync automatically to the student’s home desktop PC for future revisions. A teacher might use a surface to display a PowerPoint presentation in class that was prepared on his or her home PC and that automatically synced to his or her Surface. However, these devices themselves can only go so far, and, therefore, some see the need to add accessories to extend their functionalities.
Accessories for devices, especially a popular one, can provide a thriving market for the industry to create add-on products that users want. Because the iPad has been on the market for much longer than the Surface has, the iPad naturally offers more in the accessories department, both in quantity and diversity. There are iPad connectors for the car, connectors for various sound systems, and many Bluetooth accessories, like wireless keyboards, that are designed especially for the iPad. Besides peripherals, users can dress their iPad with fashionable cases. On the opposite spectrum lies the Microsoft Surface. There are virtually no accessories available for the Surface other than the few provided by Microsoft. For 100 US dollars more, Surface users can get a colorful Touch Cover which is a, thin, magnetic cover for the Surface that also acts as a keyboard and track pad. The Touch Cover’s keyboard is touch based and pressure sensitive. For 130 US dollars, users can get a black Type Cover, which is a thicker magnetic cover that has a physically depressible keyboard and track pad. The Type Cover’s keyboard has keys that can be physically pressed, making typing on it as fast as typing on a regular desktop or laptop keyboard. Since these covers attach by magnetic connectors, connecting and disconnecting is done with a simple click, literally. These keyboard covers give users the option to use the mouse cursor and a keyboard for more productivity oriented tasks, like writing a long document. In addition to the Touch and Type Covers, Microsoft also provides external mouse designed especially for the surface. While the iPad does offer Bluetooth keyboards as accessories, Windows RT on the surface is designed with keyboard in mind. That is, one can use shortcuts such as Control+C for copy and Alt+Tab for switching apps. As such, those who are looking for variety of choices in accessories, the iPad is the clear winner. However, those who want a good keyboard and mouse, the Surface is the one to go with.
The choice between the Apple’s fourth generation iPad and Microsoft Surface with Windows RT boils down to one’s primary use case and the demography of user. While both of the devices offer everything, they have clear strength and weaknesses. The iPad uses well established digital media distribution service, iTunes, while the Surface uses the less popular Xbox Music and Video services. The iPad’s ecosystem also spans to its wide variety of first and third party accessories, latter of which Microsoft lacks. People who want a tablet primarily for entertainment or a tablet to be used as a casual companion to an existing PC, the iPad offers the best services through iTunes and a huge collection of Apps. However, when it comes to productivity, while the iPad offers some solutions, the Surfaces comes out as the king. Students, teachers, and business professional can get great value with a light, portable, and productive device like the Microsoft Surface.