“Comparison: iPad vs. Windows 8 Tablet”

My recent article, “A Tale of Two Adverts”, received a bit of attention online. Since publication, I’ve been keeping a closer eye on certain tech adverts because I think how a company advertises their product speaks volumes about how they view the product in the world. Microsoft has a new advert, so now’s a great time to analyse it.

I find most of the points raised in this ad to be questionable. Here’s a chronological list of them, along with my thoughts.

Thickness

The iPad is a staggering 0.05” thicker than the Asus VivoTab RT. This seems like a weak first point to make to potential customers? That’s 1mm.

Weight

The iPad weighs 0.28 lb. more than the specific Windows 8 tablet Microsoft has chosen to compare it to. How convenient! (Microsoft’s own tablet, the Surface RT, actually weighs more than an iPad, but who’s keeping track, anyway?)

Microsoft’s poor software support for iPad

Yes, really! Microsoft criticises its own software in an advert — specifically, the lack of Office on iOS. This is an especially weak argument which is only getting weaker with time. Who actually enjoys using Microsoft Office? For me, the lack of Office support is actually a plus — the (hundreds of) alternatives available on iOS are much more enjoyable to use. (I appreciate I’m in a fortunate position not having to use Office, but how many people do actually enjoy using the suite? My guess? Not many.)

Multitasking

Support for multitasking in iOS exists, but Windows RT can display multiple apps at once — side by side. This is the first real point I feel is worthy of being presented in an advert, even though I question whether the tradeoffs made by this UI decision are actually worth it — every Windows Store app should be made to work full size, 1/3 size and 2/3 size. I imagine this isn’t trivial for developers to code. Considering Microsoft is struggling to gain marketshare in the smartphone and tablet world, adding complexities for developers to deal with may not be the best idea.

MicroSD support

The Windows device shown in this advert has a microSD card slot for extra storage — just like the Surface RT. Whilst I appreciate the conveniences a microSD card can provide, it’s solving the wrong problem. The future is ubiquitous online connectivity, cloud storage and streaming — not memory cards. These portable storage cards require careful file management, something Apple wants users to avoid.

AirPrint

Criticising the iPad for not supporting as many printers as Windows RT devices is quite rich, considering what Microsoft considers “support”. Many Windows RT devices include support for cable-based USB printing — but wireless printing is a completely different story.

On iOS, the only way to print is wirelessly. Who wants a cable? Nobody, right?

In order for devices to qualify as AirPrint-enabled by Apple, they must meet some quite tough standards, such as not requiring any drivers. (Perhaps Microsoft is so okay with filling their devices up with crap that a bunch of printer drivers crammed onto the device seems fine?)

Say I own a Windows RT device and want to print wirelessly. Surely it must be much easier than on an iPad — after all, this advert shows wireless printing working perfectly, with the iPad dubbed as “Needing a special Apple printer”. The official Microsoft Surface support page answers my question:

Surface RT is compatible with printers that are certified for Windows RT. Some printers might not work with Windows RT or might not support all of the features of your printer. To find out what's compatible, find your printer in the Windows Compatibility Centre.

(Emphasis mine.)

I checked my printer (which isn’t AirPrint-enabled), but it isn’t supported for Windows RT. Looks like you “Need a special Microsoft printer” in order to print wirelessly from Windows RT. Huh.

Considering AirPrint has been around longer than Windows RT, I imagine the wireless printing ecosystem is actually stronger on iOS than Windows RT — and that there are more AirPrint-enabled printers than Windows RT Wireless Printing(™)-enabled printers. I call foul.

Better luck next time

There are certainly some problems with Microsoft’s branding and advertising, but this article exaggerates them for comedic effect. I hope to see future Microsoft adverts showing products in use, being loved by people who feel real. Apple’s new ad, “Music Every Day”, just like their previous effort, focuses on exactly this. It’s compelling, touching and feels real. What more could you ask for?

Surface RT Versus iPad: Apps

Chris Gonzales agrees with Shawn about the iOS world being empowered by apps:

The iPad started looking more and like a suitable and legitimate replacement for a laptop, although admittedly, it couldn't have gotten there without the help of the App Store.

I’m reminded of a line from the Egg Freckles piece I just linked to:

The Windows [app] Store is void of choice and polish. Most entries appear to be experiments in Microsoft’s latest development framework. Most iOS developers benefited from years of Objective-C Mac programming experience before releasing their first iOS apps. With the release of the Surface RT, even veteran Windows developers need to tackle an entirely new application development framework, and it shows.

Boy, it does show.

The Surface Isn’t Rosy

Microsoft’s been in the news a little recently. Here’s my take.

This analyst roundup suggests sales for the Surface RT in the last quarter were somewhere between 230,000 and 1,000,000. No matter how you look at it, those numbers aren’t great. For comparison, Nokia sold 4.4 million high-end Lumia smartphones in the same time. (Apple sold 23 million iPads.)

What might be even more worrying than the-not-very-impressive numbers is that Microsoft didn’t announce any numbers themselves. Those Surface figures quoted above — between 230,000 and 1,000,000 — are pure analyst speculation. The numbers from both Nokia and Apple were reported directly from the respective companies. Officially. Not so with Microsoft. Not giving away sales figures for such an important and new product gives the impression Microsoft isn’t proud of them. Imagine if Apple released a new product then didn’t mention how many units were shipped during their next earnings call. There would be chaos.

How many times do I have to say it: The Microsoft Surface is a turd.

At least I figured out why the Surface RT exists. It’s more to protect Microsoft’s margins than to delight their customers. I still need to figure out why the Surface Pro exists.

My fear is that even if the Surface gets updated frequently and well, all customers who’ve bought one so far will be left out in the cold. Their Surfaces will be obsolete faster than they’d like.

And nobody wants that.


Unfortunately, today brings even more bad news for Microsoft: the 64GB Surface Pro will only have 23GB free storage space. Marco hits the nail on the head:

If your computer’s “1 TB” hard drive has 50 GB of preinstalled software and unusable space, you still have 95% of its space for user storage, which is hard to complain about. But advertising a “64 GB” Surface Pro that only has 35% of its space available to the user is a very different story.

Here’s a quick comparison of mobile device advertised storage space versus actual available space:

  • The 64GB Surface Pro has 23GB free space. That's 35%.
  • The 32GB Surface RT has 16GB free space. That’s 50%.
  • My 64GB iPad has 57.1GB free space. That's 89%.
  • My 16GB iPhone 5 has 13.4GB free. That's 83%.

It's worth noting that the space taken up with preinstalled software is generally fixed, so the smaller the device’s storage, the lower the average percentage of free space available will be. Even though that’s the case, compare the difference between a 16GB iPhone’s percentage — 83% — and the 64GB Surface Pro’s — 35%.

This is a problem.


So, this is what I think matters. First, Microsoft can (and hopefully will) make swift and meaningful updates to the Surface products, both hardware and software. These may very well make the devices more attractive to new customers. This is a good thing. However, the downside is that the more software improves, the higher system requirements this software will have. This will shorten the life of current Surfaces. If a customer purchases a Surface today, only to have Microsoft release huge software updates a few months from now which cause the device to run at a snail’s pace (or, worse, updates which the current device doesn’t even support), is the customer likely to stick around in Microsoft’s ecosystem?

The more optimistic take on the Surface is that Microsoft has a ton of money to blow and will keep beating the horse until it does what they want. The more pessimistic take is that the Surface-horse stumbled out of the gate and is only going to continue to fall down as time goes on.

I think what will actually happen is somewhere in between these strained metaphors. It’s just not roses.

British Airways Equipping 3,600 Pilots with iPads

The iPad outclasses heavy and cumbersome flight manuals in pretty much every measurable characteristic I can think of. I bet those pilots think Christmas has come early.

It seems to be the week for iPad pilot news — Federico Viticci has a great article over at Macstories, interviewing Erik Hess, a F-5N Tiger II pilot. Spoiler alert: he uses an iPad whilst flying. Great read and fascinating story.

British Airways aren’t the only airline rolling out iPads to their staff: Qatar are getting in on some action, too.

Oh, just in case anyone was wondering where most of Samsung’s Galaxy Notes have gone to, look no further than American Airlines. They’ve bought 17,000 of the damn things. Seems to sum up everything I’ve heard about AA.

Compromise, iPad mini and MacBook Air

Fraser Speirs just wrote up some thoughts about his iPad mini. A section in his article stood out to me: where he discusses the inherent compromises in a first generation product: something I have been thinking about recently.

The iPad mini reminds me of my first MacBook Air. When the Air first shipped it was a Mac with some serious technical compromises with a design and form factor so compelling that you would re-arrange your entire digital life to make it work. The iPad mini reminds me of that except that it only has one serious compromise: the non-retina display. In every other respect, it's a full-bore iPad.

The MacBook Air is the most popular Mac. Does that mean the iPad mini will be the most popular iPad?

Obsolete

Steve Jobs, 2007:

There is always change and improvement, and there is always someone who bought a product before a particular cutoff date and misses the new price or the new operating system or the new whatever. This is life in the technology lane. If you always wait for the next price cut or to buy the new improved model, you'll never buy any technology product because there is always something better and less expensive on the horizon. The good news is that if you buy products from companies that support them well, like Apple tries to do, you will receive years of useful and satisfying service from them even as newer models are introduced.

It's easy to be annoyed when a newly released piece of software doesn't work on your not-yet-old device. I'm looking at you, iPad 1 owners.

Unfortunately, there's normally a reason for it.

As Marco points out, when the original iPad shipped in early 2010, it ran iOS 3.2 and supported very few background tasks. For this reason, the compromise of including just 256MB of system memory seemed fair at the time. However as iOS matured, the need for background tasks such as iCloud and third-party music apps has demanded more memory. Now the lack of RAM seems like an oversight; a poor design choice. "Why can't my iPad run iOS 6? Apple is trying to make me upgrade to a new iPad just to give them more money!"

It's important for gadget buyers to remember that the first generation of a new product is likely to have more compromises than later generations. With any version 1.0, creators put the fruit of their labours out into the world and watch everyone discover, explore and criticise the hard work that went into them. Whilst any company should always be learning from their existing products, I imagine the releases which teach creators the most are the 1.0s. These releases give the most insight into how the product is used, what works well and what needs to be improved.

A good test for this theory will be to see which changes are made when the iPad mini is updated for the first time. Will the screen be the big compromise of the first generation? Will it be the CPU? Something else?

It's important to note that buying products based on what they can do today is important. Don't assume your device will be updated for years to come. Don't buy a device because you expect an important feature to be coming in a future update: wait until the feature you need is available or find something else. This will lead you to be more content with the products you have. You'll worry less about devices you own being obsolete and focus more on enjoying what you own.

The technology world is always changing. Technology is like a piece of music; you enjoy it for the journey itself, not reaching the end.

32GB Microsoft Surface only has 16GB of usable space

Windows recovery tools take up 5 GB and Windows RT, Office and built in apps take up another 8 GB.

I can't help but feel that when so much space is being used by built-in software, the whole device must feel sluggish and bloated. Judging from some reports, this is an accurate assumption.

Interestingly, 32 GB iPads have 28 GB of usable space. They also don't feel sluggish. Perhaps the slimness of iOS may account for at least part of this?

Considering Microsoft is a software company, this turn of events surprises me. I'd expect the software coming out of Microsoft to be great, and the hardware to be questionable. But it's the other way around.

The iPad mini is for Everyone

My buddy Sam has owned an iPad mini for a few days now — and, like many others, is surprised at just how well it fits into her life:

I have said for some time now that games that involve driving, therefore lots of steering, are particularly cumbersome on the full size iPad. The weight not only makes it more difficult to control but your arms feel tired before long. The lightness of the iPad mini means I don’t get aching arms and I’m able to control the tilting action way better.

My iPad is a third generation model: the first with a Retina display. This means I find it relatively heavy and both warmer and more cumbersome than I'd like. Whilst I haven't played with an iPad mini yet, I can see myself preferring its size and weight.

The iPad was launched in early 2010. It's been two and a half years, and now the iPad mini is out.

I feel that in the first two years, the iPad was for geeks and people with a solid amount of disposable income. That's no longer true; the iPad mini is cheaper, lighter, thinner and more importantly still an iPad. The iPad mini is now for everyone.

Resizable iOS icon concept

One of my favourite features of Windows Phone 8 is the way tiles on the home screens of devices can be resized to show more or less information. This allows a user to increase the size of an app's tile (or icon) like Mail, in order to see new email messages right on the home screen of the phone, rather than having to launch the app.

iOS doesn't support widgets. For the most part, I think that's a good thing; widgets on Android can very quickly make the entire UI extremely ugly. However Max Rudberg, a great designer, has come up with a cool concept for how icons on iOS could become resizable in order to show more information than just an icon and allow easy access of common tasks without having to launch the app.

There is certainly a risk with a concept like this: how quickly could a device become ugly? What would be the performance cost of doing this? Would iOS start to feel slower because these "mini-apps" are running?

There are difficult design challenges, too: app icons on iPhone aren't the same size as app icons on iPad. This means the "widget" sizes across devices wouldn't be equal. Non-equal widget sizes for iPhone and iPad leads to more work for app developers and designers. With widgets enabled, the iPhone might lose the sense of simplicity it is otherwise known for.

There are certainly compelling reasons for widgets like the ones shown in Max's video. Being able to quickly turn on and off alarms from the clock app would be extremely useful.

It may make sense for just Apple's own apps to have this feature at first — they would be tastefully designed and a great example for how other developers could use larger real estate on the home screen. Eventually, all apps could implement the feature — however it may well have a separate review process to ensure the implementation is not ugly or slow. This could solve the "ugly" problem. Perhaps the complexity problem would solve itself: only users who knew how to increase an app's icon would ever see these widgets. That would keep the iPhone looking simple and beautiful for most people, like it is today.

Perhaps this concept could be implemented, after all. I'm not holding my breath, though. So far, the biggest deviation from a grid of rounded rectangular icons on iOS is in Notification Centre. Perhaps we're more likely to see a feature like resizable UI elements there.

The Macalope on the iPad mini

From Saturday's piece:

Short of revealing that unicorns are real and you can all have one for a nickel, there’s really no way Apple can make everyone happy at these announcements. What matters is sales, and the Macalope fully expects the iPad mini to sell quite briskly without making the huge margin sacrifices Apple’s competitors have had to make. That’s good for Apple customers and for Apple, no matter what you might hear.

As usual, The Macalope nails it. I highly reccomend subscribing to its feed.

Apple seems to have made a sensible move with the iPad mini, which I can't see being a failure. Making the entry-level iPad notably cheaper is an incredibly wise move, and being able to do so without sacrificing quality, performance or profit margins is a sign of a healthy company.