“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?

Inking

I don’t know where to begin with this article given to us by ZDNet writer James Kendrick entitled “ThinkPad Tablet 2: Inking in Windows 8”. Armed with a Lenovo tablet PC (inspiringly named Tablet 2) and a video camera, Kendrick takes to YouTube to demonstrate the capabilities of the new tablet and, presumably, “inking”. (I have no idea what “inking” is, but surmise it’s something to do with drawing on a tablet with my fingers and a pen; à la ink on paper. I enjoy doing this already with an iPad app appropriately titled Paper.)

The article and video feel like adverts for both Lenovo and Windows 8. Starting from the point Kendrick calls the Tablet 2 “very light”, continuing past the point he exudes that the device is “very very thin” right until wrapping up with “really cool, I’m impressed with this tablet”, I don’t think Kendrick is giving readers a fair impression of what the tablet offers or how it compares to the competition.

The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 weighs 1.3 pounds — but Kendrick doesn’t mention the iPad Mini weighing almost exactly half that whilst discussing thickness. (The Retina iPad weighs in at 1.44 pounds.) In fact, the only time Kendrick mentions the iPad — or any other tablet — is when comparing the physical dimensions of the Tablet 2. He calls the device “very very thin” during the video. It’s 2.6mm thicker than an iPad Mini and 0.4mm thicker than a current generation iPad. Sure, it may be “very very thin” when compared to a laptop from ten years ago, but what are we comparing this device to? There is not enough context, leading the whole piece to feel skewed and lacking integrity.

Let’s get to the meat of the video. It’s clearly about “inking” — it’s in the title, after all. So, what does Kendrick think of using the included pen whilst playing with the Lenovo Tablet 2? Here are his own words, transcribed by yours truly from the video:

“A good use for this pen on Windows 8 is in the Desktop because all these controls and menus that you see are really tiny, so this makes it a very easy way to manipulate when the fingertip is just too big.”

Does it sound like Microsoft thought about people without pens? It’s worth noting here that this tablet does not ship with a pen, according to Kendrick. It’s optional. Not all Windows 8 devices will be available with pens, either. Suggesting the pen is valuable because it allows you to interact with Windows 8’s broken desktop interface is the epitome of sweeping the real issues under the carpet. Windows 8 has a lot of problems.

Kendrick finds it “odd and quite strange” that Microsoft hasn’t updated Windows Journal to support the touch UI in Windows 8. I think it’s an embarrassment to the company. Microsoft is a software giant, shipping devices without appropriate software. Kendrick sounds genuinely surprised when Windows Journal correctly recognised his handwriting. Considering the app has been around since 2002, always having been designed to be used with a pen, I’d have expected that to be a pretty nailed feature by now. Personally, I was more surprised at the ten-year-old user interface of the app: why was Journal not updated for Metro?

Windows Journal is included in Windows 8, yet Microsoft — a software company — hasn’t optimised their software to work within the UI constraints of their own operating system. Windows 8 is a clunky mismatch of touch-first elements and pointer-first elements. Styli just happen to behave more like pointers than fingers.

Microsoft is not having a great year.

Nvidia CEO: "The PC Market is Being Eaten by Tablets"

Impressive numbers reported by Nvidia: a third of its entire business is now non-PC and its tablet shipments have doubled from just a year ago. The post-PC era seems to be benefiting Nvidia a lot; their third quarter revenue reached the highest it's ever been at $1.2 billion.

Nvidia's CEO says the total market for PCs is "being eaten by tablets". Why? He explains:

"The reason for that is because a great tablet is surely better than a cheap PC."

A great tablet is cheaper than a great PC.