Microsoft Surface: What Would Steve Jobs Think?

on June 19 2012 6:36 PM
Microsoft Surface Tablet
Microsoft and Samsung recently released their new tablets, the Surface and Galaxy Tab 2 that were speculated as iPad 3 killers. However, Apple is still confident to reign the tablet wars. Courtesy

Microsoft has always been known as a software company, but that perception changed on Monday when the company unveiled its first-ever tablet in Los Angeles. Even though Apple popularized the tablet genre with the iPad, Microsoft's Surface tablet will directly compete with the bestselling tablet, as it is slightly thinner, features a bigger screen, and it can also do several things the iPad can't do, such as type well or sit up straight.

From touch to type, office to living room, from your screen to the big screen, you can see more, share more, and do more with Surface, Microsoft proclaims on its website. Create, collaborate and get stuff done with Office. Explore your world with fast, fluid Windows 8 apps. Discover new music, movies, and games in the Windows Store.

Many of the Surface's specs are still largely unknown, but based off first impressions, analysts and experts say Microsoft's first tablet could give the iPad a run for its money. After all, the Surface has many things the iPad doesn't -- a full physical keyboard, a thinner form factor, a kickstand for better viewing and typing angles and interplay with the Xbox 360 ecosystem, to name a few. But while most have had a positive reaction to Surface, it would have been interesting to hear what Apple's late founder Steve Jobs had to say.

For years, Jobs fought an ideological battle with Microsoft's co-founder Bill Gates over which system was better: Open, or closed. Gates believed an open platform was better for the masses and for the pocketbook; Jobs believed in creating great ecosystems around the entire solution, so his team would not only build the software, but the hardware in which it was housed. Jobs believed that form and function should be closely tied together, and that could only be accomplished by with a closed system that's been designed from end-to-end by one team.

Each one thought he was smarter than the other one, but Steve generally treated Bill as someone who was slightly inferior, especially in matters of taste and style, said former Apple engineer Andy Hertzfeld, now a Google employee, in an interview with Walter Isaacson. Bill looked down on Steve because he couldn't actually program.

In the mid-1980s, Jobs' Macintosh was handily beating Microsoft in computers, Gates badly wanted to put his software on the Mac, but Jobs refused to license the computer. Years later, the tables would turn once Jobs was ousted and Apple continued to release shoddy computers at high prices. Windows became the dominant platform, since PCs made by third-parties were considerably cheaper than Apple's products.

Roles were again reversed in the late 90s and early 2000s, when Jobs brought Apple back to prominence with the introduction of the iMac and the iPod. Then, of course, came the iPhone, and now the iPad. Microsoft has seen its grip on the operating system market loosen as Apple continues releasing one insanely great product after another, and that's why Microsoft decided to do something unorthodox to get itself back in the game. It would build the software and hardware for a tablet.

If Steve Jobs were alive today to enjoy Microsoft's announcement, he would definitely experience some mixed feelings. On one hand, his major rival had decided to adopt his values of a closed system over an open one. On the other hand, Jobs would be slightly perturbed by Microsoft's entrance into the tablet race, mainly because the iPad idea was so close to his heart.

Others have attempted to make their own tablets, such as Google, Samsung, Barnes & Noble and Amazon, but Microsoft is a completely different animal altogether. Microsoft has never been about copying Apple -- save for the graphical user interface used for Windows -- but it certainly has been about taking what Apple has built and improving upon it. Most other companies don't think this way -- they see Apple as a guiding light, not a foundation to improve upon -- but Microsoft does.

Jobs would have a conniption if he saw Microsoft Surface, mainly because it does the things the iPad can't do, and it does them very well. For starters, the viewing and typing angles on the Surface are significantly better compared to the iPad, thanks to the integrated kickstand that disappears into the device when you don't need it. The full keyboard and trackpad is extremely helpful for those situations where you have a lot to type but you only brought your tablet with you. It works with Xbox SmartGlass. It actually looks different. The list goes on.

Jobs would still berate Microsoft for its shortcomings. Even though the Surface is bigger than the iPad, it is a bit heavier at 1.5 pounds. The Surface also boasts a ClearType 1080p Full HD display, but from a resolution perspective, we have no idea how it stacks up to the iPad's 2048 x 1536 Retina Display. It might be safe to assume that it simply doesn't. Jobs may have also knocked the Surface for coming in too many options: Microsoft's tablet is available in four colors, two kinds of keyboards (the Touch Cover and the Type Cover), and two storage sizes (64 GB or 126 GB). This means that there are about 16 combinations of Microsoft Surface one can buy, which Jobs might argue is too many.

Not only that, the availability of the Microsoft Surface is very fractured. Microsoft said it would make the Windows RT version of the tablet available at the same time as the Windows 8 launch -- expected in October -- while the Pro model with Windows 8 would ship about 90 days later. This is a stark contrast from what Apple loves to do: Unveil a great product, and release it soon. Microsoft's move to scatter the release dates will surely hurt sales and hype for the product.

While Jobs would hate -- absolutely hate -- a Microsoft tablet, I'm sure he'd prefer anything coming from Gates over Android any day of the week. There's not much to hate about the Surface, especially since it's not a direct copycat of the iPad, but a true rival in design and architecture. Even though Jobs never wanted Apple to ask itself, What would Steve do?, Tim Cook and Apple likely already know what they need to do. They will use the Surface to fuel their fire, and they won't stop developing a better tablet until the Microsoft Surface is just a kickstand.