It’s the tale of two touchscreens this week as Microsoft and Apple go head-to-head launching their latest tablet devices. Microsoft has pulled out all the stops to convince the world that Surface is the small tablet to beat, with a no-expenses-spared New York event on Thursday. Apple, a notoriously secretive company, prefers a bafflingly minimal PR strategy that would utterly fail for any other organisation you could think of. Dedicated rumur sites hum with speculation for months beforehand, encouraging Apple evangelists to soap themselves into a frenzy of excitement.
This is a busy sector of the tablet market, with Amazon’s bestselling Kindle Fire and the Nexus 7 powered by Google’s Android software. Apple will have noticed this potential and, given its venomous competitiveness, will want to obliterate Google from the small tablet market. Microsoft needs a small miracle to reverse its fortunes.
Surface is a bold product with some great touches, like the magnetic cover that turns into a keyboard and a minimal, Apple-like body. There’s no camera and a focus on Office software, which indicates Microsoft is pitching this more as an executive toy, but there’s also no 3G connection so buyers don’t have the worry of an extra contract. The real delight is Metro, the impressive navigation interface, which is so beautifully designed it feels like a breath of fresh pixellated air, made up of zingy typography and brightly colored navigation squares. Pre-orders for Surface sold out in the US over the weekend, so it would seem it has the tribe excited.
Microsoft launched its first tablet in November 2002 – nearly eight years before the iPad – but the following years of swivel-screened, pen-tapping slates weren’t exactly Microsoft’s JK Rowling years. The incarnation as a touchscreen coffee table didn’t speak to the mobile trend, either. Apple’s late chief executive Steve Jobs wasn’t shy about sticking the knife into the lumbering Microsoft beast; in a gleeful aside while launching the iPad 2 in 2011, Jobs claimed Apple had sold 15m iPads in the last nine months of 2010 – “more than every tablet PC ever sold”.
Surface is being launched alongside Windows 8, Microsoft’s overdue operating system update, described as the biggest change in Windows history, replacing the familiar desktop with Metro’s tiles. Disappointing quarterly results last week showed Microsoft is being hit hard by the move from PCs to mobile and tablets…
Read more: Jemima Kiss, The Guardian