A Different Perspective

A week ago, I sat in an auditorium and listened to Steve Sinofsky talk about the tablet market. He talked about how the iPad was a great device, and a logical extension of the iPhone. Give iOS a bigger screen and all of the sudden you could do some things better on this new device. He talked about Android tablets, and Google’s learning process there, going from a phone OS on a tablet to eventually building Holo and creating a tablet-specific experience. He had nothing but good things to say about both competitors. I couldn’t tell just how sincere he was being, I don’t know Mr. Sinofsky all that well, but his thoughts were genuine, his analysis spot-on. Both Apple and Google tablets were good, in their own ways. What Steve said next didn’t really resonate with me until I had spent a few days with Surface. He called Surface and Windows RT Microsoft’s “perspective” on tablets. I don’t know if he even specifically called it a tablet, what stuck out was his emphasis on perspective.

I then listened to Panos Panay, GM of Microsoft’s Surface division, talk about wanting to control the messaging around Surface. He talked about how Microsoft’s June 18th event was scheduled because Surface was about to hit a point in its production where he could no longer guarantee there wouldn’t be substantial leaks about what the product actually was. He talked about the strict usage and testing guidelines everyone at Microsoft was forced to adhere to, again to avoid major leaks. He didn’t want Surface to be judged immediately and cast aside on someone else’s terms, because of some leak. Panos Panay wanted Microsoft to be the ones to bring Surface to market. Sure some rumors leaked about it before the June 18th event. A couple of weeks earlier, while I was in Taiwan, I even heard the local OEMs complaining about it (a lot of the “surprised” public outrage by Taiwanese OEMs was mostly politics). But for the most part, we didn’t know what Surface looked like and we had no concept of its design goals. Touch and Type Cover were both well guarded secrets.

I started off by recounting both of these stories for a reason. After using Microsoft’s Surface for the past week I can say that I honestly get it. This isn’t an iPad competitor, nor is it an Android tablet competitor. It truly is something different. A unique perspective, not necessarily the right one, but a different one that will definitely resonate well with some (not all) users. After the past week I also understand Panos Panay’s desire for secrecy. From a distance, without using one, Surface is easy to judge. It’s a Windows tablet that doesn’t run most Windows applications, that doesn’t have most of the same new mobile apps that iOS and Android have, and it’s not priced aggressively enough to make those facts disappear. After living with Surface however, I understand the appeal. It’s worth a discussion, perhaps even consideration as it does some things better than any tablet on the market, and it does others worse. Like all tablets (or smartphones even), there is no perfect platform, there are simply combinations of features and tradeoffs that resonate better with some users more than others. There are different perspectives.

Surface is Microsoft’s perspective. With the exception of some technical display discussion, Microsoft hardly mentioned the iPad in our Surface briefing. And when it did, it did so in a positive light. Microsoft isn’t delusional, the iPad is clearly a very well executed tablet. At the same time it believes there’s room for something else.

Surface: Simply Put
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  • sviola - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Care to source the claim that A6 performs the same as x86 core processors per clock cycle? Reply
  • blandge - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    "A6 is as fast as Intel per clock cycle. (and yes: I understand that A6 is dual core and intel is quad + clocked much higher. But the fact is that A6 is as fast per clock cycle. ARM will replace X86)"

    This simply isn't true. The A6 scored 908ms on the SunSpider browser benchmark and a 2700k scores about 135ms (Lower is better). That's about 6x better, and SunSpirder is a SINGLE CORE benchmark.
    Reply
  • Brainling - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Are you serious with this about the A6? The A6 is NO WHERE NEAR as fast as full on Intel silicon. It's not even in the same ballpark. Maybe if you're comparing it to Atom?

    An Ivy Bridge full silicon CPU is in another league over the A6. Of course, they aren't meant for the same purpose. Even taking the faster clocks in to account (~4x the clock speed), the Ivy Bridge regularly scores 6-7 times the execution scores of an A6 in synthetics. That's not pure clock speed, that's also a flat better CPU.

    I swear...some of this stuff is just mind blowing. What in the world would have ever made you think an A6 was "clock for clock" as fast as Intel's best offerings? Also, the XBox 360 doesn't use an Intel CPU or an x86 CPU...it's a Motorola PowerPC. Might wanna check your facts next time.
    Reply
  • Kevin G - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    A typo: "Microsoft offers Touch Cover in six colors black, white, magenta, cyan and red." Not sure if a color is missing or you meant five (though five pictured).

    Anand, you've been taking the Surface around judging the examples in the article. Any chance it was with you during the iPad mini event? I can image the looks being worse than when you tried to make a call at the iPhone 5 event.

    "Simply typing quickly in Microsoft Word maxes the single threaded performance of Tegra 3’s ARM Cortex A9 cores." It does seem odd that one of Surface's biggest selling points on the software side is a self inflicted wound. Office should be the premiere application for MS to show case, not bloatware that'd deserve to sit in the sloth exhibit at a zoo. Was Office even usable?
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    Apparently we can't count today. It is indeed five colors, not six. Reply
  • ssiu - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    Finally, some objective Windows RT versus Windows 8 Atom tablet performance comparison on the net -- thanks anandtech. Definitely no reason for me to consider Windows RT. Reply
  • Zink - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    Yep this is silly. The only reason for RT is to let OEM's compete <$500 with Apple and to emulate other walled garden ecosystems.

    Atom should have been launch hardware for a better user experience. Hasn't Apple success shown that UI is #1?
    Reply
  • dagamer34 - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    Basically it seems like Microsoft built a rather competent product, and when we see Windows RT tablets with stronger hardware like Tegra 4 or S4 Pro, it should be a great experience.

    Considering this is Microsoft's first hardware computer, they could have done a LOT worse, and there are some things you only learn by actually shipping a product. For a 1st gen release, that's pretty good.
    Reply
  • shompa - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Thats is one of MSFT problem. Since they control the hardware, we wont see the crazy Android/PC hardware wars. How long time for MSFT to write drivers/support Tegra4 or any other fast SoC?

    Just look at Windows Phone. Nokia have the killer "Pure View" and MSFT don't support it.
    (And thats is why Nokia will die with only MSFT support)
    Reply
  • notanakin - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    "Microsoft’s talents not as a software developer nor as a parts assembler are what make Surface great here, rather its design and manufacturing intuition."

    Er, so what is it that makes Surface great here? Almost sounds like the less talent you have, the greater the product. (In that case, please contact me for insanely great product designs.)
    Reply

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