The Surface Tablet and what it means for Mobile Technology

The tablet is not a purely recent innovation as current trends suggest. The modern age of computer consumerism started after the year 2000. Even before then mobile technology that worked similar to tablet such as the PalmPilot existed in 1997. Microsoft actually created what can be called the first version of the modern tablet in 2002, the Microsoft Tablet PC. However due to a host of problems it never took off. In 2010, Apple introduced the iPad and it was heralded as the first of its kind and the dawn of a new age of mobile technology.

Just as with the iPod and iPhone before it, the iPad caused a huge surge of purchases for not only the technologically savvy but for everyone. After each new innovation as Apple calls them, the torrent of similar looking products begins. After the iPod, hundreds of different models of portable mp3 devices were created. Google created the Android operating system for the smart phone market and now we are seeing more Android based tablets gaining great traction such as the Asus Transformers, Amazon kindle fire and the Samsung Galaxy Tab.

So this brings us back to Microsoft’s latest catch up product, the Surface tablet. Microsoft has had a history of being late to the game when it comes to mobile technology. Their Zune was met with mediocre reviews and although both Siri and Android voice commands state the Nokia Lumia as the best smart-phone currently available (2), the windows 7 based phone has not gotten any real market share or attention. Now two years after the first iPad, the Surface has come out.

Without physical demos available to technology reporters, we can only speculate on the capabilities but from what Microsoft’s own videos and specs show us the Surface may not fall as hard as the Zune or Windows 7 phone. It looks just like the iPad and other tablets and even has the magnetic cover, with a twist as it doubles as a keyboard. Overall it seems just like another tablet on the market. The strength it might have is the operating system. Windows 8 has been designed with a UI called Metro that intends to unify the different user interfaces and functions across the mobile products. Future windows phones will have it, there will be a desktop version of it and they are hoping touch screens will become more common so that the interface will be of real use.

This latest gambit by Microsoft shows that they might have been slow before but they are ready to seize the crown of grand unification between products as Apple has been trying to do and what Android will possibly never do. Each version of iOS and OSx Apple has shown have included more and more features to bring the iPod, iPhone, iPad, and Apple computers together so that users can seamlessly use them as one whole. Media especially such as songs can be sent between devices using AirPush and the user interface has been almost the same across the product line. Android and Google on the other hand are much weaker in this aspect. Since Google let third party manufacturers tweak Android to their liking there are a myriad of slightly different but ultimately incompatible devices and no central personal computer operating system to host them all (chrome-book excluding).

Bringing us back to Metro, the software side of Microsoft’s plan to beat Apple at unification by essentially starting from scratch with reports saying windows 8 rids a lot of functionality of old windows operating systems so that users will be encouraged to learn the new interface. The hardware side of the coin is where Microsoft plans to overcome Apple’s lead. In the past Microsoft has let third party OEM’s and manufacturers produce the machines that windows ran on much like Android, but for the Surface, Microsoft has cut OEM’s almost entirely, for now. Like the Nexus series by Google, that showcases what Android is and should be as envisioned by its creators, Microsoft has made the Surface the benchmark that they believe future tablets that plan to use Windows 8 should be. There are two possible scenarios that result from this maneuver, OEM’s will start producing tablets with at least the specifications Microsoft requires or Microsoft will start making their own. Either way, Microsoft will come out ahead as the consumer will start expecting high end Microsoft products as they have from Apple.

On the surface (pun intended), Microsoft is late to the mobile game once again, but unknowing to the mass market, the Surface is only the first step in regaining domination of the technology world. So what does this mean for you and me? Consumers can only win in this scenario; Microsoft is pushing the boundaries of what we expect mobile devices to be.

The future of mobile technology is brilliant, if the Surface manages to do what it says then the competition will inevitably push innovations across all devices. With this latest sprint towards interface unification, hopefully we can finally use all our devices as one. In a few years maybe we can finally our browser from our smart phones to our tablets to our computers all seamlessly and with a Siri or Jarvis (from the Iron Man Movies) of our own. And I’m placing my chips on Microsoft to be the innovator for that world.