Quickly after Microsoft unveiled its Surface tablet, many experts began labeling it the next iPad killer. While it will certainly present a new challenge to Apple, we would be naïve to think the immensely popular iPad could fall behind in the tablet game it basically invented. Instead, the Microsoft Surface should be looked at as a new tool for business productivity. For many professionals, the iPad is a great mobile device for web browsing and simple e-mail and typing functions. But when it comes to extensive mobile productivity, many still put away the iPad and pull out their laptop or Ultrabook. The fact is that Microsoft staples like Outlook and Excel are a must for businessmen and women across the globe. With the iPad lacking those basic business necessities, Ultrabooks remain as the desired device for mobile productivity.
Ultrabooks have dominated the mobile computing scene for years, as tablets, with their limited computing platform, have yet to prove themselves as the go-to device for serious mobile productivity. The Surface on the other hand, has both surface power and mobility with all of the Microsoft software business people need. Because of this, the Surface may in fact be more of an Ultrabook killer than an iPad killer.
The reason this could prove true is not only because of consumer preferences, but because of the developers that create the programs and apps necessary for device success. This new platform offers developers the challenge of taking on the next generation of mobile computing. And from what we've seen so far, there are some promising capabilities within the Surface device.
First and foremost amongst the advantages will be the ability to write applications just once and have them function on the Surface, Surface Pro and Windows 8. Basically, cross platform development will be easier with Microsoft tools. So an app that runs on Windows 8 (desktop and Surface Pro) should be easy enough to port to Surface RT and Windows Phone 8. In general, when considering developing an application one of the toughest decisions for businesses and their development partners is choosing which platforms they want to develop on. With multiple operating systems available, it can be costly to develop for each and every one, meaning many must decide which platforms to run their software on and which to leave out. Condensing the Surface and Windows 8 into one operating system is a huge plus for developers looking to kill two birds with one stone. And knowing your new app, program or software system will work for users both at their desk and on the road is an extra bonus.
Developers will also be eager to write applications for the Surface because of their previously announced corporate App Hub. Basically what this hub will do is allow companies to create their own app distribution mechanism for their corporate phones. We think this will translate to Windows 8 apps and will give clients easier access to their own apps. Basically, no longer would large companies and their development partners need to get "approval" from Apple or Microsoft to run proprietary (and potentially business differentiator) apps they want on employee machines, tablets or phones. Creating an easier road to app implementation creates less of a headache for the developers, corporate leadership and the employees.
Finally, there has been speculation as to whether Microsoft will release a version of their go-to-software package, Office, on iOS. That could end with the unveiling of the Surface RT and Pro. Instead of panning to the competitors, Microsoft can bring consumers back to their products because of their reliance on Outlook, Word, Excel, OneNote, etc. Companies have invested significant time and money in these tools and integrated them with other systems in the organization. Adopting Surface RT and Pro will make it easier for them to be productive on the go.
Overall, the Surface appears to be the first device that can truly blur the lines between desktop and mobile productivity. While tablets and Ultrabooks have helped us disconnect from our offices, there have always been flaws that keep us running back to the familiarity of a desktop. Ultimately however, the Surface's success will be determined by developers' ability to create applications that complement the new tablet. Microsoft has created the developer-friendly interface. Time will tell if the business world's attraction to Microsoft tools like Office will make Surface the Ultrabook killer or simply another also-ran in the crowded mobile industry.
Roy Chomko co-founded Adage Technologies in 2001. Chomko has over 20 years of experience in technology sales, consulting, and development. Prior to founding Adage, Roy was a principle of a Cisco VAR and a web development firm in the late 1990s. Roy has also held business development positions with Wolfram Research and GE Capital.