Q: Is the new Microsoft tablet going to be something that will be worth considering vs an iPad? — Tanya
A: The natural inclination with any new tablet that hits the market is to begin by comparing it to the leader of the pack; the iPad.
In this case, the answer is both yes and no.
Microsoft seems to have figured out that going directly at the iPad with a ‘me too’ product would likely generate the same poor results as their attempt to go after the iPod with their now defunct Zune product line.
Instead, Microsoft is trying to build an ‘ecosystem’ around Windows 8 that will encompass your desktop, smartphone and tablet devices so that everything works the same and your applications and data are on everything.
Apple has done this with the iPhone/iPad/iPod but when you jump on a Mac OS computer, things work in a completely different way, even though they are still integrated. Apple is working towards the same unification goal with iOS 6 for their mobile platform and Mountain Lion for their Mac-based computers.
The Microsoft Surface tablets ( http://goo.gl/HV0K3 ) are a hardware extension of this very ambitious initiative that Microsoft has embarked upon and only time will tell if it hits the mark with consumers and the corporate world.
There will be two different devices aimed at completely different types of users, which is why I say yes and no to the iPad comparison question.
The entry level device will be called Surface and use a special OS called Windows RT. Think of it as the equivalent to Apple’s iOS that runs on their mobile devices.
One of the points of differentiation for the Windows RT powered version is that it will come preloaded with a Home & Student version of Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote) which makes it instantly more productive forWindows users that live in the Microsoft Office world.
The rest of what you can do will have to come from Microsoft’s App Store.
One of the reasons that the iPad is such a popular device is because of the plethora of apps that have been developed for it: 225,000 plus another half a million iPhone apps that will also run on the iPad.
In order for the Surface tablet to give the iPad a run for its money, Microsoft is going to have to convince third-party app developers to start creating apps for this new platform.
As a hedge against that being the only way that this platform could gain traction, Microsoft added a completely different approach with the more expensive Surface Pro tablet.
This one will be powered by Windows 8 Pro, so it will essentially be competing with lower end laptops and ultrabook computers (and also priced like them $800-$1000).
Unlike a typical tablet, this one will be able to run virtually any program that you run on your home or office computer, so it will likely be more attractive to corporate users.
Some of the interesting features built-into both Surface devices include a magnetic cover that also doubles as a touch keyboard, a built-in stand on the back and a wider screen that more closely mimics a true wide screen television display so that movies don’t have to have those black bars above and below.
The best guess is that the Windows RT Surface version will be released first (estimated August/September of 2012) followed shortly thereafter by the Surface Pro in time for the holiday season.
If you live on the Windows platform at your home and office and use an iPad as your tablet, you are the primary target.
If they can pull off making what you do at home or work seamless with the Surface devices, they certainly have the opportunity to make a dent in the tablet market, but that is a humongous IF!
Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the Data Doctors Radio Program, noon Saturdays on KTAR 92.3 FM or at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Readers may send questions to email@example.com.