Microsoft new tablet computer is about as exciting as a USB key

When will we get on with it? Jesse Brown is waiting for the day when tablets are generic, cheap and ubiquitous


As an invention, the tablet computer was kind of obvious.  It’s a laptop without a keyboard.  Or maybe it’s a giant smart phone.  But Apple did it first, and probably still best, and since the iPad, every other tablet has been off-brand.  How do you improve on such a simple and featureless design? Even Apple’s attempts have been underwhelming.  Inventing the “iPad killer” may be a much tougher challenge than inventing the iPad.
Witness Surface, the new tablet computer from Microsoft.  How have they differentiated their product? By bringing back the keyboard.  Check it out:

Sure looks like a laptop, doesn’t it?

Surface was originally going to have two screens.  That would have been okay, but could it have competed with the Sabre Pyramid?

Perhaps the real question is why anyone would care about such boring technology.  Don’t get me wrong–tablets are marvels of ingenuity.  Every now and then I pause to consider how amazing it is that humans have concocted such bizarre and complex things.  But then again, the light bulb is pretty cool as well.  Only stoned teenagers can afford more than a few moments a day to marvel at such things.  The rest of us simply get on with it.

So when will we get on with it, tablet-wise? I’m waiting for the day when only someone who is about to buy a tablet might care about the release of a new tablet.  I’m excited to get to the phase of the consumer electronics product-cycle where the device is generic and cheap and ubiquitous.

Think USB keys. Have you seen the new ones? Me neither.

Jesse Brown is the host of TVO.org’s Search Engine podcast. He is on Twitter @jessebrown



Microsoft new tablet computer is about as exciting as a USB key

  1. I do pay a little bit of attention to pricing and capacity of USB keys. The killer factor for me though is how well they actually attach to a keychain. So far only ONE brand has managed to create a product where the attachment mechanism won’t snap off an actual keychain within a few weeks of wear and tear.

  2. First. Apple did not do the tablet first. Microsoft was demoing tablets in 2001 and they were available to buy well before the iPad. Problem was nobody was buying them. I believe sales were around 1.5 million per year prior to the iPad.

    Second. I’m struggling to understand what your point is. Are you saying Surface is a good thing, bad thing, orthogonal thing, …?

    As for why people care, well over the last decade technology advances have changed the lives of the people who can afford them and are continuing to change more as the prices come down. Tablets are still new enough to excite. They aren’t into the generic, cheap, ubiquitous realm yet but perhaps in a few years. Hopefully someone can manage to sell something that can compete with the iPad so we don’t have one monolithic market.

  3. People (myself especially) put to much emphasis on the technology and not enough on knowing how to get the most out of it. The question is to often: is this the best I can do for 500 dollars? Instead of: will I be able to derive 500 dollars worth of utility from one of these? The second argument is for me usually the hardest to make and the most tempting to ignore.

  4. I’ve got to disagree with you on this one Jesse. I’ve been completely unimpressed with all the tablets I’ve seen yet, but this one really caught my eye.
    1) I write code, and I need a keyboard. The touch screen is simply not an option for this kinda thing. I need to be able to type special characters ($!&, etc) easily without having to switch screens.
    2) The unified Windows 8 interface is going to be a huge hit. Same interface on my PC, Xbox, Phone (haha, just kidding), and tablet will be a huge draw. It might also be more familiar to the older crowd, but we’ll have to wait and see on that front.
    3) This looks far more versatile than the iPad as far as how you use it. Set it up as a laptop, use it as a tablet on your desk, or use it handheld… all good options!
    4) Hopefully it’ll run the same software as the desktop OS, meaning they won’t have to battle to get developers onto the platform (ie. Android).

    I’m really going to be taking a close look at this thing when it comes out.

    • As a coder I’m wondering why you would want to code on a tablet at all. I might consider it for quick fixes, definitely not for any serious work even with a keyboard. I like my screen real estate to be large when I’m coding. :)

      • I totally agree, I wouldn’t *want* to code on a tablet. But I don’t *want* to code on anything before noon, but clients and bosses are demanding :) I’ve really got very little use in general for a tablet, but it would be nice to be able to carry a “full featured” tablet around for emergencies, or even unexpected spare time. It’d be awesome to be able to bang out some code while waiting for the dentist, for example.

        But ya, all the serious work happens on either a 27″/24″ dual display setup, or I’ll bring my laptop out to the backyard, drag my 32″ out there, set it up there and work in the sun for the day.

  5. A computer with the portability and weight of a tablet … tablet with the functionality of computer.

    Seems to me that this is just the tweak that will make tablets productive, and more than just entertainment tools.

    I think I like it very much!

    • I like it too. I would never have bought a tablet that didn’t have a keyboard because it is almost impossible to type on the ipad screen keyboard with any kind of accuracy or speed.

      • Whilst the iPad is a fairly featureless device; I’m currently typing on one with great speed (actually more than my normal keyboard) and better accuracy thanks to its spell check – which can become annoying at times.

  6. The pad is not a work tool. If I’m working with a computer I want at least two big screens and a full clickety keyboard.

    However I really like the idea of reading books and magazines and watching movies on a pad.

    MS Office is a good piece of software. We all hate its misguided ‘intelligence’ and its awful cuteness, but once you find the workarounds it gets the job done, and for most offices it’s the information infrastructure of business communication. MS should put its efforts into that, and keep the faith of office workers everywhere.

    I’ve seen what pad wannabeism has done to Gnome. Killed it for work.

    Desktop designers have to realize that the desktop is not going to go away. The pad is a *branch* of technology. It cannot replace that branch that is the desktop.

    • Agreed. No pad will replace a full keyboard, big screen etc.

      But I think there’s room for a mobile device with more functionality than a smartphone and more convenience than a laptop. Lots of people carry iPads around my office, and they do ok typing on its on-screen keyboard. My wife carries a superthin Bluetooth keyboard with her iPhone and types notes into OneNote.

      But I find this kind of compelling. I’ll assume they’ve done a good job on the keyboard, and that it folds away to leave a nice thin tablet. In that case, this could be the most functional portable device for meetings, taking home at night etc. And still a pad for all the fun things like movies, recipes, etc.

      BTW, I have a Windows Phone and the Metro interface works pretty well. I’d imagine it’s great on a tablet.

  7. I use the ASUS EeePad Tablet, with keyboard peripheral. I love it! I think the uses for a straight tablet are greatly exaggerated, but with a keyboard peripheral I find them quite useful. The EeePad, for example, has a 15 hour lifespan. It`s perfect for notetaking. I’ve heard that the third-party bluetooth keyboard is very laggy for the iPad and just doesn’t work very well. I am personally in the market for a very powerful, portable, working tablet; and I think Microsoft might be on to something.
    It is not an iPad killer, it is not attempting to be, although the specs are vastly better than the iPad. It seems to be a very effective and portable netbook.

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