Can the Microsoft Surface tablet beat the iPad in business?

Microsoft revealed its Surface tablet yesterday, and the reaction so far has been decidedly mixed.

 

Although the hardware looks impressive and the company has definitely put a lot of money into making the gadget usable, there isn’t any pricing yet and as far as a release date is concerned, there’s still nothing set in stone.

 

Microsoft can hardly hope to kill the iPad’s reign with consumers – but what about the business market?

 

Apple has already made some inroads there, with the iPad becoming a staple in board meetings. But there’s still time to make an impression, and that’s where the Surface tablet can make its mark.

 

Is the Microsoft Surface tablet good enough for business? We look at some pros and cons of the new device.

 

 

Pros:

 

1. The touch keyboard

 

The touch keyboard was a nice inclusion, and may be able to get some business users on board. If you snap the hinge in place, and put the touch keyboard in front of the device, the Surface tablet really does look like a laptop computer – and that may be enough to get some traditional business users on board.

 

Of course, it all depends on how well the keyboard actually works, and if it’s easy to use. Touch controls can be difficult to master for long-form typing, and anyone in business knows that’s critical to doing work on the road.

 

2. Microsoft Office

 

One of the most annoying features of the iPad was that it didn’t include word processing and other office apps. And although Microsoft will be bringing its suite to iOS soon, Windows 8 will provide the first opportunity for business users to play with a tablet version of the Office suite.

 

It’s hard to create content on a tablet when you don’t have the right software. The Windows Office suite could bring in business users who want to use the device for more comprehensive activity.

 

3. More connectivity

 

The iPad may be the most popular tablet on the market but it’s missing some features business users would love – like a USB port.

 

The Surface tablets have one, along with a microSDXC card port and a Mini Display connection as well. As far as connectivity goes, Microsoft wants users to view this as much as a PC as it is a tablet – good connectivity goes a long way.

 

 

Cons:

 

1. Pricing – where is it?

 

This one’s a huge problem, due to the fact there isn’t any pricing at all. Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer didn’t give any details about how the Surface tablets would sit in the market, only that they would be priced “competitively”.

 

“Competitive” pricing doesn’t mean much when the iPad is available for as cheaply as just a few hundred dollars, in its most basic version. If the Surface doesn’t have a price range of about $300-$400, then Microsoft can forget even targeting the enterprise market at all. Users won’t want to pay several hundred dollars for a gadget that may or may not be worse than the existing market standard.

 

2. Confusing modelling

 

Businesses don’t want to get bogged down in technicalities. The reason executives have started using iPads in board rooms is because they’re easy to use, and easy to understand. Nothing more.

 

On the other hand, Windows 8 tablets are a confusing lot. The first Surface tablet runs Windows RT, which is a more bare-bones version of the software, while the second version will run a more professional version of Windows 8.

 

It’s not confusing for users already accustomed to technical jargon, but for the average business user, it can be a pain – especially because the two tablets will be powered differently and will have access to different features.

 

3. The Windows 8 interface

 

Windows 8 is a completely new interface, and it changes the way Microsoft goes about desktop computing. On the one hand, it’s a great sign the company is unifying the user interface across all its devices – desktop, mobile and Xbox. But on the other, it’s going to be confusing for business users.

 

For one thing, the traditional desktop with the Start button is gone, replaced with the Metro style of different apps on the front page, similar to the way Windows Phone appears.

 

It changes the way you’ll do business. And even though you’ll have access to the traditional desktop, you’re going to have to click on an app to get there. It’s just completely different to every other version of Windows.

 

Consumers may jump on board given the simple nature of the user interface. But for business users? Windows 8 on a tablet may be a different story, for business users this is going to be a huge change – one which they may not want to overcome.

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