Thoughts on Microsoft Surface and the tired argument that the iPad is only a consumption device

Lately I’ve seen bloggers and tech writers bring back the old trope “iPad’s are just a consumption device.” the latest offender being none other then Bill Gates. I honestly thought we were beyond this ignorant perception but apparently that’s how Microsoft is choosing to continue to define the newly announced (but as yet to be delivered or even priced) Surface when compared to the iPad. Oh, and the other major innovation? A physical keyboard. So tell me, if it has a screen and a seperate keyboard and closes together clamshell style, isn’t that really a compact notebook? But, I digress.

Gates made an apperance on the Charlie Rose show and had this to say:

“Rose: But there’s one difference in what Surface does. Basically what Steve Ballmer said was in a sense what’s different about Surface, according to the press, is that it can be not only a receiving tablet but also a creative tablet. You can use it to create things from.

Gates: That’s right.

Rose: And the argument was you can’t do that as well …

Gates: You can’t. That is absolutely right. That’s why the PC category and the tablet category have been separate and here you have something that fuses the best of both.”

This small portion of the interview was transcribed from Patrick Jordan over at iPad Insight whom decided to take Gates to task in this post for his statements concerning the iPad. I got involved in the comments that followed and decided to post those thoughts as follows:

On iPad being only a receiving or consumption device

iPad is only a consumption device is a tired argument, but so is Gates and Balmer’s view of the iPad as a whole. What’s the most defining feature of Surface? (RT version, since it would be the direct competitor to the iPad) a keyboard. Guess what, adding a keyboard to a tablet does not make it a production powerhouse. The iPad is a limited device but that is also what makes it a great device, the industry as a whole just does not get this. Of course saying the Surface is better than anything right now is just plan wrong. The device does not exist in the real world and even at the much lauded “unveiling” nobody got a change to actually use it for any amount of time. Heck they didn’t even give a software demo, again proving that they still think it’s all about the hardware. At this point Surface is better at nothing, it is Vaporware, until it ships in quantity and the masses get to decided, calling it anything else is in fact stupid.

One more thing: Just because the iPad isn’t the most optimal device for what business types consider “real work” (creating excel spreadsheets and such) does not make it only a consumption device. Visit iPadCreative then tell me it’s not for creation.

On iPad being limited

Compared to a MacBook running OS X, iOS is limited. Even Steve Jobs acknowledged this when the iPad was unveiled and they showed a slide of the iPad sitting between a MacBook and iPhone. It was originally intended to be an in-between device. Does that mean it’s useless for creation? Or does that mean it can’t completley replace a traditional PC? Not at all. It is just another tool that may or may not fit an individual users needs.

There have/had been many tablets prior to the iPad available to consumers, yet none had really made any kind of impact in the consumer market. Most all of those were expensive, large devices with terrible battery life that ran full Windows not optimized for tablet or multi-touch and required a stylus.

Apple built a slim, affordable, touch screen device that runs a limited optomized version of OS X, has excellent battery life and most importanty uses no stylus. It’s easier to use than a traditional PC (no start menu, double clicks, executables, file systems, bloat-ware, etc.) That optimized version of OS X while not as robust as the full version made the iPad much less intimidating and easy to use.

On iPad’s resonance with users

No matter what their age people get the app and one button metaphor. I’ve witnessed users from 2 yr. old to 88 yr. old get handed an iPad and spend time exploring the device and using it without any instruction. There are at least 5 people in my immediate family that had no desire to own a computer but now own and consistently use an iPad. Several others have completely abandoned their PC’s once they started using the iPad. When I ask what they think of the iPad the answer is usually, “I love it”, “I’m never buying another computer” or “I wish all my computers were this easy to use”, sometimes it’s all 3. Given the sales numbers it’s clearly a device that has resonated with consumers.

On diminishing limitations

I also have to add that as more and more quality apps get released the iPad is becoming much closer to a fully realized device. I hated blogging on the iPad then Blogsy was released and all of a sudden I began choosing to blog on the iPad instead of my MacBook. I also avoided writing because I didn’t like how the iPad virtual keyboard lacked fine cursor control, which makes editing difficult. Then I discovered iA Writer and writing on the iPad is now no more difficult then compared to the MacBook, in fact it’s easier because the iPad’s small form factor allows me to use it in other places. I just wrote this entire post reclined in an easy-chair with my iPad propped up on one knee.

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