The Surface Just Made Tablets Useful

I have owned a tablet for quite some time now. And it does everything that a tablet should be able to do: play games that can be picked up and put down in 5 to 10 minutes, check email, watch videos, browse the web, and consume news and social feeds.

I even tried to do some useful work on a tablet once or twice, and never attempted it again. Every attempt to use an (Android) tablet app for simple word processing was a painful demonstration that not even the people developing the apps were using them seriously. Text would get lost behind an on screen keyboard that would pop up and disappear at the most inconvenient of times. Key strokes would fail to be registered as the tablet froze while processing some background operation. There was no such thing as a spell checker. Trying to insert or edit text in previous paragraphs required a divine level of patience trying to place the cursor at the correct position.

It occurred to me that the reimagination of the day to day apps that you might use on a tablet has been a god send for media consumption apps, and a nightmare for productivity apps. Your average news reader app has gained an enormous amount of functionality moving away from a vertical list to something that you can swipe over in two dimensions. But your average word processor struggles to do its job when half the screen is lost to a keyboard, and a spreadsheet that can't quite work out which cell you are trying to select with your thumb will quickly loose its appeal.

This is why the Surface could be the killer tablet. It will have all the reimagined media consumption apps, bringing with them the benefits of years of trial and error on Apple and Android devices. But the Surface (Pro especially) will also bring with it the ability to run all your productivity apps, with the keyboard and mouse input devices that no touch interface has ever really been able to emulate, let alone surpass, in terms of practical, day to day use.

Apple never needed to embrace the notion of a keyboard and mouse, because the market it defined for the iPad was the media consumer. Android never really embraced the keyboard and mouse because Apple never did. In hindsight, Microsoft had no choice but to embrace the keyboard and mouse, because no serious user really wants to use Word and Excel on a touch screen. Ironically it is by embracing the massive collection of legacy, non-touch productivity apps that Microsoft may end up creating a device that gives the iPad a run for its money.
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