Just a Thought: Apple iPad vs. Microsoft Surface

I was going to post this brief iPad-related thought on Twitter, but figured it needed a little more than 140 characters.

A while back, Microsoft introduced the Surface table and Apple introduced the iPhone. Those who didn’t grasp the fact that Apple was offering a pocket-sized, actually commercially viable version of a similar multi-touch technology understand as much now. Microsoft still hasn’t commercialized anything relating to Surface.

It was obvious then that the only thing Apple was missing was a multi-touch device with greater surface area. Less than three years after the iPhone first became available (6/2007), the iPad will achieve this goal.

If Apple had showed up at its event yesterday with a killer, Minority Report-style application running on the iPad, everyone—even the current iPad haters—would be flipping out right now. Have a few video windows getting swiped around on screen at once, video overlays on top of maps, whatever tech demo sort of stuff you can imagine. For all its failings, Microsoft knew to do this with Surface—the problem was that people could never afford whatever it demonstrated.

But Apple didn’t bring flashy demos. It dropped the ball on a few arguably trivial parts of the UI and didn’t bring any really showy software to the event; rather, it focused almost entirely on updates to old apps. The biggest hint of what the iPad will enable was a two-second reference in the N.O.V.A. demo to opening airlocks by putting your fingers on the screen and turning the door handle. It was shown, and if you knew what it was—basically, Metroid Prime using your fingers rather than a Wii controller—you realized what this meant for games, and for other apps on the iPad. This is just not possible on the little iPhone screen unless you have baby fingers.

So there’s your Minority Report moment. It’s on the video. There are going to be many, many more such moments to come, and you’re going to be able to carry them in your hand or enjoy them while sitting in a chair, not whilst standing next to a huge table. Unfortunately, like the iPhone, it may well take a year before the apps catch up with the hardware’s capabilities. Just imagine what we’d be looking at today if developers had started working on the iPad simulator last year…

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