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…

  1. Some intresting points, however, I think Apple played it smart by keeping it simple and stressing the control similarities to what people already know – Minority Report is cool for tech guys like us, but I guess that the general public might get freaked out if it was too high tech.

    “Just imagine what we’d be looking at today if developers had started working on the iPad simulator last year…”

    And last, IMHO, I can’t help but think you would be saying this same sentence no matter when the iPad was announced.

  2. Apple kept it realistic. While people may have been hoping for more, they’ll soon come to realize that just how profoundly game-changing the iPad will be. Despite all of its lacking features (camera), it’s still going to have a spot between pocket-size and full-blown laptops for those that desire such a device.

  3. #1: Clearly there is a segment of the population (read: quite a few of Apple’s early adopters) who were looking for something to be demonstrated that really differentiated the iPad from, say, an iPod touch. Showing a few cool tricks off in a third-party app or two would not have hurt.

    And no. There’s nothing that says that Apple has to launch new devices with such a cone of (more theoretical than actual) silence that only the people who play by the rules and wait for “official” word get burned. That’s just the way it has done things in the past, and the results can — as here — be unnecessarily disappointing.

    Apple apparently hinted to some developers months ago that they should prepare for resolution independence. A few other hints and a few more invited developers to create advance demos, or Apple internally having a few teams doing so, would have solved the problem. This isn’t exactly rocket science.

  4. I agree with Jeremy.

    It seemed that Microsoft just dropped the ball with the Surface. They came out with it, blew everyone’s mind with it, then just let it rot in R&D world. Apple then changed everything with their iPhone.

    Now we have the iPad which is nothing more than an iPod touch on steroids. No new tech is here. Saying that this is going to be a game changer is asinine. All of the tech that this thing has already exists and is on the market today. It is just a bigger form factor. Apple had a great opportunity here to make history like they did with the iPhone. Unfortunately it seems that they are either too worried that it will cannabalize their macbook market or that they can’t make their huge margins off of it by putting in the features that people have been complaining about. I say shame on Apple for taking the easy road.

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