Let’s be clear here, I’m not talking about hardware. Microsoft has done a fine job with the Surface line. Building durable good looking slates, with; kickstands, ample ports, powerful processors, beautiful displays, multiple cameras, abundant connectivity options, etc.
What I am talking about is the user experience "after" you press that power button, waking that beautiful screen. This is where the rubber, or in this case the fingers, meet the pavement. Microsoft tried to accomplish this with their grand experiment called Windows 8. We all know how that was received. Now they’re trying again with Windows 10, but will they succeed?
Apple has settled on their phone OS to power their tablets. And Google/Android has done the same. Can Microsoft break that trend and force a desktop OS to work seamlessly on a tablet? I’m not yet convinced they can. Why? Well, for starters just check market share. I have been using Windows 8 powered tablets almost since the beginning and honestly, the results have been less than stellar. Anyone who has used a Windows 8 tablet knows that feeling of wanting to reach for a physical keyboard, or touchpad, or mouse, to complete a simple task. That happened with my Surface RT, as well as all three of my 8" Win 8 tablets. From trying to tap miniscule menus, to not getting the desired results after a long press, to not having any chance of selecting multiple items, to having a popup keyboard that seems to get in the way of everything. I think Microsoft is aware of this and they demonstrate it by pushing the Surface line with an attached keyboard, even though they still list it as an optional (necessary) accessory. For all we know, the Surface 8" may be on hold because there are glitches with the undocumented slide out keyboard. Forget the upsell benefit, and the "more productive" narrative they push. Microsoft knows that without the attached keyboard/touchpad, their Surface will provide a less than expected experience. And they don’t want that.
There is a big difference between a touch friendly and tablet friendly OS. Windows 8 is, sort of, touch friendly now. You can swipe and tap things on your touch screen laptop or keyboard equip 2 in 1, like a Yoga, Asus T100 or Surface. But when your finger gets stuck, you can always defer to the keyboard/touchpad to get unstuck. You can’t do that with a touch only tablet. Note that the Surface is branded a tablet, but it’s really a 2 in 1, with an optional (necessary) keyboard that attaches perfectly and protects your screen. Heck, it even lights up. That’s how Microsoft markets the Surface in almost every instance. Who wouldn’t want one of those colorful keyboards. Don’t know. Maybe someone who wants a tablet for its mobility potential, not wanting to be tethered to a desk to other flat surface all the time. (Mobile: moving, or capable of moving readily (especially from place to place) – Mobility: the quality of moving freely). But that requires a really effective tablet friendly OS. And that’s the dilemma we, and Microsoft, are faced with today. And may be faced with for many more tomorrows. It took more than two years to get touch friendly Office preview apps. How long will it take to make them tablet friendly? Anyone?
No, I am not a Microsoft hater. In fact, I pre-ordered a Surface 3 last week and can’t wait for it to arrive. But when the CSR suggested I add a matching keyboard, I declined. Not so for the Surface pen, which I can’t wait to try out. I am searching for a pure tablet experience, free of any external keyboards, touchpads and mice. Something as comfortable as my Windows Phone experience, but with the full power of Windows.
Am I fantasizing, chasing unicorns. Maybe. But I won’t live forever though. So it’s time to get it together Microsoft. Here’s my suggestion to accelerating the progress. Starting Monday morning, issue Surface 3 Pro’s to every member of the Windows, Office & Surface teams. Collect all keyboards, wireless keyboards, mice, docks, and connected input devices. Prohibit these input devices both at home and at the office. Have everyone continue to, or try to work, within that tablet only environment for the week. The following Monday, meet with everyone collectively and in groups, to have them share their experiences. Spend the whole week hammering out the obstacles and mapping solutions. The third Monday, give everyone their old tech back so they can get working on the new Windows. Sure, Windows 10 may become an early Fall release, rather than late Summer. But I think it will be worth it.