06 Jul 2012

Microsoft Surface – the tablet business has been waiting for?

There have been a few big announcements in the tablet space. Google has unveiled the Nexus 7, a small-screen tablet that will run the Android OS. A compact and budget-friendly option, it’s set to compete with the growing number of tablets in the market: Apple’s iPad, BlackBerry’s PlayBook, and a range of Android devices. But, as far as business is concerned, the biggest announcement last month was that of Microsoft’s new tablet, Surface. Distinguished by its bright and colourful range of keyboards, it’s a tablet to which business should pay attention.

Is Surface a game-changer?

I’ve said before that the introduction of Windows 8 is set to be a potential watershed moment for business tablet computing. And while it hasn’t launched yet, there are a more than a few good reasons to think that Surface will become the business tablet of choice.

It’s Windows

The most important thing about Surface is that, because it will run Windows 8, it isn’t just windows compatible – it is Windows. Surface will come in two variants: Surface (more or less aimed at consumers) and Surface Pro (more or less aimed at business). Surface Pro will run Windows 8 Professional, including a classic desktop mode. That means it will be compatible with Windows 8 applications. So, from Outlook to Excel to SharePoint and beyond, whatever applications you run on your Windows desktop you’ll be able to take with you on your tablet. The upshot is that the wide variety of business applications that don’t run on the iPad or on Android will run on Surface. That’s a particular boon for businesses that are looking to make better use of mobility, but have found themselves hampered by having to rework their custom applications for the current crop of tablets. With Surface, chances are these applications will simply work.

Microsoft understands the enterprise

While Apple has a firm grip on the consumer tablet space, it’s put less emphasis on the business environment. That’s not to say that the iPad can’t be used well in the enterprise space. Indeed, businesses such as Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan and General Electric all have iPad programs of one form or another. But the fact remains that Microsoft’s position and heritage in the enterprise world means that it has the experience and desire to make its tablet a success. You can expect, for example, that Surface will be easy for IT teams to manage, with tools for configuration, deployment, maintenance and the like. To date, tight security has been a selling point of BlackBerry’s PlayBook, but from authentication to encryption, it’s a safe bet that Surface will now make enterprise security options available in the tablet space – helping to overcome what’s a common mobility concern.

A productivity tool?

One criticism of tablets has been that they are strictly consumption devices, and not tools for productive work. It will be interesting to see how much Surface changes the equation here. The fact that it will run most Windows applications will open the tablet to a range of new uses – increasing the scope of activities mobile users can perform.

Worth waiting for

If your business is looking to deploy tablets as part of its customer service, mobility or related strategies, Surface may well become your tablet of choice. It’s not available yet – and won’t be for at least three months after the release of Windows 8 – but for the business advantages mentioned, it may be well worth holding out for. Dave Stevens is MD, Brennan IT. (This blog post was first published on the SmartCompany website on July 6 2012)  
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