Don’t write off the ‘productivity tablet’ just yet

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Productivity tablet = oxymoron? I’m not so sure about that. There is a place for productivity tablets in this world. I opined several months ago about how I don’t want a tablet until it is a viable laptop replacement. And here I sit typing on a Surface RT.

Full disclosure: the Surface RT is a Pocketnow-owned Surface. I did not buy it on my own. Having used it for several weeks now, I probably never will. It’s nice in several ways, which I will expound upon later, but it’s not quite the laptop replacement I need. My biggest beef is with the screen size and my specific use case, but we’ll also touch on those points later as well.

Last week, my colleague Jaime gave a very good argument as to his feelings regarding “productivity tablets” (read: Surface) and why they have failed to “catch-on”. I agreed with many of his points; they were right on the money. But there were a few areas in which I think Jaime’s personal use case clouded his overall view of the situation. Here’s my respectful rebuttal to that piece.

I cast ye back to Windows 8, er I mean hell!

I cast ye back to Windows 8, er I mean hell!

Jaime’s first point is that tablets, and specifically the iPad, are easier to use for folks of the..ahem…aged variety. This is an accurate point. Those same folks who shy away from “computers” like a vampire from a cross  eagerly pick up the iPad and tap “mail” or “internet” and they’ll happily forward any piece of email that asks them to, often to their grown children. Yeah, I’m taking to you, dad.

But there are two very different points to be made here. First of all, when Microsoft is touting their productivity tablet, they’re not talking to bingo fans and prune-juice aficionados. They’re talking to the yuppies I see on the train going to work in suits and ties and hair gel. They’re talking to…well, me and you. Do we not recall Microsoft’s various shots at Apple in that regard. Does the phrase “Aren’t you a little too young to use an iPhone” come to mind? As far as Microsoft’s PR department is concerned, mall walkers can keep their iPads, and welcome to them.

What more could you possibly need?

What more could you possibly need?

As far as “fun” is concerned, Jaime does make a good point here. My problem in this neighborhood is I can’t really speak to how “fun” a Windows RT tablet is. I’m not a huge gamer. I do know there are a few games I have on my GSIII and even (ironically) my Lumia 920 which are not in the Windows RT app marketplace. But a quick store search shows Angry Birds: Star Wars, Asphalt 8, and the ever-popular Sparkle 2. These are all pretty decent titles as far as I know, so plenty of fun to be had.

Another point Jaime brought up is how productivity tablets (read: Windows) are cumbersome. Initially I’d agree that the Surface RT I have in my possession is not an ideal tablet. First of all, don‘t even think about using this thing in portrait mode. It’s far too heavy and cumbersome for that. But when used in landscape mode, it’s perfectly usable if still a bit on the heavy side. But let’s not forget, the Surface RT is Microsoft’s first run out of the gate. It’s an initial offering. It’s not supposed to be perfect. The iPad certainly wasn’t. It too was considered cumbersome and heavy by many in the tech community. Indeed the original iPad was just 76 grams, or 24 US pennies lighter than the Surface RT. Can I borrow a quarter?

Microsoft actually has an advantage in this arena in that it has multiple vendors already working on this exact concept. Dell and Lenovo have both brought out offerings at very attractive price points that I have recommended to friends and coworkers. In the end they were looking for what I want – a laptop replacement. And that is exactly what a Windows tablet is.

Spoiler Alert: It wouldn't look like this on a Surface

Spoiler Alert: It wouldn’t look like this on a Surface

Now, in all fairness, I should go over a couple of points of Jaime’s with which I agree and which also account for my lack of Surface purchase thus far. The Surface, and indeed many of the Windows 8.1 tablets are not for everyone who need to be productive. Jaime rightly points out that CAD software in particular would be a miserable experience on the Surface’s form factor and I cannot help but agree. Indeed one of my primary reasons for not buying a Windows tablet is because (here’s your Pocketnow Insider moment of the day) we all do our own graphics. I cannot imagine doing graphics using something like GIMP on a 10” screen. It would be an abominable experience. The stylus that comes with the Surface Pro might make the experience more attractive, but that’s not a $1,000 gamble I’m willing to take.

Graphic editing, video editing, CAD would all be mostly horrible on a screen as small as the Surface’s. Jaime and I will agree to disagree on Excel, but along with Word and PowerPoint, you’re talking about the Mount Rushmore of cubicle productivity. And when you get home and want to unwind, pop off the keyboard and take in some Netflix, or better yet Sparkle 2 if, you know, you’re awesome.

studentsStudents are another demographic that my esteemed colleague from Honduras also really doesn’t bring up, aside from a screenshot (actually the above screenshot) of a Surface commercial that is. Students are an extremely important demographic to grab hold of. They have smaller budgets and therefore will probably have to make the choice of tablet or laptop (or both in one, wink wink), they are open to some experimentation if some of my ex-girlfriends are to be believed, and today’s college students will be tomorrow’s office workers, family units, and decision makers. Get ‘em while they’re young.

So, is a Windows tablet for everyone? No. But it sure as heck is for a lot of people. Actually, a lotta lot of people. I do not disagree with Microsoft’s strategy in the slightest. I say push Office harder. It’s a major value add to a tablet/laptop/hybrid/whatever. Keep working on the design. Make it slimmer, make it lighter. The Surface is two generations behind the iPad and has some catching up to do, but when it does, it’ll be (and almost is already) a no-brainer.

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About The Author
Adam Doud
Adam joined the tech world after watching Jon Rubenstein demo the most epic phone ever at CES 2009. He is webOS enthusiast, Windows Phone fan, and Android skeptic. He loves the outdoors, is an avid Geocacher, Cubs/Blackhawks fan, and family man living in Sweet Home Chicago, where he STILL hosts monthly webOS meetups (Don’t call it a comeback!). He can be found tweeting all things tech as @DeadTechnology, or chi-town sports at @oneminutecubs.Read more about Adam Doud!