The recent release of Microsoft’s Surface tablet has been done on the back of a significant change in the way we use our computers. Touch screen devices have been around for years, originally known as Personal Digital Assistants (PDA’s) from manufacturers such as Palm and HTC. These devices were not at all common place due mainly to their high cost, greater requirement for technical knowledge and societies wish for ever shrinking handsets.
At the beginning of the 2000’s, mobile handsets needed to be small, have a colour screen and polyphonic sound. The thought of using the internet on them was still a few years away.
As the business community started to adopt the top end PDA’s due to their email capability, the features started improve. One of the most popular handsets of the time was the XDA 11i (HTC Alpine) it was bigger than modern smartphone’s are now and was terrible to use even for the most tech savvy of users. Apps for these devices were purely to add functionality such as file explorers and office suites.
During this time, Microsoft did have a Tablet PC available but like its smartphones, was not good to use, had poor battery life and ran a variant of XP which gave the product an identity crisis; it was essentially a less usable portable computer. Apple had been working on its own table, the newton but this and subsequent projects were dropped as Apple did not think their focus should be in that area.
The big breakthrough came when Google got its act in gear to counteract Apples IPhone which came off the back of its IPod range of media devices. It was the acceptance of touch screen smartphone’s by the general public which put the tablet platform back in the imagination of the developers.
Once Google’s Android operating system and Apples IOS were released, things still were a little slow until Facebook started to gain mass appeal. It was the pretty much wholesale signing up to Facebook that pushed the need for fast mobile website and eventually mobile apps to the front of developer minds. It was this explosion that really got smartphones moving forward.
The two main players in the smartphone OS market were now developing better systems, with devices with fantastic specs to try and gain an advantage in the smartphone wars. Casualties of this war were many but most notable were Microsoft as their Pocket PC mobile operating system was massively out dated by the new systems and the once all mighty Nokia who just seem to miss the boat completely.
It is the inclusion of Microsoft Office into the Surface which Microsoft hopes will draw the customers in. Neither IOS nor Android has a usable office suit in respect to day to office work. The surface’s clip on keyboard (whilst not unique) and it ability to attach and monitor and most crucially add external USB storage looks to have been a master stroke. The office included in Surface is not a full featured version found on pc’s but does boast Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. Email capability is handled by the native Email, Calendar and People apps which sync seamlessly with the business focused Exchange or the more consumer aware Hotmail and SkyDrive services.
The surface is Microsoft attempt to not only just regain lost ground but also to once again be a market leader in the computing sector. As the lines have blurred between handheld devices and laptops, helped massively by the iPad’s popularity, the market is edging back towards what Microsoft does best.
With the surface, Microsoft seems to have placed quite a safe bet. It is fair to assume that mobile computing with touch screen technology is going to be here for a while longer yet and if Microsoft can entice the people who have always used its desktop OS’s into using its tablet computers then they stand a chance of doing this.