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The Microsoft Surface or the Apple iPad at Work?

Microsoft revealed thepricing of its forthcoming Windows RT Surface devices today, and the conversation about tablets in general has exploded. In particular, I’m interested in all the talk about the use of tablet computing in the workplace. A quick comparative look at the specs of the first Surface device and the existing Apple iPad reveals key differentiators, but to me, the clearest differentiator is that one device is targeted more toward people with “media consumption” in mind and the other is targeted more toward people with “productivity and connectivity” in mind.

Although both the iPad and the Surface are usable in either situation, you would have to say that each has its strengths in certain areas. And at a time when enterprises are struggling to find ways to accommodate all those shiny iPads coming into the workplace, I wonder if the Surface—with its more business-friendly capabilities—makes a lot more sense at work. Will the Surface’s great selling point be its productivity features?

Of course, the best enterprise-ready Surface tablets will come later, when Microsoft reveals pricing/availability information for the versions that will run full versions of Windows 8 Pro. We already knew that the Surface tablets would be available in a few varieties, some favoring consumers and others favoring the enterprise. But the more professional Surface devices will be powered by Intel Core processors and will offer key capabilities that make the Microsoft tablet an obvious contender for the most usable business platform. Check out this Microsoft Store link (particularly the Help Me To Choose tab), where you can see the differences between the Surface versions and see which would work best in your environment.

First, the obvious: All Surface tablets will have a unique touch keyboard that doubles as the tablet’s cover. The availability of this cover turns the tablet into an on-demand laptop when a given application calls for more than finger swiping. The built-in kickstand props up the tablet for an ideal work scenario. For word processing or spreadsheet building or other exacting productivity work, the keyboard/kickstand model is essential. The Surface also features a larger screen, making work a bit easier.

Second, both the Windows RT and Windows 8 versions of Surface will give you—like Windows Phone—a terrific, customizable interface that allows for powerful, seamlessly aligned versions of the productivity apps you’re accustomed to, such as Microsoft Office and SharePoint Designer. You also get Internet Explorer 10, for a full web-browser experience (with Adobe Flash support), and Windows Update/Windows Defender for secure computing. The full Microsoft Office support—not just an app for indirect support—is particularly enticing for work environments. And coming in Windows 8 Pro will be BitLocker drive encryption, Remote Desktop, Active Directory, and Hyper-V client. It’s also worth mentioning that the Surface will provide far better connectivity options (including USB 3.0 and HDMI out) than the proprietary iPad dock connector.

Third, and perhaps most important, the vast majority of businesses have already standardized on the Windows OS. From the perspective of both the user and the organization—not to mention the IT department—a device that aligns with the existing infrastructure just makes more sense. The fact that Microsoft is positioning the Surface as a tablet that’s just as powerful as a desktop PC only makes the situation sweeter. The Surface is essentially a computer that is a mobile, multi-functional device that employees can use with full productivity—anywhere.

The iPad, although sleek and shiny and impressive in its own right, was never intended to take the workplace by storm. The fact that it is doing so regardless of that lack of intention speaks to the need for a great productivity tablet in the business environment. The more I read about the Surface, and other Windows 8-based tablets, the more I’m convinced that Microsoft may have come up with a winner at the right time.

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