iPad Air 2 Vs. Surface Pro 3: No Comparison - InformationWeek

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10/17/2014
10:51 AM
Michael Endler
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iPad Air 2 Vs. Surface Pro 3: No Comparison

Comparisons between Apple's iPad Air 2 and Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 are both inevitable and misguided.

10 Great iOS 8 Features
10 Great iOS 8 Features
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Comparisons between Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 and Apple's new iPad Air 2 are inevitable. After all, Microsoft launched its tablets in response to iPads' meteoric rise, a relationship that makes competition with Apple an ingrained part of the Surface story.

Microsoft has continued to encourage the comparison. On Thursday -- not coincidentally, the same day Apple announced its latest iPads -- Microsoft released another video touting the Pro 3 as the "tablet that can replace your laptop," for example.

But comparisons between the Surface Pro 2 and the iPad Air 2 are misguided, somewhat like comparing a smart car to a station wagon. If you're trying to decide which tablet will better serve your needs, make sure you're considering the right factors before you hand over your credit card. The devices overlap in certain ways but generally excel at different things.

[Apple's iPad updates are impressive, but where's the iPad Pro? Read Apple iPad Event: Few Surprises.]

I'm not talking simply about the "productivity device vs. consumption device" argument that many, including Microsoft, use to distinguish iPads from Windows tablets such as the Surface Pro. For a traditional knowledge worker, the Surface Pro 3 certainly offers a more familiar type of productivity, with desktop apps and a keyboard. But for users who are less beholden to tried-and-true workflows, iPads offer plenty of power to get things done in new ways.

During the iPad Air 2 reveal, Apple brought reps from French company Stupeflix to the stage, where they demonstrated a video editing app called Replay that allows users to easily create slick videos with sophisticated graphics. The app supports real-time effects that would have taxed desktop PCs only a few years ago, but despite its power, it sticks to a simple, intuitive interface that lets any novice pick up an iPad and start producing attractive content. Replay might not replace Adobe Creative Cloud apps for design professionals, but it could replace portions of their workflow. Implications for creative professionals aside, the app opens up entirely new possibilities for any type of worker who needs to create beautiful presentations on the fly.

Surface Pro 3 supports more apps like Stupeflix than it used to. Adobe recently revealed touch-first versions of its apps that were rebuilt from the ground up with devices such as the Pro 3 in mind. But the iPad app catalogue features far more tablet-optimized titles -- well over 600,000. Microsoft is still trying to amass developer support for its touch platform, but Apple already has such support in droves. Rather than simply trying to solidify a platform, as Microsoft is still attempting to do with Windows 10, Apple has begun to focus more on behind-the-scenes improvements.

iPad Air 2 looks at first glance a lot like its predecessor. Beneath the hood, however, it includes a new processor and a variety of sensors engineered to take advantage of advances in iOS app development, such as Metal, which lets developers maximize the Air 2's powerful GPU; and Swift, the company's new programming language. It also benefits from the bevy of APIs Apple recently opened, including one for the Touch ID sensors that the newest iPads now feature.

These sorts of advances aren't as flashy as a hardware redesign, but with them, Apple has solidified

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Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio
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anon3087884129
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anon3087884129,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/17/2014 | 2:06:33 PM
Stupid
The ipad has nothing on the surface.  Desipte the authors pathetic 1000+ word attempt to justify the ipad's purpose in the world, it really just takes the answer to one simple question.  Is there anything you can do on an ipad that you cannot do on a surface?  NO  Is there anything you can do on a surface that you cannot do on an ipad?  Plenty.

 

You're right...no comparison.

 
anon8307619027
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anon8307619027,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/17/2014 | 3:05:47 PM
Re: Stupid
Anything you can do on an iPad but not on a Surface?  Yes - hold it effortlessly in one hand and run any of the hundreds of thousands of polished, iPad-specific apps.  You can also pick up immediately where you left off on any of your other Apple devices.  If you're not a Windows-8 fan (as many aren't), then you won't want a Surface.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
10/17/2014 | 3:19:17 PM
Re: Stupid
"Is there anything you can do on an ipad that you cannot do on a surface?"

Well, there are at least 450,000 or so apps that you can run on an iPad that you can't run on a Surface. Among the apps that overlap between the two devices, some aren't as fully featured on Surface and some cost money while the iOS versions are free. You have LTE options with iPads that you don't have with any Surface but the Surface 2. iPads can sync with Macs in useful ways that Surfaces can't--e.g. Continuity. iPads are the only tablets that run iOS 8, which is a subjective distinction, but you're simply trolling if you think that just because you prefer the Modern UI, everyone must prefer the Modern UI.

In any case, I could keep going, but I think I've made my point: There's plenty that you can do on an iPad that you can't do on a Surface. You might not care about the distinctions-- but that's about your needs. Again, it's trolling to define devices purely in terms of what you think is important. All I said is that the Surface Pro 3 has uses that are mostly centered around its laptop mode and the pen, while iPads have a different set of uses. They're both excellent devices for certain needs. It just makes increasingly less sense for us to keep comparing them.

 
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
10/17/2014 | 3:41:19 PM
Good analogy
Nice anology by the writer: "comparisons between the Surface Pro 2 and the iPad Air 2 are misguided, somewhat like comparing a smart car to a station wagon."
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
10/17/2014 | 4:10:03 PM
That app ...
Michael, Any word on the cost of that video editing app? It sounds intriguing.
Michael Endler
IW Pick
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
10/17/2014 | 4:52:29 PM
Re: That app ...
It's free!
Seven4King
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Seven4King,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/17/2014 | 5:03:14 PM
Re: Stupid
For the sake of the debate...

The apps that currently don't exist on the surface aren't incapable of working and being polished on the surface, they just haven't been adapted for it. Similar to how Android was (and still is, in some cases) when it first started it's sprint to the top. Still, they CAN be ported over and are slowly doing so.

The iPad CAN'T use an active stylus. The iPad CAN'T transfer data to and from a USB drive. The iPad CAN'T stand up on its own. The iPad CAN'T run full-fledged applications like Photoshop, AutoCAD, etc. The iPad CAN'T increase storage capacity by adding a flash drive. The iPad CAN'T be hooked up to a monitor through a MiniDP connector or docking station. The iPad CAN'T be used with a USB mouse/keyboard or any other USB peripherals.

The Surface Pro 3, in turn, CAN'T support LTE. The Surface Pro 3 CAN'T login using a fingerprint.

Your argument about continuity... Windows 8 has great syncing capabilities that an iPad wouldn't be able to do with a Windows desktop PC or laptop. That feature's significance is entirely dependent on the ecosystem you choose to invest in.

I think both products are exceptionally well built. The design aesthetic of Apple products is undeniably pleasing. My personal preference however is very much utility. The Surface Pro 3 fits all of my needs. I use my phone as a hotspot, I don't go anywhere without it, and it doesn't make sense to me to pay for an extra line of data.

You said that it makes increasingly less sense to compare these devices but I would definitely have to disagree. If I were to buy into the Apple ecosystem I would need a MacBook and iPad to accomplish what I can do with the Surface. With the docking station and my touch screen Dell monitor I actually replace the desktop equivalent as well. People argue that Windows 8 is a horrible confusing experience. I argue that the expectation that it will be a horrible experience heavily influences that belief. I mean if my Grandma can figure it out... I'm not saying that it isn't or wasn't flawed, but who else is merging or attempting to merge the tablet and laptop experience? The fact that an "iPad Pro" rumor started means that people are interested, agreed? Maybe Windows 10 will correct the current issues users have with Windows 8. Then it could really be a game changer.

Another person argued that you can't hold it in one hand which is arguable. Additionally, anyone I've watched using any device (iPad, Android Tablet, Surface) rarely are holding it out in a way that requires them to hold the entirety of the devices weight. Typically they've got it resting on their lap or a table, etc. The benefit of the Surface is I don't need my hands or a bulky case to prop it up.

I'm both agreeing and disagreeing with you. People should choose what works best for them. What would be nice is if writers of these tech articles would lay out ALL of the facts rather than bits and pieces of them and in favor of what suits their personal needs. It would be refreshing if someone would give the whole picture for once.
bBob12345
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bBob12345,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/17/2014 | 5:33:47 PM
Re: Stupid
I understand you are trying to put a troll into their place but without trying to be a troll, I want to think about you are saying in your response or lack of saying in your response.

 

What the person posted asked what can you do on a iPad that you can't do on a Surface Pro 3. That is a valid question and an answer of 450,000 apps that don't run on a Surface Pro doesn't answer that. To me the number of Apps is meaningless because we do the Apps do that makes them unique. When I got my first iPhone I notice the overlap of apps was tremendous and that has only gone up. Type in backgammon and see how many games that are out there. The apps you need and provide an unique task is the only important number.

 

To the reverse the question what can I do on a Surface Pro that you can't do on an iPad. I can run the full version of Microsoft Office, , I can the full version of Adobe Creative Suite, I can run Call of Duty etc. I can run Windows and any program there in. Within that understanding, what can you run on an iPad that I can't run on a Surface Pro 3?

 
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
10/17/2014 | 5:55:24 PM
Re: Stupid
@Seven,


Thanks for all the thoughts!


"The apps that currently don't exist on the surface aren't incapable of working and being polished on the surface, they just haven't been adapted for it. Similar to how Android was (and still is, in some cases) when it first started it's sprint to the top. Still, they CAN be ported over and are slowly doing so." That's true, but how slowly? With new mobile apps, Windows is a distant third in developer priority. If Windows takes too long to develop parity, what other advances will iOS and other competitors have made in the meantime?


Agree on the Surface stylus being a differentiating feature-- as you probably saw, in the article, I referenced the stylus as one of the non-laptop use cases in which the Surface Pro 3 is quite intriguing. USB is another worthwhile point that I probably should have mentioned explicitly, though it falls under the "Surface Pro 3 is most useful as a thin, light laptop" idea I advanced in the column.

Regarding Continuity-- yes, that's true, Windows 8.1 offers a lot of syncing across devices, as the article briefly mentions. The significance is ecosystem dependent, though I think the implementations are different enough for people to subjectively grow to prefer one more than the other.

Also agree that both devices are well-built. That was sort of the underlying idea of the column. I find it a bit questionable to compare the Surface Pro 3 and the iPad Air 2 because each is excellent in its own distinct way. One isn't necessarily better than the other. Different tools, different needs.

It's good to get your perspective as someone who's found the Surface useful as a tablet. I haven't, but it's not for lack of trying. As I mentioned, the app ecosystem is different, the touch UI is different, the ergonomics are different-- unless we're reducing the tablets to the point that functionality trumps experience, the devices offer too many differences to brush off. I like the Surface Pen a lot but otherwise use the Surface Pro 3 mostly as a laptop. I use the device a lot and the tablet experience still hasn't won me over. So while I continue to find Microsoft's hardware interesting and ambitious on the level of intended function. I agree that the Surface's kickstand is a nice touch that might sway some people's preference. Anyhow, my point isn't that the Surface can't be an acceptable tablet for a given person's need; it's that the Surface offers a different kind of tablet experience than the iPad, and that the rush to compare the two devices as "big-screened tablets" really undermines these substantial differences.

That said, I do think there's interest in an Apple 2-in-1 of some sort. As you point out, the interest around the rumored iPad Pro speaks to this idea. That said, I suspect some people are interested because they hope Apple will find a more elegant solution to hybridity.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
10/17/2014 | 6:22:08 PM
Re: Stupid
bBob,


Thanks for the thoughtful comments.


Yes, I agree there's lots of overlap in iOS app store. But suppose that just 10% of those 450,000 apps is useful. That's still a pretty big number. What percentage of Windows Store Apps is useful compared to the percentage of iOS apps that's useful? What actual number of Windows Store Apps are useful? What actual number of iOS apps?

Which apps matter will vary by user, of course. For some users, there will be a few Modern apps that matter enough to move someone to a Windows tablet. For others, the tablet experience simply isn't as important as highly mobile access to legacy applications, so they buy a Windows hybrid because they "get" a tablet in the deal but "need" a "real" computer. But on the whole, if the Modern UI and iOS were interchangeable as mobile experiences, wouldn't a few more Windows tablets have sold? Wouldn't users download more Windows Store apps than they do? If the number of apps isn't relevant, then I'd argue that device usage and app revenue provide at least a bit more insight. Apple happens to be pretty dominant in both of these metrics, which suggests people are in fact using iOS apps (and presumedly finding value in them) at a much higher rate.

Just one example-- suppose you're a basketball coach who uses a connected basketball to help high school players improve. I know of iOS apps that do a pretty good job collecting this data and making it actionable. I don't know of Windows Store apps that do the same thing. That's just a random, niche example-- but it's also an example of a distinctly tablet use case, and one that the iPad does better (as far as I know) than Windows. Suppose you run CAD programs, which is generally more of a desktop thing, but you prefer the way you interact with models in the iOS UI. That doesn't make the iPad CAD program more powerful, but it makes it useful-- and at least for some users, even more useful than a desktop version.

I'm emphasizing Windows app store vs. iOS app store here because in terms of the tablet experience, we shouldn't include the Surface Pro 3's desktop capabilities. That's a different use case, and not one that really competes directly with the iPad Air's use cases. If someone wants desktop capabilities, I have to wonder why they're looking at an iPad Air in the first place. It can be a productive device, including in some ways that overlap with PCs-- but the experience of using a PC is different than the experience of using an iPad. Similarly, the experience of using a MacBook Air and iPad is different than the experience of using a Surface. I think Surface Pro 3's strengths overlap more closely with the MacBook Air's than with any iPad's.

That brings me to your second point, about things that an iPad can't do but that a Surface can. You bring up good points. All of those examples are among the Surface Pro 3's strengths. They're why I said it works best as a laptop but is lacking as a tablet. It's also why I said Surface Pro 3 and iPad Air 2 will be compared too easily. They're different devices with different strengths. Just comparing the two of them as "tablets with large screens," as some publications already have, is significantly conflating some meaningful distinctions.

All that said, it's a good time to be a customer, given how many options we have. You want a cheap tablet? Great, there are Windows and Android options galore, and the iPad Mini is now reaching fairly affordable levels. Want a quality "pure" tablet? Great, you've iPads, Samsung devices, and so on. Want a 2-in-1 device? I think the app gap is revelant, but some of the Broadwell-class Windows 2-in-1s are going to be beautiful peices of hardware. I don't think there's "one device to rule them all," which is why I find the Surface vs. iPad comparison a bit suspect. Different devices are good in different situations-- and we have more devices from which to choose than ever!
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