24 Hours with Surface

I’ve had a love affair with gadgets since I was in 3rd grade and I’ve been fortunate to grow up with many of them. The Newton, the PalmPilot, the Comaq iPaq, Treos, Motorola Phones, Sony Ericsson Phones, Apple iPods, iPhones and iPads, Amazon Kindles, Google slates, and Nokia devices have been a part of my life (I think Sony was also a big part of my life, but not in a “connected way”).

I particularly enjoy using the first version of something. My first Kindle gave me a glimpse into the future of eBooks. The device I paid $400 for is now something you see everywhere and loved by generations that grew up without computers. The Newton, expensive and ridiculed by many, provided a glimpse into the future. My father adored his Newton and he still can’t figure out how to scan something on his printer. The iPod fundamentally changed the way I thought of music. I never would have purchased one myself but I managed to get one “on loan” from Apple and it got me on the “train” where I upgraded to each subsequent iPod release for a few years. The iPod Nano was my first purchase from an Apple Store and that’s when the Store experience “clicked” for me. I was no longer buying a device, I was buying into an ecosystem.

I went out and purchased an iPad 1 on launch day after thinking “meh” when it was announced. I had owned a few tablet PCs in the past and wasn’t convinced in the promise of a device like that. But in the time between the Apple announcement and the release I changed my mind and got one. There were only a few iPad optimized applications and most iPhone apps looked ridiculous on an iPad. The first few months when the iPad was released was mostly dominated by what was going to happen with Flash and when the Facebook app would arrive.

The iPad had to start somewhere. And I got one because I was incredibly curious. Curiosity is something I value tremendously in my life and in my job. I have lived with Apple devices since the 4th grade, and I was insanely curious about what their point of view was on tablets. At this point in my life I no longer had a Mac, a product I grew up with and in many ways defined my perspective on personal computers and design.

I recall my first few days and weeks with the iPad. It was a window into the future, and one that was intriguing. I watched my young daughter embrace touch and tailored applications and books.


I brought the iPad into the bedroom, a place where my laptop never ventured. The iPad was an intimate, almost magical device. And it was incredibly limited, annoying, and utterly useless for productivity (at least for my definition of productivity). It was a very personal device, like the iPhone, and it failed at being “shared” as a family device (like a PC). I guess Apple figured everyone in your family should have their own (the only real way to avoid the dreaded PIN unlock / wipe device phenomena). I really don’t want my daughter to have access to my email, Twitter and Facebook when she wants to read the Bernstein Bears or play Cut the Rope. Spending another $500 isn’t an answer.

Here you can see that our two worlds are distinctly separate.


And my daughter has her pink personalized background and account managed by the Family safety settings on the PC. No need to apply any restrictions to my own account so she can play games and watch Netflix. Try getting another tablet “safe” for your child and you will end up making it unusable for yourself.


I’ve now typed more on this Surface than I ever have on an iPad. And the only person that now uses the iPad in our family is my daughter. I’ve moved on to using Kindle devices, currently a Fire HD, but soon to be replaced with a Paperwhite. The Google Nexus 7 I had lasted a month. It was a fun experiment but the experience was odd with most apps written for a 4 inch screen scaled up to 7 inches. Not quite good enough for productivity, and OK for reading. The Fire HD is the best expression of the Amazon ecosystem, which my family is deeply invested in, but the experience is glitchy and immature. It has the same productivity issues as the Nexus and web browsing is painfully slow. It’s clear to me that there is a layer of code sitting on top of something else trying to hide what’s beneath and not doing a great job of that.

But it doesn’t matter. I am curious enough to try these things because I want to know the point of view of each ecosystem and learn a lot in the process.

I have a hard time succinctly describing Surface. Before I owned one I had spent approximately 2 minutes using one. I actively avoided the opportunity to use one at work because I wanted to experience it like any new customer would. I wanted to compare my experience to the first iPad. I’ve read nearly every word about the Surface since it was released and I’m not surprised in the least by the diversity of opinions. A lot of folks are now internalizing, for the first time, what to make of a PC manufactured by Microsoft. Many of the folks writing reviews are trying to define the Surface in a box that represents their ecosystem choices.


Perhaps Jeff is right. The Surface is a replacement for your laptop (if you still have one, which many productive people do). Most people I know are not living with a Tablet as their only computing device. Tablet or Laptop is a choice they have to make a lot.

For me the Surface represents a glimpse into the future. I can’t help but be incredibly excited about it. I watch my kids use these devices and go back and forth between them. I see a lot of potential in the way computing is becoming more accessible, more natural and more powerful.

You can certainly look for negatives and find them. Just like with Mac OS X when it first came out (remember Classic mode aka Blue box? That Photoshop didn’t exist as a native app?), or that iPad still doesn’t and never will run Flash, or that the iPhone still doesn’t have Amazon Instant Video, or that I can’t watch HBO on my Roku because of Comcast, or 1000 other flaws or issues that I can find in any device or ecosystem.

But really, I am typing this blog post on a gorgeous Cyan cover of a device that has been running all day long without being plugged in that is running Windows on an ARM processor, and Word, and is a tablet transformer with 5 different ways of interacting with it. My 6 year old expressed immediate interest in this device and sat down next to me as I showed her how to use it. She doesn’t know what Apple or Microsoft are, and she is excited and curious about Surface. To her Angry Birds is Angry Birds and the biggest problem in the world is that she has to start from the first level on any new device. Surface will be the first PC my daughter ever uses.

When I first found out about Surface I had a smile on my face so big it hurt. Today as I use my Surface for the first time, I truly understand what it means to have a stage for an experience I’ve had the pleasure of being a part of for the past few years. Even though I have used Windows 8 for a few months now, this is the first time I’ve experienced it like this, a completely integrated experience.

I’m encouraged by this glimpse into the future, and I’m incredibly proud of my company for building this experience and participating in the conversation about devices and ecosystems.