Ever since Apple showed the iPad Pro with a keyboard and a stylus, the Internet has gone mad with statements and claims about how the company from Cupertino had in a manner of sorts conceded that Microsoft had been on the dot with its concept of the Surface – a tablet with a keyboard, and if need be, a stylus. And well, these gained additional momentum when Google showed off its Pixel C tablet with a keyboard, there was yet another session of “Microsoft was right with the Surface” online.
We would beg to disagree.
For, there is a fundamental difference between the iPad Pro and the Pixel C, and the Surface. While the Surface is basically a tablet that can turn into a fully functional notebook with the additional of a keyboard, the iPad Pro and the Pixel C are tablets for whom the keyboard is an add on, that adds some functionality to them but does not alter them fundamentally.
Surface + Keyboard = Notebook
iPad Pro (or Pixel C) + Keyboard = Tablet with a keyboard
Yes, the iPad Pro and the Google Pixel will attain a certain level of “notebookhood” (if we could coin the term) with keyboards, but at the end of the day, for developers and users alike, they will mainly be tablets. And the reason for that is the software that runs on them – Android and iOS are designed primarily for a touch experience. Yes, we do get to see our share of people hammering away at keyboards attached to iPads and Android tablets – and the “tablet keyboard” accessory segment is doing very well indeed, with devices from the likes of Logitech and Microsoft itself – but their number is dwarfed by those who use the tablets as well, tablets: for simple reading and viewing or as the punditry refers to it, “information and data consumption.”
The Surface on the other hand is a very contrary beast. Yes, the fact that it was announced in the wake of the iPad made many see it as a rival, but it is also true that even though sold separately (which we think is a mistake), the keyboard is an integral part of the Surface. And unlike the iPad or the Google Pixel, the Surface runs an OS that has been designed keeping keyboards in mind – Windows. For even in its tiled Windows 8 avatar, Microsoft (to its immense credit), never lost sight of the fact that there would be people who would not like to touch the screen at all. The result: you can actually use a Surface with a keyboard and without touching the screen at any stage, whereas doing the same is next to impossible in an iPad or an Android tablet. In fact, both Apple and Google actually have alternative platforms that are more suited to keyboards – Mac OS and Chrome OS.
The stark fact is that notwithstanding all the talk of the iPad vs Surface rivalry, the Surface actually seemed a greater threat to existing Windows notebooks than the iPad, because it actually shrunk the conventional notebook into something that was sleeker than the ultrabook and actually very versatile. It was the sort of device that could double up as a tablet and a notebook, but just as the iPad would always be more tablet and less notebook no matter what you attached to it, the Surface was always more notebook than tablet (Windows Desktop mode assured us of that, alas, and even on Windows 10, apps like MS Office are more type than touch).
Which is why we could not help but smile wryly when we heard that the iPad Pro and the Pixel had proved that the Surface was the right way to go. They have not – they have just added extremely expensive accessories to their devices (the keyboards for the iPad Pro from Apple and the Pixel C from Google, ironically cost more than the Surface keyboard from Microsoft), not as integral parts to them, but for those moments when one does need to type and has no notebook handy. Neither the iPad Pro nor the Pixel C is likely to be hampered much by the absence of a keyboard, but using a Surface without a keyboard is a very different cup of tea.
And very different cups of tea are what the Surface, the iPad Pro and the Pixel C are. They will each learn from the other, but unless there is a radical makeover in iOS and Android, they are unlikely to converge.