iPads and Surface and Nexus…oh my!

With the announcement of the new Windows Surface tablet coming out later in 2012, the new Nexus tablet coming out as well, and the rumors of an iPad mini possibly coming out in the fall, it’s made me think about what this all means in terms of “what device would be best?” especially for m-learning and other mobile applications.

First, I need to clarify that when it comes to technological devices, I’m generally torn. I’m all for having variety and such– it’s what makes market competition possible, but at the same time, each thing has its benefits and place, and it’s like comparing apples to broccoli. It’s no secret that I love my iPad. I got it almost a year ago after owning my iPhone for a couple of years. At the time, my husband retorted, “What do you need that for? It’s just a toy, if anything.” Or IS IT?

When I was doing my graduate studies, all I could think about what how I could use it for my own studying purposes, and I did several projects centered around the idea of using iPads for flipped classrooms or even classroom use, and based much of my experiences of what mobile learning is between my iPad and iPhone. I love the flexibility of the devices, and how lean and mean they are in how they operate.  Like many students out there with tablet devices, I read articles and e-books, I wrote up assignments and papers, did my research– did most everything I could with my iPad. The downside? Well, I didn’t have 4G on my iPad, so sometimes having web access was limited, but it wasn’t anything that bad that couldn’t wait until I did have connectivity, or until I got home and could use my laptop or the wi-fi at home. (There are 3G and 4G versions available–I just didn’t want to shell out the extra cash for that ability.) And until I had my wireless keyboard, doing all those papers and assignments could get a little rough.

At the same time, while I have an iPhone and an iPad, I can’t say that I’ve been totally sold on the idea of getting an iMac of some flavor. I love my PC laptops. While the last Apple computer I used was an Apple IIc about a million years ago (be quiet! I was a kid back then–really!), my entire IT existence both professionally and personally has always been on a PC. Yes, I’ve experienced the blue screen of death several times, and had numerous crashes over the years, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed unless the hard drive was dying. Until I got my iPad, my laptop went with me on vacation or whenever I was away from home. Even writing these blog posts is easier on my laptop than using my WordPress app on my iPad. Ninety-eight percent of my online degree was done on my PC laptop– the other 2% was on my iPad. I’ve owned 3 laptops in the last ten years, and had at least two or three PC desktops for years before that. So yes, I’m a devout Microsoft geek as well.

So when I heard that Microsoft had finally come out with a tablet they were going to release, I had to find out more. I thought that it would be helpful to understand what the Microsoft Surface tablet was all about, and was hoping that it would work well in the future for single-sourcing initiatives. I felt like the Microsoft presentation and reviews I was seeing online was just mirrors and smoke, and after three iPads having been in the market now, why a Microsoft tablet now? Was it worth me getting one, as if I were to abandon my iPad for…heaven forbid…something else?

On a recent weekend jaunt to a local mall that had both an Apple store AND a new Microsoft store, I actually asked a Microsoft store employee about the new Microsoft Surface machines, and he said it was rather simple to explain, actually. The new MS Surface tablet was Microsoft’s answer to having their own hardware like a Samsung Galaxy or other PC-type tablet, running on a Windows 8 OS platform similar to the Windows Metro platform used on their phones. The guy had his personal PC tablet loaded up with Windows 8 on it, and proceeded to show me how it worked. In a nutshell, it worked exactly like my laptop, just a few more bells and whistles for the interface. And this, as I was told, would be pretty similar to what my experience would be like with a Surface machine, but with a handy keyboard in the cover. So anything that I was running on my laptop–full versions of Adobe Tech Comm Suite or Creative Cloud, Flare, PC games, Microsoft Office– as long as it all fit on the flash drive inside, or ran off a Flash card or external drive device, you could use it on Surface.

But wait…if Microsoft Surface is essentially just a flatter, touch screen PC version of my laptop, did this make it the iPad killer that everyone (especially Microsoft) has been claiming it to be? At first, I thought it could be. I was thinking that Surface was what I was looking for over a long period of time before my iPad. Sure, there have been other tablet computers out there, but they were always out of my price range and weren’t as powerful as my regular PC laptop. So, a former me that was shopping for a tablet would have loved that. But now, in my mind, I don’t think it’s the “iPad killer”. It just sounded–to me–like it was just a flatter, touch screen version of my laptop, with less storage room and possibly less power. Would it replace a laptop for me? Well, maybe not me, but for the average person who is not a power user, it might be a good alternative for someone else who is less tech savvy. Imagine if all the full features of your laptop were in a convenient package like a tablet, so it’d be easier to bring with you–it would work well.

At first, that sounds great. Just in mobile learning alone, that could be monumental. And that might work better for many people who want the convenience of a tablet with all the power (but less storage space) as a laptop. For some, it’ll be just what they need. But for me, as I’ve thought about it, and debated whether to get one in the future, I decided it wasn’t worth it. First of all, for the same amount of money that this Surface machine is going to cost (if it’s financially on par with iPads, as Microsoft claims it will be)–what’s the point of getting a tablet with little storage space and not as much power when you can get something more powerful–more storage space and higher processor speed–in laptop form for the same price? There doesn’t seem to be much of an advantage in having one, unless you are a person who wants to make the switch, and you don’t do much on your laptop to begin with. Yes, there are some operational advantages, but they are minor. The convenience of a tablet? Oh yeah, that’s definitely a plus, but it seems so late in the game. And in the end…it’s still a PC. You can get this now on a Samsung Galaxy Tab or other PC-based tablet now, for the most part. Maybe it’ll be a slightly ramped up OS, but then again iOS6 will probably be coming out around the same time (more or less), so it’ll be interesting to see who wins the latest Apple vs. Microsoft battle.

But just as everyone is focusing on the usual heavyweights battling it out, Google has been a contender for a while–much more than Microsoft has been. Google has recently announced that it was releasing its new device, Nexus 7, running on the latest Android OS called “JellyBean.” Reports I’ve read is that since this is a full OS, not an abbreviated version like on a Nook or Kindle Fire, it runs more smoothly and robustly. It allows for more Google features like Google Now and Google Play to be used more fully, for example. This leads me to believe that while this is a smaller tablet in size than an iPad or Surface, due to it’s great affordable price starting at $199 (as compared to a “bottom of the barrel” iPad at $499 for the new iPad, $399 for the same in an iPad), it’s definitely a dark horse contenter to come in and steal some thunder. In the end, though, it’s not really in the same category as an iPad or Surface machine. Let me explain.

The way I see it, there are two categories of tablets. The first category is one in which the tablets are almost PC replacements, but not quite. They have the most flexibility due to their ability to do anything from word processing and reports, graphic and image editing, games, video, email, web browsing, etc.  They are generally a much leaner version of a PC, not only physically in the hardware, but also in its capabilities. iPads have this down to a science now, whereas Surface will be just a slimmed down physical version of what most people have already.

The other category includes the small tablets. These would be your Nook, Kindle Fire, Nexus 7 and if it actually comes out, iPad Mini. While it has great perfunctory use, it’s not meant to be anything but a basic device to provide basic services. I’ve never heard of doing presentations off of a Nook, or a report being written on a Kindle Fire.

Are there uses in education and business for any of these kinds of tablets? Sure there are. Because of their enormous flexibility and functionality, it’s no surprise that iPads have been dominant in both education and business, and will continue to be dominant. Will the Surface upset that dominance? It might, only because so many are used to using a PC that the learning curve (not that there’s a huge one in learning how to use an iPad) would not have to be contended with, and some might like that full PC functionality over a streamlined one like an iPad. I see iPad and Surface being more productive than the smaller tablets.

Does this mean that smaller tablets don’t have a place in education or business? No, not at all. It can still be used for reading, communication, video and basic web searches– that might be all someone needs.

But from my own personal experience as a student as well as a professional, I don’t see how the larger tablets could lose. The question will be whether educators or business people find the streamlined functionality of an iPad more beneficial or the PC-similarity of the Surface to be more productive in the long run. Hmm…I think I found the topic of my PhD thesis (if I ever do it in the near future)!

What do you think? Let me know the comments below.

(PS–Microsoft or Google– if you want me to try these devices out once they are out, I’m glad to give them a go. 😉 )

About TechCommGeekMom

Danielle M. Villegas is a technical communicator who has recently started her own technical communications consultancy, Dair Communications. She has worked at the International Refugee Committee, MetLife, Novo Nordisk, and BASF North America, with a background in content strategy, web content management, social media, project management, e-learning, and client services. Danielle is best known in the technical communications world for her blog, TechCommGeekMom.com, which has continued to flourish since it was launched during her graduate studies at NJIT in 2012. She has presented webinars and seminars for Adobe, the Society for Technical Communication (STC), the IEEE ProComm, TCUK (ISTC) and at Drexel University’s eLearning Conference. She has written articles for the STC Intercom, STC Notebook, the Content Rules blog, and The Content Wrangler as well. You can learn more about Danielle on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/daniellemvillegas, on Twitter @techcommgeekmom, or through her blog.
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2 Responses to iPads and Surface and Nexus…oh my!

  1. SSJR says:

    First off, this is a nicely done post. I don’t know how much time you spent on it, but you’ve done your research. Good job!

    Now my option, which could probably become into another post (hey, not a bad idea….)

    I’m a writer. Besides writing papers for school and writing posts and replies everyday (long ones, like this one), I am also writing a book, hopefully to be done this summer. As such, writing or typing is the most important thing for me to do on my work device, which is a 2007 macbook pro. It’s getting old and It’s a bit banged up, but it’s the best writing machine I ever had, for a few reasons:

    1 the keyboard lights up and illuminates the buttons, which allows me to write in dark places. Many cafes in the city like to dim off the lights at night, and you’d be surprised to know how many timea I couldn’t write just because I couldn’t see the buttons!

    2 I use a few programs for writing, from Google docs (cloud bases of course) to Scrivener, which is basically the “photoshop” of writing.

    3 I need a real keyboard. I used ipads before and other tablets and I can handle touch screens (I’m writing this comment from my phone), but there’s still no replacement to a physical keyboard.

    Considering all of the above, a tablet is not a good solution for me. I sometimes wish I had a touch screen to draw something quick, but I’d rather buy a Wacom (which I did) for these few cases than to buy a keyboard for a tablet that I’d have to use all the time. Makes more sense no? Also, I won’t be able to run my writing programs – Notebook, Scrivener and Word – from a tablet, and I *need* those. I use web apps for many things, most notedly graphics and charts, but these are just not powerful enough and need internet connection.

    My future computer is going to be a Macbook air: I need a mac for my apps, and this computer is the lightest. I used to consider a Chromebook, but these are small computers (I want large keyboard and a large screen) which need internet connection, and they won’t run my programs. Since I don’t need a top of the line brand new computer (considering my 2007 runs great), I could probably settle for a used Macbook air for less.

    Of course, I’m only pointing out what works for me. Different people need different things. That’s the point people should remember before they rush and buy the newest thing: what exactly do they need and to what end. I’m not sure we’re doing this enough these days with the market being bombarded with the next big thing every few weeks.

    (please excuse weird typos…. I knew I should have used my computer)

    • You’re right, Shay, there is still a place for laptops–no doubt about that. Like I said, I can’t live without mine for some more “power” computing than with a tablet.

      Part of my separation for the two categories was actually having typing in mind. Like I said, at least with an iPad or Surface, there are keyboard devices available. I got the wireless keyboard that is compatible with a Mac or an iPad last Christmas, and it made a HUGE difference for me in writing up papers and other heavy word processing. I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple picked up on this, with the sales of wireless Bluetooth keyboards and other iPad cases with bluetooth keyboards built in that they tried to stay ahead of the curve on that one.

      But your point is well taken– just like computers, TV and radio have not replaced books, tablets–at least at this stage in technology–will not be replacing full computers like desktops or laptops anytime soon. (But I think the manufacturers are trying!)

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