Having been born a slate with some serious heft, this year’s iPad Air 2 is surprisingly thin and superlight. Upgrades contained inside let it do a lot more than we previously dreamed tablets could. The MacBook has followed roughly the same trajectory, shedding weight and extra ports to achieve ultimate portability. It’s safe to say that both the MacBook and iPad defined a new generation of computing. It’s also safe to say that Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 is better at doing all the things that Apple is trying to do with two separate devices.
The pages of history are filled with ideas thought up by one person and perfected by someone else. My Surface Pro 3, even with its slightly obtuse operating system and somewhat lackluster media experience, is better than your MacBook and iPad Air 2. To figure out why we need only examine the differences in philosophies that govern both devices.
There was a time when having the right mix of ports to connect to displays, printers and other accessories could make or break a new notebook or tablet. For a short time, Apple made devices so good-looking and so thin that we thought you had to choose. The Surface Pro 3 reminds you that isn’t necessarily the case.
The new MacBook comes with a single port that provides power and lets users plug other things in. Apple hopes that you’ll keep content synced and your devices connecting using its cloud services — mainly iCloud and the iTunes Store. Microsoft does this too, but the Surface Pro 3 also has a full-size USB, a headset jack, Mini DisplayPort and power port. Along the bottom edge is an expansion slot that lets users connect to a Surface Type Keyboard.
In 2015, how ridiculous is it that MacBook and iPad Air 2 users need to find a compatible dongle to connect to a printer that’s just sitting feet away from them? In what fantasy land is it actually acceptable to make something so thin that it can’t be connected to a display without an adapter and a separate cable?
When the iPad first arrived, Apple sold users on the idea that computing could be simpler. Instead of maintaining software and worrying about battery life, users could leave all of that behind and focus on the things that really matter. Your music, videos and email are at your fingertips with the iPad. Early on, that was enough.
As the iPad has matured, Apple seems to have done away with the distinction. Today, the software that powers the iPad is complicated and getting more so all the time. Apple has added more customization options too Apple makes television ads that include people creating complex loops with synthesizers on their iPads even. The company is preparing the iPad for a future in which people demand from it the things they could do with their PC.
Meanwhile the Surface Pro 3 is a real PC running a full desktop operating system. For Microsoft, the hardest thing over the next few months isn’t building out complicated features that mimic what users can do with their Mac or PCs. Instead, it’s finding a way to mobilize the things Windows already does well. It missed the mark with the Windows 8.1 operating system. It’s closer to bridging the notebook and tablet interface paradigm with its free Windows 10 upgrade due out later this year.
The Surface Pro 3 already has a huge assortment of Desktop applications for creating video, making music and putting together presentations. Multitasking is something that modern users expect from their devices. The Surface Pro 3 can run multiple apps side-by-side using Snap. Users who can’t find an app built around what they’d like to do from the Windows Store can download one of the millions of Desktop apps available through their web browser. Try doing that on an Apple iPad. Most web apps work with Internet Explorer, meaning you never have to switch to another device because your browser isn’t support for some niche work application.
With its product lines, with every public address, Apple is saying that tablets and notebooks or two separate things. That mixing the two is a terrible idea because it ruins the experience. The Surface Pro 3 is proof that there’s room for a device that sits in the middle. The Surface Pro 3 is better than the iPad Air 2 and MacBook because Apple was wrong. Time and time again buying trends have shown us that people want to do more with less.
Why have a smartphone and a camera when you can purchase an iPhone and get both? This Surface Pro 3 that I have on my desk sitting in a cradle is my all-in-one desktop PC. When I remove it from that cradle and attach a keyboard it becomes my mobile work station. When I want to read the latest magazines I remove the keyboard and turn it into a jumbo-sized electronic reader.
The Surface Pro 3 isn’t some device designed by someone who wants to tell me what it should be for. I bend the Surface Pro 3 to my will; I tell the Surface Pro 3 what kind of device I need and it obeys.