Three ways Microsoft's Surface tablets may beat the iPad in enterprises

Microsoft's Surface tablets look to be well-designed, worthy competitors to the iPad. In fact, they're so good, that they may well eventually beat out the iPad in enterprises. Here are three reasons why they might do it.

There's a keyboard

The iPad, like most tablets, is primarily a content-consumption device, not one for content creation. One reason for that is the absence of a built-in, usable non-onscreen keyboard. The Surface tablets have two types of covers, the Touch Cover and the Type Cover, that do double-duty as keyboards, and as Matt Hamblen says, the keyboards are surprisingly good:

The flat Touch Cover has keys with no travel, but it had a good tactile feel, almost like soft cloth. The Type Cover has keys that have some travel; they were of the right size and spacing, and offered the right amount of resistance. It felt like a typical keyboard on a laptop, with a little more friction than the slick keys on an iPad, and it provides resistance for touch typing.

That means that with Surface tablets, you'll actually be able to get real work done, rather than just dashing off quick emails.


Microsoft Office

There are two versions of the Surface, the RT version, called Surface, and the full-on Windows 8 version, called Surface Pro. The less-expensive RT version will come with a limited version of Microsoft Office pre-installed, while the Surface Pro won't.

That may sound odd, but keep in mind that the Surface Pro is a true, Windows-based computer, more powerful than the Surface. So you'll be able to install the full version of Microsoft Office on it. For enterprises, this is a big win: A tablet that does double-duty as a full-blown PC, with a keyboard and a full version of Microsoft Office. For businesses, this may be more appealing than an iPad. And even the less-powerful Surface will still have the basic Office apps, such as Word and Excel.

Deployment tools and support

It's not yet clear what types of enterprise deployment tools enterprises will have for the Surface tablets. But given the stakes involved, you can bet Microsoft will have some solid ones, if not at launch, soon after. And you can also expect substantial support as well. Apple won't have the same types of tools and help, and isn't likely to develop them.

I don't expect the Surface to make dramatic inroads against the iPad in the consumer market, although Android tablets might be hurt. But in enterprises, the Surface and Surface Pro may well become hits.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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