The Microsoft Office Tablet


OfficeTabletI’ve really tried to stay out of the Tablet Wars.  I have a first generation iPad that I barely use any more.  My kids have co-opted it from me for watching on-demand TV shows and playing Angry Birds.  Since I spend most of my time typing blog posts or doing research, I use my laptop more than anything else.  When the Surface RT and Surface Pro escaped from the wilds of Redmond I waited and watched.  I wanted to see what people were going to say about these new Microsoft tablets.  It’s been about 4 months since the release of the Surface Pro and simliar machines from vendors like Dell and Asus.  I’ve been slowly asking questions and collecting information about these devices.  And I think I’ve finally come to a realization.

The primary reason people want to buy a Surface tablet is to run Microsoft Office.

Here’s the setup.  Everyone that expressed an interest in the Pro version of the Surface (or the Latitude 10 from Dell) was asked a question by me: What is the most compelling feature for the Surface Pro for you?  The responses that I got back were overwhelming in their similarity.

1.  I want to use Microsoft Office on my tablet.

2.  I want to run full Windows apps on my tablet.

I never heard anything about portability, power, user interface, or application support (beyond full Windows apps).  I specifically excluded the RT model of the Surface from my questions because of the ARM processor and the reliance of software from the Windows App Store.  The RT functions more like Apple/Android tablets in that regard.

This made me curious.  The primary goal of Surface users is to be able to run Office?  These people have basically told me that the only reason they want to buy a tablet is to use an office suite.  One that isn’t currently available anywhere else for mobile devices.  One that has been rumored to be released on other platforms down the road.  While it may be a logical fallacy, it appears that Microsoft risks invalidating a whole hardware platform because of a single application suite.  If they end up releasing Office for iOS/Android, people would flee from the Surface to the other platforms according to the info above.  Ergo, the only purpose of the Surface appears to be to run one application.  Which I why I’ve started calling it the Microsoft Office Tablet.  Then I started wondering about the second most popular answer in my poll.

Making Your Flow Work

As much as I’ve tried not to use the word “workflow” before, I find that it fits in this particular conversation.  Your workflow is more than just the applications you utilize.  It’s how you use them.  My workflow looks totally different from everyone else even though I use simliar applications.  I use email and word processing for my own purposes.  I write a lot, so a keyboard of some kind is important to my workflow.  I don’t do a lot of graphics design, so a pen input tablet isn’t really a big deal to me.  The list goes on and on, but you see that my needs are my own and not those of someone else.  Workflows may be simliar, but not identical.  That’s where the dichotomy comes into play for me.

When people start looking at using a different device for their workflow, they have to make adjustments of some kind.  Especially if that device is radically different from one they’ve been using before.  Your phone is different from a tablet, and a tablet is different from a laptop.  Even a laptop is different from a desktop, but these two are more simliar than most.  When the time comes to adjust your workflow to a new device, there are generally two categories of people:

1.  People who adjust their workflow to the new device.

2.  People who expect the device to conform to their existing workflow.

For users of the Apple and Android tablets, option 1 is pretty much the only option you’ve got.  That’s because the workflow you’ve created likely can’t be easily replicated between devices.  Desktop apps don’t run on these tablets.  When you pick up an iPad or a Galaxy Tab you have to spend time finding apps to replicate what you’ve been doing previously.  Note taking apps, web browsing apps, and even more specialized apps like banking or ebook readers are very commonly installed.  Your workflow becomes constrained to the device you’re using.  Things like on-screen keyboards or lack of USB ports become bullet points in workflow compatibility.  On occasion, you find that a new workflow is possible with the device.  The prime example I can think of is using the camera on a phone in conjunction with a banking app to deposit checks without needing to take them into the bank.  That workflow would have been impossible just a couple of years ago.  With the increase in camera phone resolution, high speed data transfer, and secure transmission of sensitive data made possible by device advancements we can now picture this new workflow and easily adapt it because a device made it possible.

The other category is where the majority of Surface Pro users come in.  These are the people that think their workflow must work on any device they use.  Rather than modify what they’re doing, they want the perfect device to do their stuff.  These are the people that use a tablet for about a week and then move on to something different because “it just didn’t feel right.”  When they finally do find that magical device that does everything they want, they tend to abandon all other devices and use it exclusively.  That is, until they have a new workflow or a substantial modification to their existing workflow.  Then they go on the hunt for a new device that’s perfect for this workflow.

So long as your workflow is the immutable object in the equation, you are never going to be happy with any device you pick.  My workflows change depending on my device.  I browse Twitter and read email from my phone but rarely read books.  I read books and do light web surfing from a tablet but almost never create content.  I spend a lot of time creating content on my laptop buy hate reading on it.  I’ve adjusted my workflows to suit the devices I’m using.

If the single workflow you need to replicate on your table revolves around content creation, I think it’s time to examine exactly what you’re using a tablet for.  Is it portability beyond what a laptop can offer?  Do you prefer to hunt and peck around a touch screen instead of a keyboard?  Are you looking for better battery life or some other function of the difference in hardware?  Or are you just wanting to look cool with a tablet in the “post PC world?”  That’s the primary reason I don’t use a tablet that much any more.  My workflows conform to my phone and my laptop.  I don’t find use in a tablet.  Some people love them.  Some people swear by them.  Just make sure you aren’t dropping $800-$1000 on a one-application device.

At the end of the day, work needs to get done.  People are going to use whatever device they want to use to get their stuff done.  Some want to do stuff and move on.  Others want to look awesome doing stuff or want to do their stuff everywhere no matter what.  Use what works best for you.  Just don’t be surprised if complaining about how this device doesn’t run my favorite data entry program gets a sideways glance from IT.

Disclaimer:  I own a first generation iPad.  I’ve tested a Dell Latitude 10.  I currently use an iPhone 4S.  I also use a MacBook Air.  I’ve used a Lenovo Thinkpad in the past as my primary workstation.  I’m not a hater of Microsoft or a lover of Apple.  I’ve found a setup that lets me get my job done.

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3 thoughts on “The Microsoft Office Tablet

  1. It’s not just about Workflow. I bought an Asus Transformer over a year ago for an at home tablet and laptop replacement when I travel. I write a lot while traveling and have to exchange Word documents with others. The biggest issue for me is document format compatibility. I spent years using WordPerfect and OpenOffice and fighting file formats before I caved to Office. I had to choose between getting shit done and using what I want. The former won.

    The Office apps available on Android (Docs-to-go, Kingsoft, Polaris, and one other) can handle documents with tables and graphics. They barely handle comments and track changes (a necessity for me). Hell, they don’t even have spell check or it’s an up charge above the cost of the app.

    Then there’s the fact that many Android apps are poorly designed. For example, in Docs-to-go, you can’t have two files of any type open at once. You have to close one, open the other, repeat ad nauseum.

    My Transformer died this weekend and I have three weeks of trips lined up where I have to lug my laptop with me. I haven’t bought a replacement yet but I’m likely to get a Windows 8 tablet/keyboard combo for work AND an Android tablet for everything else and just carry both on the road.

  2. And then there is a small, but growing demographic that just does not want to increase their pile of electrogarbage at the same rate. Then everything has to work somehow with your setup.

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