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Over the years, we’ve seen several technology fads come and go, such as the netbook. With the top consumer tech companies all announcing Surface devices, will these be our latest tech fad?
Let’s face it, the real technological fad right now is that of wearables. This buzzword is everywhere and every company is trying to capitalise on creating watch-like peripherals packed with sub-par features. Wearables have been touted as devices that will change our lives forever, but in truth people want self-lacing shoes or instant drying jackets. At least we’re not all walking around with Google Glasses, right?
Surfaces, on the other hand, are devices that can at least benefit a larger percentage of the populace. When I use the word ‘surface’, I mean high-powered tablets with functional keyboard extensions; the kind of device that can replace both a tablet and laptop. Some have called them ‘post-laptops’ but that’s just a silly name.
Surfaces have been around for years, even before Microsoft used the name for two different product ranges. One of the earliest versions appeared in the form of Asus’s Transformer series — sorry, I mean Aeh-soos thanks to some marketing people. The devices were marketed as laptops built into a screen with a keyboard dock. Unfortunately Asus, as large as is it, doesn’t have decent marketing capabilities or the bravado to really pull off a product like this, but Microsoft, Google, and Apple do.
Since its initial launch in 2012, Microsoft has been beefing up each iteration of the product line as well as adding a Pro series. Their latest addition, the Surface Book, has started changing the way the company looks at these devices. The Surface Book can be used as a separate, robust tablet, or coupled with its keyboard add-on — some of which have integrated NVIDIA GPUs — for a powerful desktop device.
Essentially, Microsoft is launching a product that Asus just couldn’t really pull off. You see, it’s all about the marketing.
It must be noted that Microsoft’s Surface was supposed to replace traditional tablets, but the Surface Book will be replacing that. Oh, Microsoft.
Disregarding my cynicism, Microsoft should be proud of its Surface range because both Apple and Google have copied design and functionality from it. Apple recently announced the iPad Pro series of tablets and Google will be launching the Pixel C. While both of these devices are very similar to the Surface range, neither of them will be using a desktop operating system, but rather iOS for Apple and Android for Google.
Some may argue that Apple started gearing their iPad series towards this shift for years, but the company never put any effort into the actual keyboard component.
And while all of these devices have incredibly appetising specifications and features — or at least a good PR company behind them — their price points put them out of reach of the average consumer. Apple’s 32GB WiFi-only iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil and keyboard will cost US$1069 and Microsoft’s entry-level Surface Book will come in at US$1499. Yes, a Microsoft product is more expensive than an Apple one. Due to our failing Rand, I shudder to think what those will cost locally, but I’m guessing around two kidneys and a liver at this stage.
At least Google’s Pixel C is the cheapest at US$649, including keyboard.
Even with those price points we’ll inevitably start seeing cheaper models from other manufacturers, especially ones running Google’s Android operating system. These newer, cheaper devices may be completely underpowered or hastily made to capitalise on the surface popularity, but may help cement the hybrid devices into our technological culture. We did see a big boom with the netbook, but that ultimately fizzled out.
With top consumer companies pushing these new devices forward, it will be interesting to see whether they will stay around forever, or if they’ll just Pippin, Wave, or Zune-out.