Can Microsoft’s multi-role slate offer you more than Apple’s iPad? We find out
Microsoft made a lot of laptop/tablet hybrid fans happy yesterday when it announced the new Surface Pro 3. The main theme behind the device can pretty much be summed up as bigger, better, and more, more, more. The Surface Pro 3 has a bigger display, better processors, more RAM, more storage, and more of everything that makes a tablet good.
Over the past two years Microsoft has attempted to break into the tablet space numerous times, its Surface line of hybrid machines were designed to replace both your laptop and your tablet (or, as Microsoft hoped, your MacBook and your iPad). This of course didn’t happen and Microsoft ended up losing hundreds of millions of dollars on its post-PC project.
The Surface Pro 3 couldn’t have happened without the failures of the two machines that preceded it. Microsoft was forced to learn some tough lessons over the past year or two, with regards to both Windows and its burgeoning hardware aspirations, and the Surface Pro 3, at least on the surface, looks to show the company FINALLY making some headway.
The obvious question on everyone’s minds is how does the new Surface 3 compare to Apple’s flagship iPad Air? It’s a tough question to answer because the Surface 3 is actually designed to be a tablet and a laptop replacement–not just a tablet alternative. So how do the two stack up anyway?
Design & Display
Apple’s iPad Air is made from a solid block of machine-crafted aluminum and measures 240 mm (9.4 in) (h) x 169.5 mm (6.67 in) (w) x 7.5 mm (0.30 in) (d). It weighs 469 grams. The body houses a 9.7-inch 2048×1536 pixel color IGZO display at 264 pixels per inch. Its aspect ratio is 4:3.
Microsoft’s Surface 3 is made from a magnesium alloy and measures 201 mm (7.93 in) (h) x 292 mm (11.5 in) (w) x 9.1mm (0.36 in) (d). It weighs 800 grams. The body houses a 12-inch 2160×1440 pixel ClearType HD display at 216 pixel per inch. Its aspect ratio is 3:2.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Surface 3 versus the iPad Air is that the iPad Air is noticeably thinner and lighter. But the comparison isn’t exactly fair for a number of reasons.
First, the Surface 3 boasts a screen that is over two inches larger. The second reason is that the Surface 3 isn’t specifically designed to solely take on the iPad Air. It’s a hybrid device, which means Microsoft is positioning it as the perfect device for users who need the power of a laptop and the portability of a tablet. That’s why the Surface 3 has a 12-inch screen and an optional keyboard cover.
Processor, RAM, Storage & Expansion
The iPad Air comes in 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB configurations, but offers no external expansion. The Surface 3 comes in 64GB, 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB configurations, and offers a microSD card reader that takes cards up to 64GB in size. No question about it: the Surface 3 is the clear winner here by a long shot. 512GB in a tablet is unheard of.
As for processor and RAM, the Surface 3 also comes out clearly ahead. It features an Intel Core 1.6 Ghz i3, i5, or i7 processor and 4GB or 8GB of RAM depending on your configuration. The iPad Air features Apple’s A7 chip and 1GB of RAM.
What all this means is that, spec-for-spec, the Surface 3 cleans the floor with the iPad Air. It’s got up to eight times the RAM and offers a wide range of processors to fill anyone’s needs. Of course these specs aren’t exactly fair comparisons either. The iPad Air isn’t designed to be a laptop replacement, so it doesn’t need all the extra power inside. A product better suited for component comparisons to the Surface 3 would probably be the 12-inch MacBook Air – something we’ll cover in a separate comparison.
Connectivity & Ports
The iPad Air has a Lightning connector on the bottom for charging and transferring data and a 3.5mm audio jack for plugging in headphones or external speakers. Inside it you’ll find 802.11a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0, as well as GPS and, in select models, 4G.
The Surface 3 has a dedicated power charger on the side along with another coupling connector to attach an optional Touch Cover/Keyboard. It includes a full-size USB 3.0 port, a MiniDisplay port, and a 3.5 mm audio jack. Inside you’ll find Wi-Fi 802.11ac/802.11 a/b/g/n, and Bluetooth 4.0. Unfortunately there is still no 4G option.
In this area, the iPad Air beats the Surface 3 because it gives users the choice of 4G–something that is very important for a lot of people. But besides that the Surface 3 again cleans the floor with the iPad Air. It’s got all the connectivity options laptop users are accustomed to and adds the ports some iPad users with the iPad had (USB, anyone?). One thing we would say thought is that both use proprietary charging solutions rather than microUSB, which is at least midly irritating.
On the camera front the iPad Air features a front 1.2MP 720 HD camera and a rear 5MP 1080 HD camera. The Surface 3’s front camera is 5MP 1080 HD, and its rear is also 5MP 1080 HD.
Keeping in mind that more than the megapixels of a camera matters in good photos, it’s still clear that the Surface 3’s cameras beat the iPad Air’s. The specs don’t lie: a 5MP front and rear camera on the Surface 3 makes it the tablet with the best camera options.
Software & Apps
Okay, this is where you really begin to see the differences between the Surface 3 and the iPad Air. The iPad Air features iOS 7.1. The Surface 3 features Windows 8.1 Pro. There are well over half a million iPad apps. The Surface 3 on the other hand has a little more than 100,000.
Hands down, iOS 7 is the best mobile operating system on the planet. It’s got the apps, the security, and the ease of use. Windows 8.1 Pro on the other hand is a little laggy for my taste and a bit slow and prone to crashes.
However, when it comes to OSes on tablets, the Surface 3 has the power of the full Windows desktop behind it. You can run any Windows program on it just like you can on a standard Windows laptop. In this way, the Surface 3 offers much better software than the iPad Air. It would be a dream if the iPad could also run OS X, but it doesn’t look like that will happen anytime soon.
The iPad Air starts at £399 for the 16GB Wi-Fi model and goes all the way up to £739 for the 64GB Wi-Fi+4G model. The Surface 3 doesn’t have UK prices yet but in the US the Core i3, 4GB RAM, 64GB storage model will cost $799 (about £473) while the top-end Core i7, 8GB RAM, 512GB storage model costs $1,949 (about £1150). As you can see the Surface 3 will cost much more than the iPad Air, but again, it’s more comparable to a laptop than a tablet.
So, which is right for you?
Despite the massive differences to the Surface 3 and the iPad Air, answering which is the right one for you is relatively straight forward. Are you a user who frequently carries a laptop and a tablet around with you? Or are you a user who just likes a good, solitary tablet experience?
If you long for the day when you can ditch your laptop or tablet and carry just one, the Surface 3 is the best option for you (provided you’re a Windows user). It’s loaded with the full version of Windows and packed with powerful specs. Getting the Surface 3 will allow you to carry just one device instead of two.
However, if you’re the kind of person who just wants the best tablet experience possible, get an iPad. Its design, user experience, and OS can’t be beat. And since most users nowadays just want to surf the web, check email, and post pictures, the iPad is more than enough for that.
So, power-user, or need a tablet and laptop for work: get a Surface 3. Casual user who uses a tablet for simple, fun tasks: the iPad Air is your best bet.
GOOGLE HOME HUB SAYS NO TO SMART-HOME CAMERAS IN YOUR BEDROOM
The newsports a 7-inch touchscreen, a fabric-encased full-range speaker, a light sensor and two far-field microphones. But even more interesting is a hardware feature it doesn’t have.
The $149 device has no camera, so you can’t use it for video calls or taking photos.
While that omission at first blush may not seem like a big deal, it raises a handful of thorny questions about how many cameras and microphones people want to have in their connected homes and how much they trust giant tech companies to protect their data and privacy in their most intimate spaces.
The Home Hub, which Google introduced at itsTuesday in Manhattan, is a mashup of a smart speaker and a tablet that’s often called a smart display. It uses the voice-powered Google Assistant to let you play YouTube videos, check your home security camera feeds and control connected smart-home devices like lights.
The device will go up against a growing list of competing smart displays, including the Amazon’s Alexa-poweredand Echo Spot, the new , and the Google Assistant-powered JBL Link View and Lenovo Smart Display. All five of those devices include cameras for video chats.
The Hub comes out at time when tech companies arefor how they manage users’ data and how much of that information they keep. Just this week, Google social network after the company was forced to disclose a bug that put users’ data at risk. Earlier this year, Facebook sustained a torrent of criticism after the data of millions of people , which exploited the information for targeted election ads.
Simultaneously, many of these same companies are asking consumers to add more and more cameras, mics and sensors to control their homes.
So far,haven’t raised persistent concerns about these devices tracking them, instead focusing more on the convenience they can offer. But that dynamic has the potential to quickly change if there’s ever a major breach related to the audio, video and shopping data these electronics can track.
When the Hub comes out on Oct. 22, consumers will get to decide whether they want to make the Hub a bigger success than its many rival camera-toting smart displays. Whether they side more with the privacy of having no camera or the convenience of video features may signal what direction smart home technology will go in the future.
“It’s kind of less is more,” said GlobalData analyst Avi Greengart, who attended the Google event. “They’re omitting a piece of hardware that costs money and does raise some privacy implications.”
Google’s view on going camera-free
While Amazon in particular has pushed full-force into offering smart speakers with cameras, including those marketed for the bedroom, Google took a decidedly different approach with the Hub.
“For us, in general, it’s not about one product or another, just the word camera — hey, put a camera in your bedroom,” Mark Spates, Google’s product lead for smart speakers, said at Tuesday’s event. “It’s a comfort thing. For us, we wanted to make sure that you could use this anywhere in the home.”
Google wanted to give customers that option after finding that people put the Google Home Mini — its most popular smart speaker — in hallways, washrooms, bedrooms and everywhere else in their homes, he said. Looking to build on the Mini’s success and avoid limiting where the Hub can go, he said, Google opted to leave out a camera.
Diya Jolly, Google’s vice president of product management, added that the company saw an opportunity to offer a different kind of smart display, after several competing devices already offered a camera. She said Google was willing to explore adding a camera to a later version, but “we wanted to see how consumers reacted and how they liked” the new Hub.
“We wanted to give users a choice of not having a camera,” she said. “There are many other devices out there that have a camera, but none that doesn’t have a camera.”
In stark contrast with the Hub, competing smart displays are heavily promoting their video capabilities. The new Facebook Portal was created especially for Facebook Messenger video calls, and Amazon’s Echo Show and Spot have been marketed for their video call functions. Amazon even included a “drop in” feature that lets people connect automatically with a Show or Spot if they’ve been approved to do so by the device’s owner.
Amazon also created another product called the Echo Look that’s marketed for your bedroom or closet. It uses a camera to take pictures of your outfit choices to give you AI-powered fashion advice. The Spot, too, is marketed as a replacement for your bedroom nightstand clock.
Privacy in focus
In a nod to privacy concerns, Facebook, JBL and Lenovo offer physical privacy shutters for their smart displays’ cameras. Amazon doesn’t, instead offering a button to disable the mic and camera on the Show and Spot.
“Customers have made millions of video calls this year alone, and they tell us that they love the ability to drop in from room to room within their homes or take a photo on our devices, which is why we believe the camera is important,” an Amazon spokeswoman said.
“We also built these devices with privacy in mind from the beginning,” she added, mentioning that when you press the microphone/camera off button, it cuts off power to both pieces of hardware. Also, a red light on the device is used to reinforce the fact that the mic and camera are off. “We will continue to learn from our customers and adapt our products to best meet their needs.”
Following Facebook’s privacy blunders, the company took pains to emphasize the Portal’s privacy features, including the ability to turn off the mic and camera with one tap and the use of a passcode to unlock the screen.
Both Amazon and Facebook said they don’t record, store or listen to your calls through Facebook’s Portal or Amazon’s Alexa-powered devices.
JBL and Lenovo didn’t respond to requests for comment for this story.
By leaving out a camera Google avoids the privacy concerns raised by Amazon’s rival products and prevents a potentially messy video breach from ever happening. Amazon faced criticism for the Look, with one writer for Forbes suggesting its camera may someday be able to identify skin cancer or depression. Amazon strongly denied these claims.
“Amazon is trying something completely different,” Greengart said. “I don’t think it hurts Google to omit it, and for people that do want a camera, there are those options from Amazon and Google’s partners.”
MICROSOFT HAS KILLED MINECRAFT FOR APPLE TV
Microsoft is no longer supporting the Apple TV version of Minecraft. The app has has been pulled from the App Store, and an in-game message notes that it won’t receive any further updates, though it’ll continue to be playable. Refunds will be issued for any purchases made up to 90 days before the announcement comes into effect. And it actually went into effect on September 24th, so it’s even more of an indictment of the state of Apple TV gaming that no-one really seemed to notice until this week.
Minecraft is one of the biggest games in history and has managed to find an audience on virtually every console, phone, and computer out there — including the iPhone, from which the Apple TV version was derived. But the Apple TV has been hampered as a games platform ever since Apple bungled the launch by unexpectedly requiring developers to support the Siri Remote. The company backtracked the following year, but the damage was done.
Apple hasn’t entirely given up on Apple TV gaming. Last year’s iPhone keynote saw Sky, the next game from Journey and Flower studio Thatgamecompany, shown off for the first time on the Apple TV 4K. But even that game is yet to see release, and it’s clear that Apple’s focus is elsewhere.
UBER’S NEXT CONQUEST: YOUR DATA
After replacing Travis Kalanick in August 2017, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is shifting the company’s focus. Though the company has always sought to become a world-class transportation platform, it has recently begun to describe itself as “Amazon for transportation” — an ambition which indicates the company is making a monopolistic data play.
Amazon has always been an inspiration for Uber’s leadership, but the form of that inspiration has shifted over the course of the company’s growth. Kalanick wanted to emulate Amazon’s strategy of pursuing market share and growth at the expense of profits — or, more accurately, with massive losses before using scale to reduce the marginal cost of expansion to turn a profit. Unfortunately for Kalanick, that strategy didn’t translate to Uber’s ride-hailing business.
Scale economies work for companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon because the digital nature of their operations allows growth at little marginal cost in many aspects of their businesses. This is why many of these digital companies have so few employees compared to traditional auto companies. However, as transportation expert Hubert Horan explained: “Drivers, vehicles and fuel account for 85% of urban car service costs,” making scale economies very difficult for Uber’s ride-hailing service to achieve even as it outsources the ownership and maintenance of vehicles to its drivers.
Uber’s leadership is inspired by Amazon’s platform and the power and dominance that has come with it.
Uber’s margin improvements have typically come from cutting driver pay, not scale economies, and Kalanick’s plan to reach profitability relied on further reducing the share of revenue going to drivers. In the last few years that Kalanick served as CEO, the company became focused not just on developing autonomous vehicles, but on winning the self-driving race. We now know that autonomous vehicles will not be able to replace drivers nearly to the degree Kalanick had hoped, nor on the accelerated timeline he was relying on. This necessitates a new plan for the company’s future.
We don’t know whether Kalanick was in the process of formulating a new strategy, but over the past few months Khosrowshahi’s vision has become increasingly clear. He wants to make Uber into the “Amazon for transportation.” This time, instead of taking the wrong lessons from Amazon on scale economies, Uber’s leadership is inspired by Amazon’s platform and the power and dominance that has come with it.
From Ride-Hailing to Transportation Platform
Though Uber’s ride-hailing service has always been the center of its business, Khosrowshahi’s plan shifts the focus to its app — or, rather, its platform. He’s no longer just talking about the ride-hailing business, but about existing food delivery and freight services along with it, new scooters and bike offerings from Lime, car rentals from Getaround, public transit ticketing through Masabi, and the prospect of flying cars. Basically, the more services available, the more people the platform can serve.
Uber’s approach to autonomous vehicles has also shifted. Rather than trying to win the race to develop self-driving tech, Khosrowshahi has said his ultimate goal is to have “access” to the technology. He opened the door for Google’s Waymo and GM’s Cruise to offer their autonomous vehicle services on Uber’s platform, and Ford AV CEO Sherif Marakby recently told the Vergecast that they’d be open to offering their autonomous service on the platform as well.
Khosrowshahi predicts the traditional ride-hailing service to be only 50 percent of its future business, as scooters and bikes cannibalize the short trips currently made in vehicles. It’s hard to imagine Kalanick making a similar statement, but that doesn’t mean Khosrowshahi’s ultimate goal is any less inspired by monopolistic ideals.
Uber Wants to Control Urban Transportation Data
Uber is a private company with plans to go public in 2019. It has yet to turn a profit. Khosrowshahi has encouraged investors to commit for the long haul, as his plans to diversifying the company’s transportation options will not deliver short-term profits. At the same time, his value proposition to investors has changed: Now, they have access to Amazon-like power exerted on urban transportation networks.
In his book on these new digital monopolies, Platform Capitalism, Nick Srnicek identifies the importance of network effects in increasing a platform’s value. For platforms, data is raw material that can “be extracted, refined, and used in a variety of ways. The more data one has, the more uses one can make of them.”
Uber will not only use data on its own services, but data from every third-party service offered through its platform.
Uber already has a large, global user base (and dataset). The expansion of transportation options on its platform — both its own and those of other companies — adds value for existing users while attracting new ones interested in getting around by anything other than a car. New modes of transport and a growing user base will produce more data, showing the company where more people are going and how additional transport modes are used. Uber will not only use data on its own services, but data from every third-party service offered through its platform. All of this data feeds a flywheel that will improve Uber’s service exponentially over time.
In a recent interview with TechCrunch, Khosrowshahi was asked why he was allowing other services onto Uber’s platform. He likened it to Amazon offering branded products while letting other businesses sell their products through the Amazon marketplace. He left out how Amazon uses its sales data to see which third-party products are selling well and make cheaper versions of its own, undercutting the original product and leaving its seller with no means of challenging Amazon. Will Uber eventually do the same to Lime’s scooters or Getaround’s car rentals? It’s not impossible to imagine.
Cities Need to Act Now
City governments around the globe have struggled to effectively regulate ride-hailing apps, but there’s been some recent progress. In August, New York City passed new regulations limiting the number of ride-hailing vehicles, at least for a 12-month period as it further studies the issue. It will also ensure that drivers are paid the minimum wage of $15 per hour with a bit extra to cover vehicle costs.
Another regulatory bright spot: bikes and scooters. Having learned their lesson from letting ride-hailing companies evade regulation, city governments were quick to develop policies for new micromobility services. Mayors make it known that they, not tech companies, had ultimate authority over what happened on city streets.
As Uber sets out to capture a significant chunk of urban transportation data with its new Amazon-inspired platform model, city governments need to make clear that data from activities occurring on the street is not proprietary information. This data belongs to the people as represented by their government. Uber should not have a better idea of how different transportation data modes are operating than governments themselves.
Under Khosrowshahi’s leadership, Uber’s tone has undoubtedly changed — probably for the better. Bikes and scooters will likely capture a significant portion of the ride-hailing service’s current users. However, Uber’s push to become the world’s dominant transportation platform is cause for concern. City officials must establish their right to transportation data. At the very least, they should build publicly owned alternatives that serve the interests of residents — not multinational companies.