Over the past year, I’ve made a concerted effort to travel only with my iPad. And yet, for each time I’ve tried, I’ve returned home wholeheartedly regretting the decision. For me, the iPad is problematically entrenched within its identity as a complementary device. Although I can capably produce content within the bounds of its display, the work I produce is psychologically hamstrung by the mere identity of the device and the cognitive associations I make therein.
Clearly, however, such struggles are not a unilateral and defining aspect of the iPad environment. During the WWDC keynote, for instance, I sat across a coffee table from Shawn Blanc. Slumping my bag upon the floor — its interior laden with a multitude of devices — Shawn sat confidently with only his iPad and Apple Keyboard. During the closing moments of the keynote, I remarked to Shawn: “I hope this ends soon, or I’m going to run out of battery.” Equipped with his bare working environment, Shawn calmly explained that he still had well over 50% battery remaining.
In that moment, I should have, perhaps, taken stock in this evident discrepancy between our respective setups. Carrying a 15” MacBook Pro, new iPad, Kindle, Mophie, and innumerable digital trinkets, my mobile working environment could barely be considered as such — my back slowly warping due to the weight slung upon it. For all that I should have grappled with, however, I chose not to. Instead, upon returning from WWDC, I immediately ordered an 11-inch MacBook Air.
In many respects, such a decision is definably lethargic, poorly representative of the shifting industry, and even, perhaps, steeped in antiquity. With concerted time and effort, it is beyond a shadow of a doubt that I could hew some semblance of versatility and robustness into an iPad-centric mobile setup. Purchasing the most fitting of apps, the best keyboard accessories, and spending an inordinate amount of time experimenting, the MacBook Air experience could likely be subsumed from my third-generation iPad.
And yet, despite the evident potential to do so, I tend to regard any effort toward such an end as a veritable waste of valuable time. Rather than reshape my well-entrenched tendencies, I took the easy route toward productivity. Instead of working with developers to hone and translate the Mac workspace into the iOS world, I simply remain in the Mac environment. Boasting a device of comparable size, but exponentially more competent hardware, I have enabled my own failings. In doing so, however, I have facilitated an intelligent, portable, and powerful working environment.
In essence, I perceived deep-seated compromise within the iPad environment — purely due to my past within the desktop computing world — and I found a resolution. Somewhat poignantly, it is precisely this misperception of compromise that has engendered Microsoft’s vision for Windows 8 and Microsoft Surface.
Insofar as the MacBook Air has answered my qualms regarding compromise in an ultraportable computing device, Microsoft has leveled its aim precisely at this point of intersection. On the one hand, such strategy is held within the bounds of shrewd business decision-making. On the other, Microsoft may well have fallen into the trap of misperception.
Concerning the former, Microsoft may well have tapped into the evident misconceptions of the iPad, and leveraged such concerns for its own advantage. Boasting native keyboard implementation, mouse support, traditional Windows applications, Office, and an attractive touch-interface, Microsoft’s selling point lies at the direct intersection at which I find myself. That is, if you have used an iPad but could not quite get everything done without having your computer with you, then Microsoft Surface could be the perfect answer. Conversely, Microsoft’s reliance upon this vision may not be the result of strategic targeting, but more aggressive swipes at one of the most successful computing devices in decades.
Herein lies the issue: the Shawn Blanc scenario.
Returning to my vertebrae-damaging collection of devices, Shawn capably and confidently carried only one: the iPad. According to Microsoft’s rhetoric, such a state of affairs should be riddled with compromise and ineptitude. And yet, when I have an enormous volume of digital ephemera surrounding me, the compromise does not fall upon Shawn, rather, it falls upon me.
Thus, in this Shawn Blanc scenario, neither of us fit into the Windows 8 model. My answer to the compromise does not lie with some sort of hybrid between tablet and laptop — it lies with a competent ultraportable laptop. Similarly, Shawn’s compromise does not lie with his iPad — it lies with carrying multiple devices. In this vein, the concern that haunts my perception of Windows 8 and Microsoft Surface is that the battle Microsoft seeks to fight may have already been fought internally within Apple. That, with a well-developed software ecosystem, the iPad is already well on its way to resolving the perception — whether real or imagined — of compromise in the computing market. And that, further, the MacBook Air exists as the competent counterpoint to the x86 Surface.
Despite these pervasive concerns, however, when reading through Joshua Topolsky’s piece, I cannot help but share his irrevocable sense of optimism for a resurgent, responsive, and innovative Microsoft. Looking at the potential for Microsoft and Windows 8 — particularly from my perspective as a non-iPad worker — I’m certainly cognizant of the potential therein. And yet, for every unique novelty and innovative feature, the concern continues to palpably flare at the back of my mind: what if Microsoft has utterly misunderstood the true nature of the compromise in the computing market today?
In other words, what if Microsoft is me?