Industry insight: Designers comment on Microsoft Surface

Earlier this week, Microsoft released details of its new Surface tablet. But is the new device cause for concern among its rivals?

Microsoft's Surface tablet looks to be the software giant's answer to Apple's iPad and Macbook Air. Part laptop, part tablet; Microsoft have taken features of both, including USB ports, built-in keyboard cover and kickstand and rolled them into one to make the unique product.

But with Apple and Google dominating the large majority of the mobile computing market, is this new device enough to rival them? We asked some lovely designers for their thoughts...

Nick Pleydell-Pearce says

Nick Pleydell-Pearce

"I'm excited to see if Microsoft can pull this off. They've had plenty of time to crack a competitive product to the iPad and at the moment the tablet market isn't even a two horse race; Android tablets aren't lighting the world on fire. Microsoft has shown that it's not afraid to take a different approach and to break the touch interface mould with its Metro UI on Windows Phone 7.

"They've raised a bunch of questions though with their presentation; how long will it run, will it have mobile data, is an external cover/keyboard going to make this an iPad killer? Until people can get their hands on this thing, we're not going to know the answers.

"Initial response to the iPad was underwhelming until people got it in their hands and started to realise the potential. Microsoft has a lot of ground to make up but perhaps they can leap-frog the competition and define what a tablet experience should be in a post-iPad world."

Nick is the associate director of user experience at the London office of global digital agency HUGE

Paul Boag says

Paul Boag headshot

Paul Boag

"Although we know little about the Surface at this stage, what we have seen looks good. Judging by Twitter most excitement seems to be around the keyboard cover.

"This surprises me a little as covers like this have been available for a while including the recent Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard case. I am also not convinced that the general public need that physical keyboard. Most people seem happy with the virtual keyboard and voice dictation found on the iPad.

"Although I'm pleased to see a viable alternative to the iPad I don't see it as much of a threat. Apple now offers such an integrated solution from software to hardware that ranges from the TV in the living room to the mobile in our pocket, that I cannot see other companies being able to gain much market share."

Paul is the founder of UK web design agency Headscape

Jonathan Kenyon says

Jonathan Kenyon

"It feels weird rooting for Microsoft as the underdog. My memory of their failures is not that short, but Apple could use some serious competition for the common good. And yet, every Apple-comparable product that Microsoft produces has been second-best, or much worse. Here’s hoping Surface is different.

"I've always been a reluctant Mac advocate/lemming – I even stupidly bought a Zune because I was tired of all the Apple hype. But that piece of junk is what will stop me from buying Surface until other brave souls have done all the market testing for me.

"Tablets are tricky. The iPad leaves a lot to be desired - like a usable file system for starters. But I don't want a tablet that replaces my desktop operating system (yet), and if the Windows 8 OS goes that way from the outset, they're doomed. Surface needs to appeal to casual users, like the iPad does, while also pushing towards the future.

"I'm reserving judgement until I can see how intuitive the operating system is, but I really, really hope Microsoft is offering something that will keep Apple on its toes. I probably won't be able to resist updating with Apple, but if Microsoft can push them to make more substantial improvements with each new release (as many suggest they're capable of anyway) then that alone will be a huge win. For me anyway."

Jonathan Kenyon is creative director and co-founder of award-winning design studio Vault 49

Simon Jobling says

Simon Jobling

Simon Jobling

"On face value, Surface looks like healthy competition in a relatively monopolised market drowned in iPads (and, some might argue, Galaxys). They seem to have 'borrowed' a number of winning features from existing devices but put their own spin on them, with a soft keyboard and USB adaptor.

"From a design point-of-view, the 16:9 widescreen could throw up some hurdles in web design, further evidence the responsive approach is the way forward. They just need to make sure the cost is competitive and launch is soon."

Simon is a web developer and designer based in the UK

Jeffrey Zeldman says:

Jeffrey Zeldman

Jeffrey Zeldman

"I haven't seen the Surface yet but I remember the original from years ago. They were so far ahead of the curve, but they couldn't seem to put the consumer product piece together. A giant interactive table at a Red Lobster in Las Vegas is a proof of concept but it isn't a product.

"I'm glad they've finally created a consumer product. I look forward to playing with one. Whether it's too little too late, or a viable contender, is impossible to say at this time (at least until I've played with one for a while)."

Jeffrey Zeldman is publisher and creative director of online magazine A List Apart and founder of design agency and consultancy Happy Cog.

Shaun Tollerton says

Shaun Tollerton

"It's refreshing to see Microsoft tying hardware and software so closely together. Surface has been designed so that it's hardware fades away to really bring the UI to the surface. The tiles within the Metro UI homescreen fit beautifully within the 16x9 screen.

"Entertainment especially works well here, a great example being the specifically designed Netflix app which features large thumbnail images of the content. Video playback will look really sweet on Surface's screen too as there'll be no letterboxing which is a real advantage over iPad. This and the touch cover that Microsoft also announced are really exciting steps forward and I look forward to checking it out in person."

Shaun is a visual designer at digital design studio ustwo

Claudio Guglieri says

Claudio Guglieri

"Overall, I must say, regardless of the product itself, that competition is always good in every field. Microsoft has taken some really important insights from all the tablet users out there. They've listened and released a new product with awesome features.

"Looking at some, I really like the touch cover, the angled camera and the USB port. The Metro UI is beautiful and seems easy to use.

"What I'm not really happy about is the all of the tablet's amazing UI is running both the new Metro and the classic Windows interface. Behind the simplicity of Metro there is an interface with a Start button, a task bar and a structure of folders.

"This is something that works so far in desktops and laptops but when it comes to tablets I think there is a new interaction model that should be fully used and explored through the OS and its apps. I feel like Microsoft is dragging its traditional interface and software through a new device when they should be offering one perfect touch based solution instead."

Claudio is an art director at award-winning global digital agency Fantasy Interactive

Elliot Jay Stocks says

Elliot Jay Stocks

"I'm pretty excited by the Surface tablet. I don't think it's an iPad- or Air-killer, as some people are suggesting, but it's certainly a turning point for Microsoft, given that they're marrying hardware and software. You could argue that that happened years ago in the shape of the XBox, but the key thing here is that the Surface is a PC in one way or another.

"I'm a big fan of the Metro UI and I greatly admire Microsoft for doing something clearly different to Apple. When you compare that to Android - which is just a cheap version of iOS - you can see just how innovative they've been. I'm actually pretty excited about getting my hands on one.

"It's unlikely the surface will lure me away from my Apple gadgets but it's a bold move for Microsoft and it sends a very clear message about where they're heading with Windows 8, which I believe is the key ingredient in updating the company's image in the tech world. It's an amazing operating system from a UI perspective."

Elliot is a designer, speaker and author.

So, that's what our designers think. But what are your thoughts on the Microsoft Surface? Let us know in the comments box below...