Surface or iPad: An Educator’s Opinion

Lisa is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

First and foremost I am an educator. My background is in instructional technology and I work in teacher education. My consideration of the pending release of Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) Surface tablet compared to Apple’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPad is from that perspective. Granted I’m short on a hands-on experience with Surface, but I have seen and read enough to start developing some ideas.

We All Know Who Was First

With the iPad Apple has a clear head start. All faculty in my college already have one. iPad and apps have been a topic for discussion at professional conferences I have attended for a couple years now. Professional development and related resources have been developed for teachers. Books have been published and websites have been dedicated to the exploration of using iPad for the improvement of teaching and learning. While Microsoft products are certainly not new in the world of education, they will clearly have some catching up to do when the Surface tablet is released.

Keyboarding 101

The Surface’s Touch Cover (in case you don’t know it’s a keyboard/cover) gives it the look of an extremely lightweight laptop. With this in mind, along with the Windows OS, the device should capture some interest in the education world. A large percentage of P-12 schools and higher education institutions primarily use the Windows platform, so familiarity should have some appeal. These factors might also make the Surface tablet a prime candidate to replace mobile laptop labs that allow teachers to bring the lab to the students instead of taking the students to the lab. The big question here is, “How much will it cost?” The answer (which is merely conjecture at this point) should play into the equation for both institutions and individuals.

And no, I haven’t forgotten that there are a number of third party keyboard/cover combos available for iPad, along with Apple’s own wireless keyboard, that grant it similar potential. But Apple doesn’t market the iPad with this setup as a primary focus; all of the Microsoft Surface videos I have seen put the Touch Cover front and center. When I think Surface I think tablet PC; when I think iPad I think mobile device. It’s really semantics since both can be both, but when it comes to consumers and marketing there is something to be said for the psychological edge.

Where’s the USB Port?

Visit the Surface Gallery and take a close look at the two side angle images. The Surface tablet has a built-in USB port. Some iPad users have been asking for such a feature for three generations of the device, and it appears that Surface will have it. This element will get the attention of consumers. It has a lot of potential. A CNN quote repeated in Surface vs. iPad: 7 Things Microsoft’s Tablets Have that Apples Don’t states, “These ports open up the possibility of extra storage, printing and other external capabilities that should be easier and quicker than the workarounds iPad users need.”

Applied to education, in some P-12 schools there may be a dedicated device for every student, but in many schools devices are shared. The availability of a USB port could make device sharing in schools more efficient for the simple ease of saving files or storing progress on individual flash drives to allow students to pick up where they left off without retrieving the same device or worrying about whether work was removed by another user. This is a real issue that schools struggle to address with current iPad labs. While file saving should be clearly possible, the full potential for this purpose remains to be seen until apps created for the Surface tablet and the potential for saving progress can be explored.

Let’s Go App Shopping

In a question, “Is there an app for that?” A quick visit to the App Store on my iPad shows 225,482 apps available and within categories like Books (39,691) and Education (31,067), among others, there are plenty of readymade apps available for students and educators. The Surface by Microsoft About page indicates that the device “works exclusively with apps from the Windows Store.” Investigation here becomes a little fuzzy. Googling “windows store” reveals Windows Marketplace that provides apps for the Windows Phone, a Microsoft Store that advertises Surface and offers a range of Microsoft products from software to gaming systems, and finally the Windows Store, which is the “Apps for Windows 8 Release Preview” site that indicates that “the Store is built directly into Windows 8.” Microsoft is clearly promoting app development from this site, but the number and nature of apps available are not mentioned. It’s more than safe to say that Apple has a clear advantage over Microsoft when it comes to app availability for the iPad versus Surface.


As much as I like my iPad, Surface has certainly captured my attention and I think this tablet has the potential to capture consumer interest. Pricing for the tablet and availability of apps will be factors; in my world, specifically the availability of quality educational apps. Depending on these factors, I think Surface could be a hit. I, for one, would like to get my hands on it. Since a release date isn’t known, I’ll toss in my vote for the holiday season.

Additional Works Consulted

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