by Richard Woods
Since part one of this series was a comparison of the Surface Pro and the new MacBook Air, part two was originally going to be a comparison of the iPad and the Surface RT, but there is just so much stuff going on right now! iOS 7 beta 2 was just released and it is finally available for the iPad and the day after that we got the preview release of Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1, so we’re going to wait to compare the physical hardware of the iPad and the Surface RT and focus on these new operating system updates.
Let’s start with iOS 7. Everyone has at least seen a screen shot of it by now and either seems to love it or hate it. Everything is different, and yet the same. They’ve redesigned the look and feel of iOS, but the functionality remains the same. It’s still the standard grid of icons that it was in iOS 6 but with a fresh coat of paint. That being said, on the iPad it looks – to borrow a word from Apple – beautiful. The colors are vibrant and the design is sharp.
Now let’s take a look at Windows 8.1. Obviously it’s not going to be as much of a redesign as iOS 7 was to iOS 6, but there are certainly more noticeable changes to the user interface than any service pack or minor upgrade to a Windows operating system before it. There is a so-called “Start Button”, which is really not much more than yet another way to get to the Start Screen (there is already a key on the keyboard and a button right below the screen). If you right click on this new Start Button, you do get a host of different tools to choose from which turns your Start Menu into something of a Control Panel menu. I find that the only people that actually miss the old Start Menu are those that installed a program like Start8 on their Windows 8 machine and didn’t take the time to learn the new interface of Windows 8 because at this point, whenever I go back to using Windows 7 for whatever reason, I actually find the Start Menu to be a little annoying, but I digress.
There are a lot of great new features in Windows 8.1. One of those being search. Now when you use the search charm, it gives you an all in one search. When you type something into search and click search, it will search Bing, your News App, the Windows Store and of course your computer. Another feature that everyone seems to have wanted is the ability to boot straight to the desktop. For some reason, people felt that it was too time consuming to click “Desktop” when it loaded to the Start Screen.
A curious change that I found was that they took away the messaging app. We’ve known that this was coming for some time, of course but why now? My Facebook and Twitter is integrated to the People app and it seemed logical that my Facebook messages be integrated into Messages. If they were going to take it away, why did they include it at all in Windows 8?
So let’s put the two side by side. Previously, in the metro apps for Windows RT you could split the screen into 1:2 or 2:1 with two apps on your screen at the same time. That was good especially since on iOS you can only show one app at a time. In Windows RT 8.1, it still only allows you to display two apps at a time, but it allows you to resize them, adding to the flexibility.
The Windows 8.1 Preview comes with Outlook RT, which is a little strange because I really can’t see why there is a need for two Mail apps. iOS 7 comes with the standard mail app and gives you the option to get a different one from the AppStore if you so choose.
Both the Windows update and the iOS update come with redesigns to the store, but while the Windows store seems to be trying to catch up to the AppStore, the AppStore seems to be moving forward. The Windows Store added sections like “Top Paid” and “Top Free”, sections that have long been a part of the AppStore, while the AppStore created a section called “Near Me” which could forge the potential for local businesses to create their own apps.
Also, the Windows 8.1 Preview release is clearly much more ready for public use than iOS 7 is. In iOS 7, even some of Apple’s own apps don’t work, such as the Podcasts app. If you want to sit back and enjoy the new features of either of these new operating systems, iOS 7 is not for you. When I put it on my iPhone, my first thought was, if I wanted a phone this full of glitches, I would have gotten an Android. Obviously Apple has a long way to go before they release the full version of this.
It’s really great to see new features from both sides, but I really have to say that there really seems to be some great stuff happening around Microsoft lately. The Windows 8 revolution and the Xbox One, Microsoft emerging into the tablet market, and overall, just seeing Microsoft start to emerge as an ecosystem of itself as Apple has always been known to be. A few weeks ago, I wrote a post called “Microsoft: The Smart Bet” and I still hold that statement to be true. iOS 7 feels like a fresh coat of paint on iOS 6, but Windows 8.1 feels like a train that is continuing to move forward.
So I’m going to have to give this one to Microsoft as well just due to the fact that iOS 7 is really not ready for use and Windows RT 8.1 is. That makes it Microsoft 2, Apple 0. But this is an ongoing series and there is more to come. Next we’re gonna put the Surface RT right up against an iPad and see which one stands taller, so make sure to check back for more!