Monday, November 12, 2012

Microsoft Surface - An E-Learning Perspective

microsoft surface imageI am writing this post on my new Microsoft Surface, the latest tablet from Microsoft.

I was keen to have a look at the Surface, not least because I have read various articles which suggest it could be adopted as a tablet of choice by corporates. Once you start playing with the Surface you can understand why, as it has the standard Office suite so I could create Word docs, Powerpoints and Excel files. Thus it fits with corporate productivity tools, at least for now, as many are migrating to cloud based solutions.

The Surface has options to clip on a keyboard which also acts as a cover. This is a nice design approach. I have had a separate keyboard for my iPad for some time but rarely use it as it makes the device bulky. The design of a keyboard into the cover is the way ahead I think for tablets. 

My overwhelming impression as I type on the touchpad keyboard is that the Surface is more like a netbook PC or a laptop than a tablet. It is really a small PC, which can function as a touchscreen tablet.

The Surface has a 10.6 inch widescreen which works well as a PC style device for creating documents and spreadsheets. As a tablet the widescreen works less well I think, though I like having long newspaper pages in portrait mode. 

The touchpad cover works remarkably well given how thin it is, it takes a little getting used to but once I got going I could type reasonably quickly. I also really like the fact it has a usb port so I can transfer files and store these locally. Though with more and more files kept in the cloud maybe this will change over time.
Thus it has the iPad beaten hands down as a work device for creating content in my view. However, this is because it is really a PC and not a tablet. 

Implications for E-Learning

In many ways as this is a PC more than a tablet, other the inability to play Flash content, there are few implications for e-learning. Flash is a bit weird as Flash player is installed but it only works on Microsoft approved sites, unlikely to be company specific learning sites.

On the positive side HTML 5 content appears to play well in landscape and fills the screen. It can look a little odd if content is left aligned as the very wide screen means you do need padding. The touch screen seems responsive and works well. The tablet, as with websites, doesn’t really need a separate mobile version as the screen manages ok with desktop versions, providing you design with touch screens in mind. Some Kineo e-learning content on the Surface below.

microsoft surface image

The Surface also handles an LMS in much the same way as a desktop so you don't need a mobile version of your LMS.
You can easily download html content for offline playing or even side load content from a USB stick. So the Surface makes it easy to have content for offline use.
To all intents and purposes from an elearning perspective the Surface is a laptop and not a mobile, albeit one with a touch screen. In many ways the same is true of the iPad when it comes to displaying e-learning, as well designed HTML content will play equally well on a desktop or a tablet screen. You certainly don't need an app or even a responsive elearning design to deliver good content on a tablet.

Microsoft Surface as a Tablet 

Remove the keyboard and as a tablet device for consuming content the Surface works less well. The touchscreen doesn’t feel as responsive as my iPad but maybe that is my familiarity.
The app store has less applications, which is not such a key issue for me but will be for many people. Many apps I ditched for the actual websites as the wide screen works so well as a normal PC. Interestingly no website took me to a mobile version,  they appear to treat the Surface as a PC which it is.
The screen size can feel odd as a tablet. The device is heavy to use as a book reader though I successfully installed the kindle app and downloaded my books. In landscape the text lines are very long, and difficult to scan easily. It worked better for me in portrait but felt slightly odd with very long pages.
My Financial Times web app installed ok but there are some differences. I quite liked the portrait mode and being able to see lots of articles without needing to scroll. It felt more like an old paper newspaper with a long page I could scan. On balance I think I prefer reading the Financial Times on the Surface.
So my summary would be that it is really a pc that can function as a tablet. It definitely tries to do both. The keyboard is good but not as good as my laptop. So for working given a choice I would use a laptop. For just consuming content my choice would probably be an iPad. However, if I could only have one device, for example when travelling light I would probably opt for the surface so I can work and browse.
I can also see why corporates under pressure to provide tablets, might opt for providing a Surface rather than an iPad.