Chromebooks, iPads, and schools are the latest buzzwords being used to categorize and codify the new market growth surrounding personal computing for inexpensive education solutions. While many industry observers have been laser focused on the growth of Chromebooks as an educational solution, many of the same people have also saw fit to pit Apple's iPad efforts against Google's more encompassing alternative because, well, clicks.
Despite a handful of splashy events catered towards the educational market, Apple's efforts to shoehorn its iPads into schools have been roundly criticized for the company's suggested tone deafness to the very market they are being sold. The iPad is still relatively more expensive than other options, requires too many moving parts (i.e. keyboard attachments, pens and covers) to be a practical school option and the underlying educational software contains far too many compromises for many educators. However, in 2018, the iPad and Chromebook seem to be the only two solutions worth putting finger to keyboard for most writers and reviewers, despite Microsoft and its partners quietly churning out viable competing offers. Well, that was until yesterday.
Similar to its 2012 Surface Pro unveiling and 2017 Surface Laptop reveal, Microsoft has once again caused waves with its first Surface Go tablet reveal, not because it's a defining a new product category, but because it's now seemingly continuing to muddy the waters of its device legacy, as many now report the company's intent to deliver a new educational solution to compete against the army of Chromebooks and iPads.
Interestingly enough, I think Microsoft would fare well to sidestep the talk about the educational market as the Surface Go is the same bull in a china shop as the iPad is when discussing education. The Surface Go has to many moving parts with the need for a keyboard attachment, pen and even mouse to make it a Chromebook competitor, and arguably lacks the touch friendly apps to make it a sophisticated tablet-only competitor to the iPad. Instead, Microsoft should continue to work with its partners to produce more ARM based laptops with telephony technology to flood the educational market with while positioning the Surface Go as the Point-of-Sale competitor to the iPad.
While the prognostication of the Surface Go seems to be around education alternative, I see the new Microsoft offering targeting an entire different market that, while less sexy to write about, is every bit as important to the company as education market and that's PoS terminals. Apple has quietly been amassing mind share in the PoS terminal market for some time now. While average consumers, videographers, photographers and journalists jockey for criticism of the iPad as they search for the golden proposition that makes the purchase of the tablet justifiable, small business owners, franchise retailers, car dealerships, restaurants, hotels, amusement parks, movie theaters, credit unions, mall kiosks, and many more businesses have been replacing their aging Windows machines with the ambiguously categorized iPad.
The iPad has seemingly become the unsung hero for businesses looking to modernized their work environment and enabling executives and contractors to shave a few extra dollars off of having to factor in areas for dedicated workstations that come with their own host of requirements such as power outlet positioning, cubbies for cords and connecting wires, and extra closet space for servers.
The Surface Go, at $399 for the tablet portion, is a much better value proposition for businesses looking to replace their cumbersome Dell, HP and Lenovo laden work environments with a much more convenient mobile solution than it is for schools having to factor in the price of a keyboard while looking to shave a few thousand off the annual budget. Playing my own devil's advocate, I can see the arguments for the lack of tablet friendly apps that set the Surface Go back, or the fact that a keyboard will still be required for some programs means that a similarly priced laptop would be a better option, and that the learning curve for an iPad is still much lower than even upgrading to Windows 10.
All good arguments.
However, I see the Surface Go being used in the same sort of fashion as the iPad when it comes to a PoS terminal. The Surface Go doesn't need a library of a million apps, but rather just the one program or application the business has been using on Windows since perhaps Windows XP or 7. There would be no need to have Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram (although already in the Store) or latest mobile banking app, as a PoS are typically designed for single function purposes. The Surface Go would sit in dash, on a swivel rig or tethered to a rig for the purposes of completing a purchase, checking inventory, registering a guest, assigning a table reservation or an assistive tool for ordering new product.
As for a the keyboard and auxiliary peripherals required to make the tablet computer function more like a laptop or workstation, I suppose that is fault of the Surface marketing team. The color coordination and sleek YouTube video are great at highlighting a beautifully crafted ideal work environment for the Surface, with matching keyboard, pen and mouse arrangements, but the reality is that as subjectively hideous as it might be to some, the Surface Go will still support all the existing workstation peripherals a company has invested in. No need for the $99 keyboard or mouse when a business can pick up or may already have a cheap $30 Bluetooth combo for previous workstations or even wired alternatives. For those who swear by and rave about ergonomic keyboards, the Surface Go is still an easy transition for them.
Lastly, while the iPad is dead simple to understand, going from the same program on a Windows XP or Windows 7 device to the same program on Windows 10 is something perhaps even deader simple. For small businesses or warehouses where time equals money, moving to a Surface Go is another cost saving metric that could ultimately be the deciding factor over time and money spent learning to use similar software on the touch first iPad. Surprisingly, just moving buttons, icons and touch targets around to accommodate iOS's app design elements can still trip up veteran employees in ways that can be detrimental to productivity.
Ultimately, the Surface Go will have an uphill battle no matter which industry it targets as schools in the US at least, continue to overwhelming voice their support for Chromebooks, and in retail, hospitality, or trade the iPad has been gaining mind share. However, positioning the Surface Go as the PoS terminal, warehouse mobile supplement, or a tradesman's new in-the-field diagnostic and repair solution seems to a much smaller hill to climb for Microsoft as it continues to modularize Windows 10 and shrink its device size footprint.