Could Microsoft's new tablet be a game changer for architects?
Microsoft Surface Pro
Release date: autumn 2012
The Surface Pro will be the first tablet that lets architects access design data directly
A widening array of architecture-related apps have extended the scope of handheld devices, most notably the iPad.
But squeezing cad data into a format that the tablet can handle, often uploading files via a cloud application, such as Dropbox or Google+, is time consuming. What if there was a tablet that connected to existing systems?
Last month Microsoft announced its latest product, the Surface tablet computer. Of the models that will be available later this year, the Surface Pro, running a full version of Windows 8 Pro, could be a game changer, allowing architects to get directly at design data on a tablet without having to publish it to a tablet format.
The Surface Pro will combine the speed of touch-based apps for data consumption with the ability to operate in full desktop mode for data creation.
To browse email or the web, just open the cover and touch the screen. To do some serious work, pop-out the kickstand and use the keyboard built into the cover with your usual design applications. Maybe even plug in an external monitor. Hook up to the office using the same VPN or wireless connections as any other PC.
Why has Microsoft chosen to make its own hardware? You only have to look at the lacklustre or failed products that the mainstream PC manufacturers previously produced. Surface Pro is a wake-up call that merely imitating an iPad is not enough — and is setting a benchmark for other Windows 8 tablets.
The hardware design looks elegant. The built-in kickstand means one less accessory to buy and carry. There is attention to detail; the sound made as the kickstand snaps shut is reported to have been very important in the design process. The specification for the sound was a reassuring clunk, akin to closing a sports-car door. Prototypes were repeatedly tested in an anechoic chamber until the sound was right.
The magnetic cover carries a generous keyboard. In the thicker version, it has a keyboard and a touchpad. Connections are industry standard with USB, a microSD card slot and video output, cutting the number of accessories needed.
So where does the Surface Pro fit? The cloud provides excellent channels for project review and publication, but when you are at the heart of the design process there is no substitute for the actual design data. It will be equivalent to slimline laptops and combines the benefits of both laptop and tablet in one package.
Opening up to Windows 8
Three versions of Windows 8 will be released in the autumn: Windows 8 for consumers; Windows 8 Pro, for business; and Windows 8 RT, designed to run ARM processors in portable devices.
Windows Phone 8 is likely to be released at the same time and because of the common code base the same Windows 8 apps will work on Windows PC, tablet and phone.
Windows 7 machines do not need upgrading but may need to be in the future if Windows 8 apps provide real value.
The start screen for all Windows 8 devices will be the tiled Metro interface.
It provides a consistent hierarchy and positioning of text to create an appealing and visually literate aesthetic complementing the Surface’s hardware design.
The way that Metro’s People Hub threads email, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook message streams by person is an innovative approach to communication visibility.
Marc Thomas is director of Isisst Project Technology. www.isisst.co.uk