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I Gained Three Insights on Tablets After Shopping With My Mother

Who Is Microsoft Competing Against?

Demoing Microsoft's Surface tablet and the Windows 8 operating system at the company's banded kiosk in Manhattan's Time Warner Center proved to be a far more hands-on experience than our brief encounter with the Kindle Fire.

Microsoft employees did a fine job showing the product and, at first glance, it seemed like a simple and intuitive operating system that has clear benefits to Apple's iPad and iPhone products.

Constantly updating email, social media tiles and split screen functions appeared to be efficient and helped to make the tablet seem on par in functionality to a laptop. The keyboard, the ability to switch to a desktop mode and USB port all seemed valuable for users needing to work on the fly.

But the functionality of the Surface for work-related uses also raised questions of whether it truly is a consumer product.

The Surface isn't mobile-broadband-enabled and, some might say, has the soul of a laptop, not a tablet.

Without broadband, Surface doesn't fit into all-you-can eat Verizon (VZ) and AT&T (T) family plans. Meanwhile, for current laptop owners, it's not clear how much of a benefit Microsoft's Office products and desktop convertibility will be.

Unlike the Kindle store, Microsoft's store isn't compatible with Apple smartphone devices and it wasn't immediately clear how online book, app and video offerings would stack up to Amazon or Apple. It means if you're already a loyal Apple or Android user, the bar is very high when it comes to switching costs versus benefits.

The Microsoft Surface also didn't appear to be a choice between it and an Apple, Amazon or Google-powered tablets, as much as it raised the question of whether to ever buy a laptop again. It appears to compete directly against Dell and HP Wi-Fi-only devices, and may be more appealing as a business-use tablet, cutting into Research In Motion's market when the company launches BlackBerry 10 in early 2013.

Surface may beat Dell and HP tablets, but the real fear should be whether it steals from their prospective laptop customers. While Amazon's Kindle allows users to weave it into smartphone hardware from competitors like Apple, Microsoft's Surface also seems like more of an all-in proposition.

As a tablet, questions about the Surface remain. However, as a possible replacement to a laptop or netbook, it seemed like a leap forward.

See TheStreet's review of the Microsoft Surface.

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