Microsoft Surface, BB10 on BlackBerry PlayBook... has credible competition for the iPad finally arrived?
Unless you've been living in a cave, or were until this morning part of a Russian space programme experiment designed to test our reactions to long-term isolation, you will likely have at least heard about Microsoft's new tablet, Surface.
Both cave and space life throw up the predictable outcomes that without sex or the internet life is probably not worth living, even for people brought up on Star Trek (in which there is also no internet, as it happens, and sex only happens to Data). And, so far, the enterprise tablet world has been almost as devoid of vitality - only one contender has really found a place in everyone's hearts: Apple. Many have tried - Samsung with its Tab, RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook and many others. (Disclaimer: BlackBerry is an LSN client)
So Microsoft's Surface tablet is a breath of fresh air, even if it's not so fresh - the Metro interface is hardly unknown, now, and anyone who's been tracking the IT rumour mill knew a tablet was coming. For law firms, however, Surface could be a big breakthrough.
Law firms love Microsoft, or they hate to love them (and love them none the less), on the desktop and at the server level for an increasing number of areas. Law firms still, by and large, also love BlackBerry for mobile email. Many law firms are trying to work with lawyers who want to use their iPads. Some are even rolling the devices out. Ditto iPhones. So BlackBerry now has two potential competitors in the legal space: the iPad, which has gained a lot of ground, and now Surface.
BlackBerry has a lot to prove with what it does next with the PlayBook.
What it does next with the PlayBook is, most likely, a 10" device - which will match the iPad and Surface - and definitely the BB10 operating system. BB10 looks genuinely interesting and different, in the sense that it adds capability and functionality that doesn't exist in iOS or Windows 8/RT (from what we know of it). Check out Engadget's short video of BB10 to see some really clever stuff, like using swiping actions from a phone's screen edge to 'peek' at the causes of notifications, and being able to navigate back to what you were doing before something interrupted you.
For now, PlayBook users have had an update earlier this year to PlayBook OS 2.0, which addressed a lot of user gripes. We've been playing with the PlayBook for a few months now and RIM has significantly improved the software and brought some tasty additions to it. Messaging is now 'baked in', so email and social network messaging all lives in one app. After too long without it, there's now auto-suggestion and correction for typing wherever you can type. The calendar is much better than iOS's. And RIM has managed somehow to make it easier for Android app developers to port their software to the PlayBook OS, which might bring many more apps to the market - an essential thing if the PlayBook is to thrive.
There's also some lesser-known cleverness going on in 2.0 - you can remote control your PlayBook with a BlackBerry phone, something Android and iPad users will recognise. But it's dead easy on PlayBook/BB, and it works well. For presentations and nights trapped in hotels, this is great stuff - especially if your firm remains, as many do, a BB house for phones and mobile email.
But this isn't going to be enough to compete against Surface. To do that, RIM will, I think, need a 10" tablet and a really great OS. It'll also need even better MS integration, really good SharePoint integration and - and here's the kicker - a brilliant document review app.
Document review is something that iPad doesn't do really well, no matter which app you use. But Surface running Windows 8 might well bring all of Word's review functions to a tablet - and that might be the killer app for legal users. I think that if BlackBerry can really nail such a thing, and make it work seamlessly with all law firm document management systems and SharePoint, it could be an epic productivity move.
Whatever happens, I welcome Microsoft Surface with open arms. I also really want BlackBerry 10 to be an awesome operating system. I want to see a 10" PlayBook running it.
I'm not saying this because I like Windows, or because BlackBerry is an LSN client. LSN runs Macs and Windows machines, and I'm a Mac user at work and at home. LSN is also an iPhone house, and I also use an iPad.
I'm saying that because whoever 'wins' the legal tablet war, and I doubt any one supplier will, BlackBerry's BB10 operating system (and hopefully larger PlayBook) and Microsoft's Surface are going to be very important.
Why? Because the enterprise tablet world desperately needs really credible competition. The iPad has had too long in the limelight, and in all that time the Apple ecosystem hasn't produced awesome legal apps. Credible competition should drive everyone to produce great software and hardware that will help law firms deliver more value through technology.
So bring on the enterprise tablet battle - whoever wins it.
Will Surface surface in your firm? Will BB10 change your views of BlackBerry? Or is it all about the Apple? Tell us in the comment section below.