Microsoft Cloud Authors: Andreas Grabner, Janakiram MSV, Jim Kaskade, Lori MacVittie, Pat Romanski

Related Topics: Wearables, Mobile IoT, Microsoft Cloud, IoT User Interface, Agile Computing

Wearables: Article

A Comparison: Microsoft Surface and iPad 4

The Microsoft Surface and the iPad 4 now join the iPad 2 and the RIM Playbook 2 as impressive HTML5 tablet platforms

This week, we've been putting both the iPad 4 and the Microsoft Surface tablet through their paces. In our testing, we're happy to say that both tablets are very solid HTML5 platforms. Internet Explorer 10 on the Surface has a broad, well implemented HTML5 feature set that mostly meets and occasionally exceeds mobile Safari's. On the performance front, the iPad 4 leads in raw JavaScript and Canvas performance while the Surface has a faster SVG implementation. Having comprehensive, high performance HTML5 support is now a "must-have" feature for new mobile devices. For end users, both these devices promise great user experiences from well-designed HTML5 apps.

Going into our testing, we were bringing expectations set by the iPad 3 and our developer hardware for Windows 8. When we reviewed the iPad 3 in the Spring, we were disappointed with iPad performance. Ordinary web pages as well as HTML5 apps had stutter and visible tiling. Raw JavaScript performance was actually lower on the iPad 3 than the iPad 2. In our opinion, it was an underpowered device, so we were not entirely surprised to see the iPad 4 arrive with vastly improved hardware specs so quickly.  On the Microsoft front, when we took our first look at the IE10 preview last Fall, we were very impressed with its HTML5 feature list, but wondered if performance would hold up on tablet-grade hardware. Read on to see what we found.

The Microsoft Surface
Since there are already plenty of reviews of the Surface tablet for the regular user, we won't spend much time on its general features except to say that

  • The integrated (and very sturdy) kickstand should become a standard tablet feature,
  • The mixed keyboard/touch interface that Windows 8 pioneers is a winner
  • Bezel gestures to activate control and navigation become natural quickly and are vastly superior than repeatedly jamming the iPad home button
  • IE's browser tab management is far superior to mobile Safari.

We'll also note that if you plan to evaluate the Surface yourself, it's *essential* to upgrade the pre-installed Office Preview to the release version. Before upgrading, entering text was absurdly and unpredictably laggy not just in Office, but also in browser-based input fields.

If you're looking for Surface traffic, its user agent is: Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; MSIE 10.0; Windows NT 6.2; ARM; Trident/6.0; Touch)

The Surface supports multi-touch, with up to 5 separately tracked simultaneous touches. Its JavaScript timer resolution is the Windows standard 16ms (or 64 times per second) when on battery power. When plugged in, the timer jumps to what appears to be a 4ms resolution (the same as iOS and Chrome for Android), but the timer became so noisy at this resolution that it was hard to judge. As we've noted before, JavaScript animations that use a setTimeout of zero to pace their progress will now run faster or slower depending on whether the Surface is plugged in or not. Using explicit time or requestAnimationFrame for JavaScript animation is once again highly recommended.

IE10 has a new collection of CSS properties and events to control touch event handling. Many HTML5 apps will want to use the ms-touch-action: none, to suppress OS pre-emption of touch events within their app. WebKit style touchstart, touchend etc. are not available. Instead we have Microsoft's new pointerEvents, which unifies mouse and touch events under one roof. The Surface has a rock-solid implementation of position: fixed, and even makes a college try of supporting background-attachment: fixed - which Mobile Safari still ignores.

HTML5 feature coverage
We tested HTML5 feature presence using Modernizr. IE10 on the Surface has a long list of HTML5 features. This includes indexedDB, CSS animations, 2D and 3D transforms, gradients, transitions, workers, websockets, video and audio playback, and file API. Leapfrogging the iPad 4, IE10 even has a *-implementation of CSS Regions and Exclusions - which we think is a first for a shipping mobile HTML5 browser. Grid layout - which looks to be a permanent IE-only feature is also supported.

There are some notable omissions and deficiencies compared to the iPad 4. There is no support for the input tag for camera or video capture (introduced in iOS 6), the flexbox implementation is the older, superseded version. There is no border-image support (admittedly the border-image support in mobile Safari is not completely correct either.)

Neither platform supports WebGL, but Microsoft has previously said that it won't support it. Nor were the more esoteric HTML5 inputs like color supported. Notifications and server sent events were likewise absent from both platforms.

JavaScript Performance
We ran both the iPad 4 and the Surface through Sunspider and Google's V8 benchmark. Although Sunspider is an imperfect test, it has great historical comparability. The figure below shows the performance of the Surface and iPad 4 indexed to the iPad 2 (1.0). As can be seen, raw JavaScript performance on both platforms is roughly 2x the iPad 2. The iPad 4 has a performance advantage with an average 20% performance edge over than the Surface. On version 7 of the V8 benchmark, the performance difference was more stark. The iPad 4 clocked in at 1565 vs. 775 for the Surface (higher is better), a 2x advantage for the iPad.

SVG Support & Performance
Since IE10 has a hardware-accelerated SVG implementation, we decided to dig into performance for SVG. First, we ran David Dailey's decahedra demo which combines rotating and overlapping shapes with SVG gradient animations. The Surface comfortably handled an entire screenful of 50 shapes with solid performance. In comparison, the iPad 4 started to show visible frame transitions at around 15 shapes. A more dynamic pseudo 3D corridor navigation game, reached approximately 18 fps on the Surface vs. 12 fps on the iPad 4.

The SVG implementation in IE10 on the Surface is rich with a full complement of SVG features.  It's fantastic, for example, to see broad support for SVG filter effects like color channel manipulation. We did notice a few minor blemishes. The performance of the lighting effects we tried was very poor (10s+) and the feSpotlight primitive was not supported. Lighting effects were noticeably darker than the reference SVG test images. And although Modernizr reported SMIL support, we were unable to get any declarative SVG animation to run successfully. SVG Filter effects are also imperfect on Mobile Safari, and anyone looking to use them should expect vigorous testing and cross-browser normalization.

Canvas Performance
Raw canvas benchmarks like this one from mindcat showed the iPad 4 with about a 2x advantage over the Surface. In our benchmark, the iPad 4 scored 1.81 vs. the Surface's 0.904. However, in a variety of real world canvas apps we saw perfectly acceptable performance from the Surface. This included canvas color cycling (once guaranteed to bring a mobile browser to its knees) as well as a variety of Impactjs-based games.

Microsoft's own fishbowl demo was also a good stress test of real world canvas use. This demo composites multiple separate canvas contexts together on top of a background video, with sound effects in a separate audio element. There are also CSS transforms and CSS opacities present. With all effects disabled except basic sprite animation, the Surface managed about 110 concurrent sprite animations at 60fps, while the iPad 4 managed about 135. Strikingly, when we enabled more effects (masks, background, shadows and more.), the iPad 4 held up well while the Surface struggled. With all effects enabled except the background water video, shadow effect and audio, the iPad 4 could support about 100 concurrent sprite animations at 60fps, whereas the Surface was able to support only 10. Canvas compositing appears to be a particularly challenging graphics operation for the Surface vs the iPad.

CSS Performance
Early mobile platforms had issues with CSS performance, but we saw good CSS performance with transition and animation effects. Gradients on both platforms were smooth and free of banding.

An Embarrassment of Tablet Riches
The Microsoft Surface and the iPad 4 now join the iPad 2 and the RIM Playbook 2 as impressive HTML5 tablet platforms. Both are a big performance improvement over the iPad 2 - the previous best tablet for HTML5 apps. It's also very encouraging to see Microsoft stepping up to the plate and delivering an HTML5 implementation that's relatively comprehensive with solid performance. There's still work remaining of course. It would be nice to see an SVG from both companies with Flash-quality performance in their next generation tablet. And getting camera and video access from a web page is a notable item on the Surface's to-do list. We're looking forward to reviewing the Surface Pro tablets due early next year with higher powered Intel processors.

More Stories By Michael Mullany

Michael Mullany is CEO of Sencha. He has held product and executive marketing roles at influential Silicon Valley startups Netscape, Loudcloud and VMware. At virtualization leader VMware, he served as the vice president of worldwide marketing during its break-out into server computing. He holds an MBA from Stanford University and a BA in economics from Harvard College.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.

@ThingsExpo Stories
Fifty billion connected devices and still no winning protocols standards. HTTP, WebSockets, MQTT, and CoAP seem to be leading in the IoT protocol race at the moment but many more protocols are getting introduced on a regular basis. Each protocol has its pros and cons depending on the nature of the communications. Does there really need to be only one protocol to rule them all? Of course not. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Matthieu, co-founder and CTO of Octoblu, walk you through how Oct...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Embotics, the cloud automation company, will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Embotics is the cloud automation company for IT organizations and service providers that need to improve provisioning or enable self-service capabilities. With a relentless focus on delivering a premier user experience and unmatched customer support, Embotics is the fas...
The Internet of Things (IoT), in all its myriad manifestations, has great potential. Much of that potential comes from the evolving data management and analytic (DMA) technologies and processes that allow us to gain insight from all of the IoT data that can be generated and gathered. This potential may never be met as those data sets are tied to specific industry verticals and single markets, with no clear way to use IoT data and sensor analytics to fulfill the hype being given the IoT today.
More and more brands have jumped on the IoT bandwagon. We have an excess of wearables – activity trackers, smartwatches, smart glasses and sneakers, and more that track seemingly endless datapoints. However, most consumers have no idea what “IoT” means. Creating more wearables that track data shouldn't be the aim of brands; delivering meaningful, tangible relevance to their users should be. We're in a period in which the IoT pendulum is still swinging. Initially, it swung toward "smart for smar...
@ThingsExpo has been named the Top 5 Most Influential M2M Brand by Onalytica in the ‘Machine to Machine: Top 100 Influencers and Brands.' Onalytica analyzed the online debate on M2M by looking at over 85,000 tweets to provide the most influential individuals and brands that drive the discussion. According to Onalytica the "analysis showed a very engaged community with a lot of interactive tweets. The M2M discussion seems to be more fragmented and driven by some of the major brands present in the...
The Quantified Economy represents the total global addressable market (TAM) for IoT that, according to a recent IDC report, will grow to an unprecedented $1.3 trillion by 2019. With this the third wave of the Internet-global proliferation of connected devices, appliances and sensors is poised to take off in 2016. In his session at @ThingsExpo, David McLauchlan, CEO and co-founder of Buddy Platform, discussed how the ability to access and analyze the massive volume of streaming data from millio...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Pulzze Systems will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Pulzze Systems, Inc. provides infrastructure products for the Internet of Things to enable any connected device and system to carry out matched operations without programming. For more information, visit http://www.pulzzesystems.com.
WebRTC has had a real tough three or four years, and so have those working with it. Only a few short years ago, the development world were excited about WebRTC and proclaiming how awesome it was. You might have played with the technology a couple of years ago, only to find the extra infrastructure requirements were painful to implement and poorly documented. This probably left a bitter taste in your mouth, especially when things went wrong.
Enterprise IT has been in the era of Hybrid Cloud for some time now. But it seems most conversations about Hybrid are focused on integrating AWS, Microsoft Azure, or Google ECM into existing on-premises systems. Where is all the Private Cloud? What do technology providers need to do to make their offerings more compelling? How should enterprise IT executives and buyers define their focus, needs, and roadmap, and communicate that clearly to the providers?
Successful digital transformation requires new organizational competencies and capabilities. Research tells us that the biggest impediment to successful transformation is human; consequently, the biggest enabler is a properly skilled and empowered workforce. In the digital age, new individual and collective competencies are required. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Bob Newhouse, CEO and founder of Agilitiv, will draw together recent research and lessons learned from emerging and established ...
One of biggest questions about Big Data is “How do we harness all that information for business use quickly and effectively?” Geographic Information Systems (GIS) or spatial technology is about more than making maps, but adding critical context and meaning to data of all types, coming from all different channels – even sensors. In his session at @ThingsExpo, William (Bill) Meehan, director of utility solutions for Esri, will take a closer look at the current state of spatial technology and ar...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Streamlyzer will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Streamlyzer is a powerful analytics for video streaming service that enables video streaming providers to monitor and analyze QoE (Quality-of-Experience) from end-user devices in real time.
You have great SaaS business app ideas. You want to turn your idea quickly into a functional and engaging proof of concept. You need to be able to modify it to meet customers' needs, and you need to deliver a complete and secure SaaS application. How could you achieve all the above and yet avoid unforeseen IT requirements that add unnecessary cost and complexity? You also want your app to be responsive in any device at any time. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Mark Allen, General Manager of...
SYS-CON Media announced today that @WebRTCSummit Blog, the largest WebRTC resource in the world, has been launched. @WebRTCSummit Blog offers top articles, news stories, and blog posts from the world's well-known experts and guarantees better exposure for its authors than any other publication. @WebRTCSummit Blog can be bookmarked ▸ Here @WebRTCSummit conference site can be bookmarked ▸ Here
Cloud based infrastructure deployment is becoming more and more appealing to customers, from Fortune 500 companies to SMEs due to its pay-as-you-go model. Enterprise storage vendors are able to reach out to these customers by integrating in cloud based deployments; this needs adaptability and interoperability of the products confirming to cloud standards such as OpenStack, CloudStack, or Azure. As compared to off the shelf commodity storage, enterprise storages by its reliability, high-availabil...
The IoT industry is now at a crossroads, between the fast-paced innovation of technologies and the pending mass adoption by global enterprises. The complexity of combining rapidly evolving technologies and the need to establish practices for market acceleration pose a strong challenge to global enterprises as well as IoT vendors. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Clark Smith, senior product manager for Numerex, will discuss how Numerex, as an experienced, established IoT provider, has embraced a ...
DevOps is being widely accepted (if not fully adopted) as essential in enterprise IT. But as Enterprise DevOps gains maturity, expands scope, and increases velocity, the need for data-driven decisions across teams becomes more acute. DevOps teams in any modern business must wrangle the ‘digital exhaust’ from the delivery toolchain, "pervasive" and "cognitive" computing, APIs and services, mobile devices and applications, the Internet of Things, and now even blockchain. In this power panel at @...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Super Micro Computer, Inc., a global leader in Embedded and IoT solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Supermicro (NASDAQ: SMCI), the leading innovator in high-performance, high-efficiency server technology, is a premier provider of advanced server Building Block Solutions® for Data Center, Cloud Computing, Enterprise IT, Hadoop/Big Data, HPC and ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that SoftNet Solutions will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. SoftNet Solutions specializes in Enterprise Solutions for Hadoop and Big Data. It offers customers the most open, robust, and value-conscious portfolio of solutions, services, and tools for the shortest route to success with Big Data. The unique differentiator is the ability to architect and ...
In past @ThingsExpo presentations, Joseph di Paolantonio has explored how various Internet of Things (IoT) and data management and analytics (DMA) solution spaces will come together as sensor analytics ecosystems. This year, in his session at @ThingsExpo, Joseph di Paolantonio from DataArchon, will be adding the numerous Transportation areas, from autonomous vehicles to “Uber for containers.” While IoT data in any one area of Transportation will have a huge impact in that area, combining sensor...