[Update: This story was originally published before the iPad Air and Surface Pro 2 were released. It has been updated to reflect actual product details.]
It's the battle of the tablets. Just as Apple unveiled the ultrathin iPad Air with Retina Display, Microsoft officially released the Surface Pro 2.
Although both are excellent tablets for small businesses, each device has its own set of capabilities. Whereas the iPad Air is strictly an iOS tablet in form and function, the Surface Pro 2 is a versatile, Windows-powered hybrid machine that can be used as a tablet, laptop or desktop computer.
To help you choose which tablet is right for your business, we've compared the iPad Air and the Surface Pro 2.
iPad Air: iPads, by nature, are not business ready. Users will have to download any productivity apps they need from the Apple App Store or manually install any custom apps using the company's app distribution channels. Microsoft has yet to release Office for the iPad, though there are several Office-compatible apps to choose from. Apple's suite of productivity apps, iWork— which includes Pages, Numbers and Keynote (Apple's versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, respectively) — is free for new iOS 7 devices activated on or after Sept. 1, 2013.
If you're a merchant that accepts or is considering accepting mobile payments, the iPad Air is the clear choice for your business. This is because most mobile-payment processors, such as Square's mobile credit-card reader and touch-screen register, do not support Windows devices. They also often offer additional features and more robust functionalities for iPad point-of-sale systems.
Note that the iPad Air may not have access to certain types of servers. As reported by ZDNet, although Apple continues to invest in enterprise access technology, most apps can't access small to medium-size business (SMB) servers. This will depend on your IT setup, but the limitation may be a deal breaker for certain types of businesses.
Surface Pro 2: Dubbed by Microsoft as "the most productive tablet on the planet," the Surface Pro 2 is a complete Windows system in the form of a tablet. It runs on a full version of Windows 8.1, so users can do just about anything on a Surface Pro 2 that they would on any other Windows laptop or desktop computer. Unlike the iPad Air, the Surface Pro 2 is entirely compatible with Office, as well as with large programs such as Photoshop. It's also equipped with three USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.0 port, a mini DisplayPort, a Gigabit Ethernet connection and audio input/output, making it easy to access external devices such as a flash drive or secondary display. These features are natively lacking in the iPad.
iPad Air: The iPad Air is much thinner and lighter than its predecessors. It weighs only 1 lb. and is 9.4 x 6.6 x 0.29 inches, making it about 1 lb. lighter and slightly smaller than the Surface Pro 2.
When it comes to portability, the iPad Air has one clear advantage for those who are constantly on the go: While both the iPad Air and the Surface Pro 2 are Wi-Fi ready, only the iPad Air supports cellular data. iPad Air users with a data plan from their carrier can get online even without a Wi-Fi connection, at an additional monthly cost. LTE support is also available in additional countries and regions.
Surface Pro 2: The Surface Pro 2 is all about versatility, and it's the most portable full-powered Windows computer yet. It can be used as a tablet on its own, as a laptop with the dual kickstand and keyboard cover, or as a full-powered PC with the optional docking station.
[Surface Pro 2 May Give Business Owners a Boost]
A first for the Surface, the docking station is set to launch in early 2014. The docking station will enable users to easily transition from a portable tablet on the go to a powerful PC setup on the spot. Whether users are in the office or at home, the docking station turns the Surface Pro 2 tablet into a self-standing computer monitor, to which users can connect an external display, Ethernet, speakers, full-size keyboard, printer and other peripherals.
iPad Air: Previously, it was rumored that the fifth-generation iPad would use Sharp's IGZO display, which Sharp claims will dramatically extend battery life by offering a power savings of 90 percent when displaying still images. Although this is not the case, iPad Air users can still expect a battery life of 10 hours, depending on use.
Surface Pro 2: The first-generation Surface Pro was notorious for its dismal battery life. In a LAPTOP battery test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi), the Surface Pro only lasted 4 hours and 37 minutes.. The Surface Pro 2, however, will have a 75 percent longer battery life over its predecessor. Users can also count on the Power Cover — a keyboard cover that doubles as a 35-watt-hour battery pack — for an additional 2.5 times longer battery life.
iPad Air: The iPad Air is powered by the 64-bit Apple A7 processor, which is twice as fast in CPU and graphics performance than its predecessor, without compromising battery life, according to Apple. This is the same chip that's on the newly released iPhone 5s.
Surface Pro 2: The Surface Pro 2 packs a punch with the new Haswell processor. The Haswell chip boasts of a 20 percent improvement in CPU performance and 50 percent better graphics performance, increasing the battery life of the Surface Pro 2.
iPad Air: The iPad Air starts at $499 for the 16GB Wi-Fi-only model and $629 for the 16GB Wi-Fi + Cellular model.
Surface Pro 2: The Surface Pro 2 starts at $899 for the 64GB model. The optional docking station and Power Cover are not included, and each costs $199.