The images may make it look like a notebook, but Microsoft's new Surface line is all about tablets. As the center of the computing industry continues to shift from PC to mobile, Microsoft, maker of keyboards and mice for three decades, is directly challenging Apple’s iPhone and iPad dominance with the Surface sub-brand.
"Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen made a big bet — a bet on software — but it was always clear that we had to push hardware in ways that sometimes manufacturers hadn't envisioned," said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at Monday's unveiling. "We believe that any intersection between human and machine can be made better when all aspects, hardware and software, are working together."
“Microsoft is aiming at all of Apple‘s weak points in a very strategic way that ultimately will increase competition in the tablet market in a more significant way than any Android or Blackberry tablet has. This will ultimately be good for businesses and consumers," writes Anthony Kosner for Forbes. “Which tablet did they decide to go with, one for gamers or for office workers? Both!”
CNET puts it more bluntly: “The tablet wars are no longer a two-horse race between Apple and Google.”
Microsoft borrowed a page from Apple’s playbook, introducing the Surface tablet with fanfare shrouded in secrecy but promising a “major Microsoft announcement,” the media (and the world) “will not want to miss.”
The Surface tablet is about the same weight and thickness as an iPad, runs a variation of Windows 8, has a 10.6-inch ClearType HD Display, a built-in “kickstand” for propping, and a removable Touch Cover to be used as an integrated keyboard with touch-sensing keys that become inactive when the cover is closed. The surface of Surface? It uses Corning's Gorilla Glass for the screen.
The PC tablet runs a yet-to-be released version of Windows 8 called Windows RT, and in a significant strategic shift, is the first commercial PC Microsoft has directly designed and sold. Technically speaking, the first "Microsoft Surface" device, released in 2008, was a large touchscreen computer for retailers and commercial customers.
Windows RT, available this fall in 32 and 64-gigabyte versions, runs on microchips designed by ARM (ARMH), but a second version of Surface will be designed with Intel chips for the fuller Windows 8 operating system, available three months later in 64- and 128-GB versions.
“People want to create and consume,” stated Ballmer at the unveiling. “They want to work and they want to play.”
The official Surface microsite says, “From touch to type, office to living room, from your screen to the big screen, you can see more, share more, and do more with Surface. Create, collaborate, and get stuff done with Office. Explore your world with fast, fluid Windows 8 apps. Discover new music, movies, and games in the Windows Store.”
The brand's hope is to attract a wideer swath of consumers to Surface: Xbox gamers, betting that a large screen consumer tablet used with SmartGlass will satisfy current customers and attract new ones; businesses, who need a tablet with ‘ultrabook-like’ processing capacity, (seven times faster than the iPad’s ARM chip), and the mobile market, providing a lightweight device for portability and a multi-screen alternative
“Microsoft thinks that the new tablet, which will also come with the firm’s Office suite of productivity tools, is bound to appeal to peripatetic business folk who want a tablet that can double as a PC wherever they are. But there are several unknowns that will determine the speed at which Surface ends up surfacing in homes and offices," the Economist notes.
Tellingly, the company "has yet to reveal exactly how much its new tablets will cost, though it has hinted that prices will be in line with those of the iPad and other tablets. More important, it needs to convince consumers that there will be plenty of apps available for the new device (the iPad now boasts more than 200,000 apps, according to Apple).”
Analysts consider the release of the Surface tablet as “a referendum on Microsoft’s partners. Microsoft felt they could not rely on others to deliver on their vision for Windows 8 in mobile computing,” said Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg to the New York Times.
Initially, the tablet will be sold only in the company’s retail and Web stores. Check out the launch video below.