Microsoft's Surface Tablets - We'll love it if the plan comes together

Bill Loguidice's picture

Microsoft SurfaceMicrosoft SurfaceAs we're all all too aware, the tablet market has been dominated by Apple since the April 2010 introduction of the first iPad. While there have been several quality Android tablets released to compete since, outside of pure budget plays like the Kindle Fire that all but ignore the presence of its operating system, they've failed to make much of an impact with the masses. Other tablets like HP's TouchPad and RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook suffered from corporate indifference with the former and corporate incompetence with the latter. What this has all led to is a competitive vacuum that Microsoft seems poised to fill with their surprisingly well-kept-secret announcement event yesterday.

While we were expecting a Microsoft-branded tablet to leverage its well regarded Xbox branding, instead Microsoft recycled the Surface table name (which is now PixelSense) for its two-pronged tablet attack. Surprisingly, for Microsoft of recent vintage outside of its Xbox stuff, the unveiling was spectacular and sure-footed. Not only did Microsoft pull an Apple with the secrecy and subsequent excitement surrounding the event, they clearly pulled together an A team of designers and engineers to manufacture tablets that even Cupertino's famed group would surely be proud to call their own, right down to the clever cover designs.

They say if you want something done right, do it yourself, and Microsoft clearly has taken that to heart, joining Apple in controlling the entire tablet eco-system, and, unlike HP or RIM, seemingly doing so with conviction. Obviously Microsoft will still let just about anyone else create Windows 8 tablets and hybrids, but the bar has been raised to the point where any type of half-hearted effort will look foolish in comparison and destined for failure.

It's easy enough to check out all the features yourself, but the key takeaway is that we'll have two tablets from Microsoft, Surface, which will be released in the August 2012 timeframe around the same time as Windows 8, and Surface Pro, which will be released about three months after Windows 8. Surface runs Windows RT, which is compatible with all Windows 8 software and some hardware, but is not compatible with legacy Windows-compatble software or most legacy hardware. Surface Pro runs the full version of Windows 8, which features desktop access, and is compatible with most legacy Windows-compatible software and hardware. The best way to look at the two different models is that Surface is a pure tablet experience, like an iPad, while Surface Pro is a hybrid computer, essentially a laptop with a touchscreen. Both models will look roughly the same, though the Pro model is thicker and heavier, features more ports, has a higher resolution (1080p versus 720p), has native support for pen input, and will naturally cost more.

As for price, no firm pricing has been discussed (just like with the release dates), though Microsoft has vaguely indicated that Surface will be priced similarly to other ARM-based tablets, while Surface Pro will be priced similarly to Ultrabooks. Most likely that translates to a starting price of $399 for Surface and $699 for Surface Pro, but we could be talking as much as $100 to $200 more than that. Obviously, the cheaper the better, but I'm just not sure Microsoft can use these as loss leaders like an Amazon can with something like the Kindle Fire, or Microsoft was able to do for the first few years of the Xbox 360's existence.

From my perspective, Surface will really be exciting only when a sufficient volume of Windows 8 applications are available, because right now that's the only way to truly compete with the iPad unless you can significantly undercut the price. With the hardware specs Microsoft is putting out there, undercutting the price by enough for most people to take note is not likely. With that said, the look and functionality of the Surface device shown can compete with anything out there, even though we don't know how snappy the performance is or what the battery life will be like. First impressions matter, though, and at least it's worth talking about and getting excited for so far.

On the other hand, Surface Pro seems like a slam dunk, a true laptop and Ultrabook replacement, with all the benefits of a tablet and none of the clunkiness of a laptop, a true next generation computing device. As a satisfied iPad 2 owner, I still have not found the perfect combination of accessories and workflows to make the iPad 2 my only computer when traveling, but with a Surface Pro, I see little to no compromise needed. Again, to know for sure, we'll need to know how well these perform (again, a hallmark of something like the iPad), whether or not they run silently, and, perhaps as important as anything else, what kind of battery life we can expect from such a beast. Really, anything less than around 8 hours would be something of a dissapointment, though this will surely depend on how the device is being used (i.e., using it like a tablet will be less of a drain than using it for desktop-style applications and multi-tasking).

Of special note is Microsoft's engineering of the Touch Cover and Type Cover, which pack in all kinds of state-of-the-art technology, including accelerometers and a trackpad, into their ultra-thin designs. The Touch Cover features a flat keyboard surface, while the slightly thicker Type Cover features a special type of mechanical keyboard that should offer a more traditional typing experience. Both work over Bluetooth and attach magentically to the base of the tablet, which itself features a built-in kickstand. Both innovations take Apple's wonderful Smart Cover design to the next logical level and addresses one of the few shortcomings when using a tablet like a traditional computer, the typing experience.

To wrap this up, we've long been hearing of a Google-branded budget tablet to offer the true Android experience that Amazon has forsaken with the Fire. With the bar raised even higher, Google has their work cut out for them, though they can take clear solace in their smartphone dominance, led of course by Samsung's tremendous success in keeping pace with Apple in that area all by themselves, but the mandate is clear--get serious about competing, because Microsoft is no longer playing around.

Comments

Rowdy Rob
Rowdy Rob's picture
Offline
Joined: 09/04/2006
Excellent Article!

This is the best article I've read on the Microsoft Surface tablets. All of the other articles I've read made reference to "bullet points" and system specs, but this is the first article I've read that allowed me to picture in my mind just what it all sums up to.

It seems that Microsoft is no longer taking its dominance for granted and is seriously competing as of late. However Windows 8 turns out, you have to admit that it is a bold, gutsy move to release such a drastic change to the interface. XBox Live is still getting raves, and is still innovating even in this generation's late stage. And the Kinect is a serious piece of engineering.

The Windows 8 Metro interface is a serious threat on all fronts, since it's being leveraged on phones, tablets, game consoles, and personal computers. If I were Apple or Google, I'd be quaking in my boots at the prospect of Microsoft leveraging it's current PC dominance into a user interface dominance of all platforms.

Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Online
Joined: 12/31/1969
Thanks for the kind words on my off-the-cuff commentary
Rowdy Rob wrote:

The Windows 8 Metro interface is a serious threat on all fronts, since it's being leveraged on phones, tablets, game consoles, and personal computers. If I were Apple or Google, I'd be quaking in my boots at the prospect of Microsoft leveraging it's current PC dominance into a user interface dominance of all platforms.

I don't know if I would have agreed with that statement about the competition being concerned about Windows 8 if not for this very announcement from Microsoft. It's pretty clear that in order to make Windows 8 a success, Microsoft had to take some measure of control of the hardware since it's such a radically different operating system concept. I think Microsoft was burned by the sluggishness of OEMs getting Windows Phones out and I don't think they had the corporate will to withstand a similar experience with their tablets.

I also wonder if Microsoft won't throw caution to the wind for tomorrow's big Microsoft Phone event and release a similar Microsoft "gold standard" device on the phone side. Naturally there are more issues with something like that in regards to their phone line, not the least of which it then being a death knell for Nokia (or, more correctly, the final coffin nail), but it's possible that instead of doing that, they'll just buy Nokia outright. Either way, perhaps the tablet event was a precursor to a "refreshed" Microsoft, one with the old killer instinct, and tomorrow's phone event will reinforce what has now been put into place. We'll see...

n/a
Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Online
Joined: 12/31/1969
So, nothing too interesting

So, nothing too interesting from the Microsoft Windows Phone conference, other than Windows Phone 8 using the same core as Windows 8 and that present Windows Phone owners won't be able to upgrade. This clearly points the way to the next Xbox using the Windows 8 core as well, which will mean all of Microsoft's platforms will be on the same base code. They won't be compatible, obviously, but it will be "easy" to cross-compile code for the various Windows form factors (desktop, tablet, phone, and console).

n/a
clok1966
Offline
Joined: 01/21/2009
speculation
Bill Loguidice wrote:

. They won't be compatible, obviously, but it will be "easy" to cross-compile code for the various Windows form factors (desktop, tablet, phone, and console).

you might be suprised.. unless you stictly talking the next 360 to windows 8.. The thicker tablet is an impresive beast.. so much to say, so much cant say...way back when i mentiond the wintab in an Ipad post i didnt relieze it was so "underwraps" i thought everybody had seen it. Now i see this was not something ever ms partner had seen. Will be lots more info on this in the near future i think.

My thouhgts purely as a bystander.. MS is way late to this party and even if they do it 100% right (it appears they have to me) its going to be as close to impossible to make inroads right now. I wont deny alot (in fact about 95%) of the android tablets have ben subpar compared to an Ipad. but the Thrive, Xoom (latest) and ASUS's transforemer are all about an even a match as can be.. apps is about the only place they cant compete, purely numbers wise and right now NO android device can.. its a time thing, it will simpley take time for the market to build to the same one apple has. But screen, battery life, ease of use.. its pretty much the same.. And Apples 'just works" thing is .. well.. so-so tablet wise.. as Forbes ran tests comparing all the Tablet OS's (apple and andorid) and Apple had more problems period.. I'm not 100% sure Forbes is the best to run this type of test (google it, ah heck here ya go http://www.forbes.com/sites/tomiogeron/2012/02/02/does-ios-crash-more-th...) it was purely a "run many apps on all version of the OS's and see who crashed the most" the most suprising thing.. the newer the OS the more crashs, for both apple and Android.. so much for newer is better.

errr.. my point.. Even a fairly good product (android tablet) cant even make a dent, heck cant even make a CHIP! I really got to wonder if MS is just way to late to the party even if they have something incredible its just not going to be enough. Anything is possible and the "new" ipad every year marketing thing that many apple users have metioned as a sore point may have them take a look.

i think Win8 is goign to be just to big a departure from 'standard' windows for business useres.. so much like XP was (and still is in many places), win7 will be the primarly OS for 3-4 more years while win8 is anotehr Vista, or ME.. And MS alineating is CORE users is going to only opent he door more for Apple..

I will be grabbing the Win8 "thicker" tab on release (enve if it hink its going to fail), unless stuff changes alot between what i have seen and what comes out.

Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Online
Joined: 12/31/1969
Exciting times again
clok1966 wrote:

I will be grabbing the Win8 "thicker" tab on release (enve if it hink its going to fail), unless stuff changes alot between what i have seen and what comes out.

Well, all Surface really has going for it at the moment is coming with Microsoft Office. That might be enough for some, but it desperately needs more apps and features, cool keyboard cover aside. I agree that Surface Pro is damned compelling. I've been considering (in the future) a Macbook Air or an Ultrabook, but this Surface Pro - at least what we know now - seems to be the perfect hybrid of thin and light laptop and tablet, with no serious compromises. It can be your ONLY computer for most situations (things like high end gaming and video editing will suffer, but that's a small portion of the population and potential use cases), which is something no other pure tablet-like device can say.

In any case, I do believe even this late in the game, Microsoft still has time to move comfortably into the number two slot since Android has failed to make any inroads with their tablets. The x factor is what Google announces next week in regards to their marquee tablet. Perhaps an inexpensive 7" tablet like the Kindle Fire but with much more power and an open ecosystem will be the ticket to push Android tablets to the next level sooner rather than later.

n/a
Mark Vergeer
Mark Vergeer's picture
Offline
Joined: 01/16/2006
Very interesting article Bill

I myself do think it really is all about the apps that will be available for the Windows8 tablet platform. The iOS devices really soar in that regards. If the community and developers pick up on the Windows platform it really could bode very well.

What I also could see happening is that iOS kind of caters for the leasure side of things and Windows tablets perhaps become more succesfull in the business side of things. It may be easier to integrate a mobile platform that is very compatible with the dominant OS on the planet than that it is to integrate an iOS device.

Anyhow I quite like the way it looks and I love the smart covers with integrated keyboarss. Of course the bright colours kind of remind us of the iOS smart covers here but hell it looks good with those Windows8 tiles.

One thing though. While the tiles may look good today in a couple of year's time we'll look at those tiles with the same type of feelings that we now regard the once innovative WindowsXP look and feel with.

n/a
clok1966
Offline
Joined: 01/21/2009
I still say way to late.. or

I still say way to late.. or early, MS has a timing issue it seems.. Reading all this on surface lately makes me wonder if any of the people who write for the tech mags have been doing it for more then a year.. MS copying Apple? MS had a tablet in 2005 called Origmai with Samsung I believe (heck it was orginally announced almost 5 years before that even! and JOBS even said.. MS is doing a TABLET when people where predicting what Origami was) so 10 years before apple did one MS did... we used them for a bit as handhelds, we also used palm Pilots, Psion units (raise your hand if you have a clue what a Psion unit is... those of you in the US probelby are clueless, but other countries will know). A full 10 years before the first Ipad yet almost all stories are about MS copying apple.

5 years too early, now 5 years to late.. MS needs to lead and stick with it.. not follow and play catch up.... thats been thier problem from day one, and Apples strength.

Rowdy Rob
Rowdy Rob's picture
Offline
Joined: 09/04/2006
Microsoft may have a chance
clok1966 wrote:

5 years too early, now 5 years to late.. MS needs to lead and stick with it.. not follow and play catch up.... thats been thier problem from day one, and Apples strength.

Tablets are still relatively new, so MS still has a chance to catch up. I don't know anyone with a tablet of any sort, iPad or otherwise, so the market is still wide open. Remember, it took years before MS dominated the computer world (wrested from IBM, Commodore, and Apple), then after several iterations of Windows, finally hit it big with Windows 95.

I think the prices really need to come down before these things really take off. If the Metro interface is well received on the PC (which is not a sure thing right now), the interface could be leveraged as an attractive addition to the pad, phone, and console market. An ubiquitous cross-platform interface could be a killer app if it is embraced by the public!

Strangely, it sounds like MS is going to try the "walled garden" approach of Apple with their Surface product, and Google is going for the loose hardware/software approach (as in old-school Microsoft style). It will be an interesting battle for the future of personal computing, with Apple (perhaps) being relegated to their exclusive corner again. Microsoft can't really afford to lose this one!

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Offline
Joined: 01/16/2006
Nice writeup, Bill! I've been

Nice writeup, Bill!

I've been holding off an iPad mostly for similar reasons; if I'm going to pay that much and lug it around, I want more functionality. It sounds like the Surface PRO is pretty much spot-on for my purposes. I do hope they can keep the costs down, though. Being cheaper than the iPad would certainly give them an edge; if they're the same price (or, worse, more expensive!), that'd really make it difficult to choose given the apps situation.

n/a
Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Online
Joined: 12/31/1969
Situational
Matt Barton wrote:

I've been holding off an iPad mostly for similar reasons; if I'm going to pay that much and lug it around, I want more functionality. It sounds like the Surface PRO is pretty much spot-on for my purposes. I do hope they can keep the costs down, though. Being cheaper than the iPad would certainly give them an edge; if they're the same price (or, worse, more expensive!), that'd really make it difficult to choose given the apps situation.

Unfortunately, the Surface Pro - the really interesting one - will likely be higher than even the most expensive iPad model, because basically it's a reasonably powerful Ultrabook in a tablet form. That can't come cheap, but at the same time that can run most of the same software a Windows machine has always run, making it a true laptop replacement and justifying the high cost. The more traditional tablet form, the Surface, will likely be at or just below the pricing of an equivalent iPad, with the serious downside of only being able to run Windows 8-specific apps, of which there will likely be very few at launch. So there's no reason to get something like that over an iPad any way you slice it.

I'd argue that the newest iPad can do most everything a laptop can do along with all of the features that are unique to the platform and tablet form factor. It's a wise investment in my opinion. However, the only true laptop replacement will be a Surface Pro if that's one's goals. Unfortunately, we don't know price or battery life. Frankly if it gets, say 6 hours of battery life, that may very well be a deal breaker when most tablets can do 9 hours+ without breaking a sweat. Even the newest Ultrabooks are getting close to that type of battery life.

Myself, for my next true portable computer, I'll definitely be deciding between a MacBook Air, Ultrabook, or Surface Pro. I'm really hoping the latter can be everything I want it to be...

n/a

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Images can be added to this post.
  • You may quote other posts using [quote] tags.

More information about formatting options

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.