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Microsoft unveils Windows 8 tablet, ‘Microsoft Surface’

  • Runs full Windows 8, including Windows and Metro views
  • Pro version can accept keyboard, mouse, and pen input
  • Smart cover incorporates slim keyboard
Written by Adam Wajnberg
19/06/2012

The distinction has been clear for a while: Apple makes great hardware and good software; Microsoft make serious software and don’t bother with hardware. Of course, this is barely accurate – Apple’s software has usually been excellent, if underpowered, and Microsoft hardware (including mouses, keyboards, cameras and other peripherals, not to mention the XBOX), is usually fantastic. But in the mobile space, Apple jumped so far out ahead in the marrying up on software and hardware, that it seemed like Microsoft would never catch up. With their new Surface Tablet, they might be ready to step into the big time hardware game.

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microsoft surface tablet

Why ?

For the PC, it didn’t make sense to make hardware when IBM, Hewlett Packard and Dell (and then clones) already did it so well. But with mobile, where integration is more important due to the smaller size and grunt of the devices, making sure hardware and software play nice is utterly essential. After some failed partnerships with HTC, Samsung, Acer, Asus and the rest of the usual suspects (and recently, Nokia), Microsoft has rolled up its sleeves and decided that if it’s going to make a proper go of competing with Apple in mobile, it would have to do the hardware itself.

What?

Windows Surface will come in two overall flavours.

The Windows 8 RT version is a little slimmer, a little lighter, and intended for more ‘tablet’ use. It will come in 32GB and 64GB capacities, and be designed for media consumption – that means lots of apps, video services like Netflix, book readers, etc. It runs on an ARM processor with separate NVIDIA video processing, and a  10 inch HD screen (a little larger than the iPad).

The Windows 8 Pro version is what will differentiate Microsoft’s tablet from Apple and Android. It will be powered by a big bad Intel Core 15 processor, pack several ports (USB 3.0, MiniDisplay, microSD), run full Windows 8 Pro, accept pen input, and come in 64 and 128GB capacities (expandale, of course, with USB). It’s clearly designed as an answer to those who want a full, PC equivalent tablet, not Apple’s marvelous but ultimately crippled iPad, and not Android’s failed attempts at cross-developing for tablets.

When and How Much?

The RT version will debut this Setpember/October with the worldwide release of Windows 8. Australian release info is not available yet, but Microsoft seem to be pinning a lot on this. Expect simultaneous releases. Expect $500-$800.

The Pro version will get released “90 days later”, so mid 2013. Expect to pay around $1000.

Hmmm?

This timeframe gives Google and Apple plenty of time to respond. The latest iPad was more of a mid-cycle update, with a major overhaul due mid 2013 as well. It will be interesting to see Apple on the receiving end of unfavourable comparisons, and see what this will spur them to do. And make no mistake, the Surface might not instill the same media fervor as the iPad, but you can bet that for enterprise and government, this is the answer to many of their prayers. It just has to not suck.

As for Google, they will have to make a decision soon: stay open and continue to see manufacturers make a hash of Android for tablets, or start using their own assets (ie. Motorola) to make some of their own. This is more dire than the situation for smartphones, where manufacturers like Samsung and HTC are incorporating Android much more successfully.

Whoa!

Microsoft pulled a little Apple-esque magic with today’s unveiling, showing off a magnetic cover, like Apple’s smart cover. Oh, and there’s a pressure sensitive keyboard built into it. Finally, someone offers a little something extra that actually makes people stand up and take notice, beyond another Shiny Black Rectangle. The case also has a trackpad in it, offering a much better laptop/tablet hybrid than Asus’ Transformer Prime.

Awww…

Microsoft has maybe made some enemies here, specifically with longtime buddies like Asus and Acer, who were expected to get the job of building Windows 8 tablets. But this is a pretty cut-throat industry, and besides, those guys can still make normal laptops and Ultrabooks. 

But sadder still is Nokia, who are limping along in the smartphone stakes, and have recently thrown in their lot with Windows Phone. With the Lumia line starting to get some negative feedback and dwindling sales, it’s possible that the one-time mightiest phone company of them all has just caught a glimpse of Microsoft not needing them at all. Sure, a smartphone is not a tablet, and it’s conceivable that Microsoft will make their own tablets and still farm out their smartphone range to Nokia – but if Surface is a big hit, it might spur Microsoft to bring their phones in-house. And by then, Nokia might have to go back to woodpulping to stay alive.

Yay!

Microsoft are not in trouble. Windows 7 will plug along as the mainstay of enterprise for years, and Office is still the world’s most widely used software. The Xbox 360 is widely considered the best console out there. Nevertheless, it's refreshing to see such a massive beast actually take notice of where technology is heading, and become part of the conversation. Of course, time will tell – Windows 8 is awfully pretty both in Metro and Windows format, and offers very good backwards compatibility while upgrading security. But people might still reject it. Surface looks good, but then, so does the Motorola Xoom and the BlackBerry Playbook, and they’re both almost worthless. But Microsoft is reminding people that they didn’t get where they are for nothing, and that their best days might be ahead of them.

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