Microsoft Announces Surface Tablet – Some Quick Thoughts

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Microsoft Surface Ballmer Fist Pump

Image Source: The Verge

Yesterday evening Microsoft held a special event to announce their new tablet / PC called Surface. Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer described it as being a PC and a tablet – and also described it like so:

Something new, something different, it’s a whole new family of computing devices from Microsoft.

There’s already a Surface site with some details and specs on the Surface devices (there are two), a promo video and a photo gallery – give that a look to get a good introduction to Surface.

I followed several liveblogs covering the event last night and I’ve got some quick thoughts on Surface, based on what we’ve seen and heard so far. Here they are in no particular order:

Microsoft Still Hate the Idea of a Post-PC Era: Throughout the event there was a lot of emphasis on the importance of desktop apps and Windows (a desktop OS) and on Surface being both a PC and a tablet, with PC even being mentioned first:

Because of Windows 8, the Surface IS a PC. The Surface IS a tablet

Microsoft Surface Tablet

— There are two models of the Surface – one uses an ARM-based processor and looks to be more consumer targeted and runs the Windows RT operating system. The other, described as the Pro model, runs a more powerful Intel processor and runs Windows 8 Pro.

— There were a few statements during the event that sounded more than a little like Microsoft taking some pages from the Apple and iPad playbook – like these two that echo Apple’s general approach:

We believe that any intersection between human and machine can be made better when every aspect of the experience, hardware and software, are considered together.

We designed Windows 8 for the world we know, in which most computers are mobile.

And this one which reflects one of the strong points of the iPad since Day 1 – the fact that the tablet disappears and lets you focus on just a single app or activity:

It was important that we have the hardware fade to the background for this product

— Another theme that came across strongly is the idea of Surface as being all about the ability to create content anywhere, anytime (perhaps as an allusion to the misguided idea that the iPad is primarily a device for ‘consumption’).

— There are some interesting ideas and innovations for Surface. Just as one quick example, the cover has similar features to the Apple Smart Cover for the iPad, but also doubles as a keyboard. The Surface will run Microsoft Office and other desktop class apps – this will have great appeal for at least some corporate and power users.

— In a fitting touch, given Microsoft’s very late arrival in the tablet arena, the event kicked off more than 40 minutes late. Seriously, the first 40+ minutes of live blogging was all about ‘we’re still standing outside’ or sitting in an empty hall.

— The announcement did not include a specific release date or pricing details. The closest we got was that the RT model will be released alongside Windows 8 and will be priced ‘in line with similar ARM-based tablets’ and the Pro model will come out 90 days later and be priced in line with ultrabook PCs.

This sounds like the RT model will be priced at around the same level as the iPad – a price level that hasn’t been successful for any iPad rivals thus far. I looked around a little at ultrabook pricing last night and saw mostly price points from $700 to $1,500. That sounds like a price aimed at competing with netbooks and laptops more than iPads.

— I also don’t think we heard anything at all about 3G/4G connectivity for the Surface. Maybe I missed it but it seems like they may be WiFi only devices.

Although Microsoft have borrowed some ideas from Apple, I think they at least are offering something with a lot more differences and fresh ideas than the vast majority of Android rivals we’ve seen thus far. I’m certainly interested in looking at the RT model, or both even if the prices are viable for me.

Now we go back to waiting, to hear when Surface comes out and what it costs.

What do you all think of the Surface? Will you be thinking about buying one?

Patrick Jordan

Founder and Editor in Chief of iPad Insight. Husband, father to a lovely daughter, Commander of the Armies of the North, dog lover (especially Labs), Austinite, former Londoner, IT consultant, huge sports nut, iPad and mobile tech blogger, mobile apps junkie.

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15 thoughts on “Microsoft Announces Surface Tablet – Some Quick Thoughts”

  1. Thanks for the nice sum up and thoughts. Can we see your thoughts on the actual machine (usage and whatnot). If it was priced below the iPad pricing line, do you think it will sell well?

    1. If I end up getting one you’ll definitely see my thoughts on it. If it’s priced below iPad levels I think it will have a much better chance of selling well.

  2. My first questions:

    1. How much use time from one full charge?

    2. USB Port?

    3. You killed the Ms Courier for this? [We’re crying again. MS WHY? The MS Courier WAS the competition that would KNOCK my iPad from my hands and satisfy me and other artists and designers. Yes, I am skeptical, but I hope you have made a good choice. I am not my Grandma and my Gamers friends DON’T use the computer the same way.]

    1. 1. They didn’t talk about battery life at all.

      2. The RT model has a USB 2.0 port, the Pro model has a USB 3.0 port.

  3. Personally, I think last night’s presentation was a step in the right direction for Microsoft, but only a step, when what they really needed was a jump. RIM introduced their PlayBook too early, and look where it got them. Microsoft tried this once before with the HP Slate. And it crashed and burned. While I don’t think Microsoft should be more “Apple-like” in its culture, it definitely needs to take more cues from Apple in its strategy. Apple $500+ billion value is evidence of this. They’re worth double what Microsoft is worth, and they have less than 10% of Microsoft’s market.

    Announce the product, as they did. Focus on the business usage, as they did. Acknowledge that they came late to the game, as they did. But also acknowledge that Apple achieved something in this market that Microsoft couldn’t. When the economy was going down the tubes, Apple was still selling strong, because they had brand loyalty, and people who use Apple products are passionate about them. Microsoft should have accepted the reality that they’re looking to compete, and that they are committed to competing in every way.

    But this is what Microsoft should have done to nail that:
    1) Emphasize the Windows Marketplace ecosystem. Show how it integrates, seamlessly, with the OS. Perhaps it’s obvious to some people, but not to average consumers who are used to the iOS App Store’s simplicity.
    2) Set a release date. The fact that this is still months away was a bad call. Building up hype 5 months in advance may as well be a year. They’ll miss the Christmas rush.
    3) Set a price. Saying you’ll price competitively is nonsense. It’s competitive if it’s competitive. When it doesn’t exist yet, it’s not competitive. And if you can’t do a feature-by-feature comparison, it’s hard to be competitive, or to measure a competitive price. They could argue that $1,000 is competitive, because it has “USB and HDMI.” But who wants to pay more than the highest-priced iPad?
    4) Integrate 3G/4G. Apple did it, so Microsoft should too. Not having 24/7 connectivity on a business device is bad news.
    5) Show the feature comparison. Not to single out Apple, but with Apple’s retina display and 10-hour battery life, I would think that knowing the exact screen quality and battery life would matter. It sounds weird, but when I switch back to my iPad 1 after using my iPad 3 for so long, it actually hurts a little to see pixels.
    6) Make it a portrait and landscape device. Did anyone notice that the screen NEVER rotated into portrait mode? What if I want to work on a long document? The iPad’s portrait mode plus a keyboard makes it a perfect 8.5×11 ratio for editing a full document, and on retina, it’s crystal clear.
    7) Get Ballmer’s vacuous stares out of the presentation. Leave up the people who can actually smile and not look like they’re searching for Apple employees in the crowd.

    But… to credit them, here’s what they really nailed:
    1) Those covers, and the keyboard. Assuming it works (none of the testers were apparently allowed to use the keyboard), it looks like a game-changer. I would love a soft-touch cover like that for the iPad.
    2) The magnesium casing. That’s slick, and tasteful.
    3) The kickstand. No need to buy lots of extra accessories: the stock products from Microsoft cover all the bases.
    4) A better presentation. Finally, Microsoft has started to show some artistic culture. It felt a little forced, and it sounded like a couple of the presenters were trying to be overly energetic (felt a little phony), but it’s better than they’ve done before. Nice job on the secrecy, but starting on time and focusing on the people this is for is the most important.

    1. Some great points. I totally agree on setting a release date and prices and showing feature comparisons.

  4. The hidden cost may be the cost of software. If MS software is priced at desktop prices it will be much more expensive than people are accustomed to paying for apps. This is particularly true for the ARM device which will need software compiled for the non intel processor. MS needs to ask developers to price software for lateral upgrades to the new platform. Will the Surface really look competitive if the cost of operation is much higher than the competition?

    Iit should be priced cheaper than Apple – lower screen res, and perhaps lower battery life. I would love to see some competition but MS has not been very compelling for years. This feels like forcing square Windows into round holes.

  5. I have been waiting for Microsoft to raise the bar. I have an iMac and an iPad, but I can’t wait to run Windows 8 on a PC, phone, and tablet. I love the power I have with Windows and my PC. My PC smokes my iMac.

  6. I heard reference to cameras front and back but I never heard anything about their resolution.

  7. If the RT model isn’t priced less than the iPad, I can’t see it selling well.

    Seems like having two OS’s is a step in the wrong direction.

    Overall, I think it is good they are coming out with a tablet though. Competition will lead to further inhancements for the iPad.

  8. I’m fascinated to see where this goes. Apple have seen off a lot of competition, and even the best non-Apple tablets out at the moment are alternatives, not iPad beaters. I can’t help but wonder if Microsoft are going straight for the win here or if it’s the first stage in a plan to knock Apple off its throne. If that’s the case it’s a risky move, people dismiss technology very quickly and easily…

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