As widely expected, Microsoft last night launched its assault on the iPad as it too enters the post-PC world with its own-brand Windows tablet, called Surface. Guy Daniels reports.
To differentiate its new product from the ranks of boring PC hardware, Microsoft chose Hollywood as the setting for its long-awaited tablet launch. And it worked. Using the tagline “The Ultimate Stage for Windows”, Microsoft unveiled two new tablet computers, called Surface. And learning from past mistakes (and covetous of Apple’s business model, no doubt), Microsoft chose to go it alone and will be manufacturing them under its own brand, without any support from OEMs.
However, the two models represent signs of a slight uncertainty as to where the long-term future of computing lies. The first model, the ‘Surface for Windows RT’, is going head-to-head with the iPad. Forget the Android threat; it doesn’t exist yet. And if Microsoft plays its cards right, it can cruise past the current lacklustre Android tablet sales and become a serious rival to Apple – but it has to get a move on.
Sporting an ARM processor running Windows RT, it features a microSD slot, USB 2 port and a Micro HD Video connector. Both this and the Pro model feature 2x2 MIMO antennae. It comes as either a 32 GB or 64 GB version, and will be released at the same time as Windows 8 becomes generally available, sometime in Q3. And being a pure tablet, it will only run Metro Windows 8 apps.
Unlike the second model, the ‘Surface for Windows 8 Pro’, which is a hybrid. It looks like a tablet, acts like a tablet, but has full-on PC functionality crammed into the casing. Microsoft obviously isn’t yet convinced that we’ve entered a post-PC world, despite what Apple says, and that there is a huge market for people who want a more measured and comfortable transition. It could be right. And it could well be this model that proves the most successful – certainly for the business market.
It features a third-generation Intel Core processor (thought to be Ivy Bridge) featuring Windows 8 Pro, and comes in either a 64 GB or 128 GB version.
It’s a bit heavier (903g) and thicker (13.5mm) than its junior partner, but has more battery power and a ‘Full HD’ display, compared with the ‘HD’ display stated for the Surface RT. It also has slightly improved connectivity, with microSDXC, USB 3 and Mini DisplayPort Video. Plus it comes with a stylus for pen input with 600dpi precision. It will be released 90 days after the Surface RT.
But perhaps one of the biggest talking points will be the accompanying covers. Microsoft has cleverly designed covers that feature a tactile keyboard built into the inside, providing a perfect desktop-style user experience when used in conjunction with the kickstand built into the rear casing. They certainly look clever, and when used with the Surface Pro could go a long way towards replacing laptops within organisations.
This is how Microsoft describes the Surface:
“Conceived, designed and engineered entirely by Microsoft employees, Surface represents a unique vision for the seamless expression of entertainment and creativity.”
But there’s still a lot we don’t know about Surface. For example, what sort of camera does it have, how much RAM, what’s the screen resolution, is there an LTE model… when can we buy one and for how much? According to Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg, speaking to Wired magazine:
“I’m guessing somewhere between $600 and $1000 — Microsoft was very vague. This is the problem you encounter when you launch something so far ahead of delivery. It’s a bold move on the part of Microsoft. This is a real change in strategy for them, and it’s certainly a vote of no confidence for their partners. This shows how high the stakes are. There is competitive pressure from Apple that is clearly a threat to their business.”
Not everyone is convinced. Ovum chief telecoms analyst Jan Dawson says it’s “a horrible mishmash” that “is likely to be confusing for the consumer”. Dawson adds that to what Gartenberg says about the dissatisfaction with Microsoft’s OEM partners:
“Either they are not happy with the devices out there, or they are not satisfied with only taking a licence fee from selling Windows based tablets. Either way, it is a huge vote of no confidence in its OEM partners, who should rightly feel slighted. It is rarely a good idea for an OS owner to start competing with its OEM partners, and this does not feel like an exception.”
Meanwhile, we turn our attention to the expected unveiling of the first Google Nexus Android-powered tablet, that may happen as soon as next week…
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