Announcing: The Microsoft Surface Tablet

Category: Gadgets , Mobile

On June 18, 2012, Microsoft unveiled its answer to the iPad, as well as the unspoken question, "What are we supposed to do with Windows 8?" The Microsoft Surface tablet is pretty slick, and may set a new standard for the tablet industry. Here’s a first look at the new device...

What is Microsoft Surface?

The Surface prototype shown off by CEO Steve Ballmer looks incredibly cool. Its 10.6 inch display is framed by a black, beveled chassis made of "vapor-deposited magnesium," or VaporMg. A kickstand folds out from the back of the Surface, a simple innovation that has eluded other tablet makers until now. The Surface even comes with a touch-sensitive keyboard that doubles as a display cover, clamping firmly to the display's edges with magnetic fasteners.

If you want to watch the video of Microsoft's hour-long unveiling of the Surface, you can see it here. If you don't have an hour to burn, continue reading here to get the facts without the Redmond hype.

Two versions of Surface will be produced. One will run Windows RT on an ARM processor, while the other will run Windows 8 Pro on an Intel processor. The latter is intended for users who want to run legacy Windows apps; it will include a stylus, too. The RT version of Surface will support 32 or 64 GB of SSD storage, while the Windows 8 Pro version will support 64 or 128 GB.
Microsoft Surface Tablet

Surface tablets with Windows RT will include a microSD slot, USB 2.0, and a Micro HD port. The Pro versions will have a microSD card slot, USB 3.0, and Mini Display Port. RT devices will weigh about 1.5 pounds and be about 0.36-inches thick. Surface Pro will weigh closer to two pounds and will be half an inch thick.

So what's the difference between Windows RT and Windows 8? They're actually two different worlds. Only software written specifically for Windows RT will run on Surface and other RT platforms. Microsoft calls these "Metro-style apps" and will include special versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, as well as apps for a variety of other common tasks in Windows RT. Third party developers will also supply apps through the Windows Store, similar to the Apple Store, Amazon App Store, Google Play ecosystems.

The Windows software that you're using on your desktop or laptop PC will not run on Windows RT. You'll have to wait for an RT version of your favorite Windows software packages, do without, or go with the more expensive version of the Surface that runs Windows 8 Pro.

Two types of cover/keyboards will be available for Surface. The Touch Cover's keys have no "give" while the Type Cover's keys give slightly. The Type Cover is aimed at touch typists. You'll have to try it yourself, but Microsoft says these keyboards (which also include a trackpad) will allow you to type twice as fast as you would on a glass surface.

Surface: Availability, Pricing and Controversy

The ARM version of Surface with Windows RT will be available around October, in time for the consumer holiday shopping season, and the business-oriented Windows 8 Pro version will arrive about three months later. Pricing has not been announced, but a Microsoft rep said that the ARM version will be priced similarly to other ARM-based tablets on the market. Based on that, I'd guess at a price tag somewhere in the range of $500 to $600. The Windows 8 Pro version will be priced to be competitive with ultrabooks, so I'd expect that means around $1000.

While the Surface seemed to perform well over WiFi, mobile connectivity specs were conspicuously missing from the Surface announcement. For now, all we know is that the Surface has dual wifi antennas for "the best possible wifi performance." But we'll surely hear more about 3G/4G options as Microsoft closes deals with carriers. The company was also mum about battery life.

Microsoft is running the risk of alienating its hardware partners by releasing hardware of its own. Possibly, Microsoft has not been entirely happy with the tablets its partners have made, and is trying to show them how it should be done. But they're also running the risk of undermining the ultrabook market, while at the same time, courting them to develop hardware to run their flagship Windows 8 software.

Microsoft's track record in hardware has been spotty. The Xbox is a home run with consumers, but the Zune was a foul ball. Will Surface be a grand slam, providing serious competion for the iPad, Kindle Fire and other Android tablets currently on the market?

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome! Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Announcing: The Microsoft Surface Tablet"

Posted by:

Roy Tindle
19 Jun 2012

I use desktops, laptops, netbooks and tablets and, at the age of 69, have watched gadgetry come and go. Microsoft claim that I will be able to run standard Windows software on a Surface, but why would I want to?

Currently, netbooks are relatively slow but they are useful for meetings and conferences and I'm not sure what advantage a Surface would offer - apart from showing that I have one! Tablets are great for what they do and one aspect is the variety of cheap apps that perform, in some cases at least, some very useful service.

I use a Kindle and a Nexus mobile every day and one of their joys is that they are not Windows. Nothing against MS primary product but I've been through all the variants of Windows, and DOS before it. Google's Ice Cream Sandwich, so far, is great, it works without annoying failure and, as I said, has a vast range of fun apps - and many useful ones. What happened to 'if it ain't broke, don't mend it'?

Posted by:

19 Jun 2012

Where will these devices be available?

Posted by:

19 Jun 2012

I find those "small laptops" ( tablets ) difficult-to-use and nearly impossible to "type" on.
I'm also "not-fond" of a "touch-screen" OR the "pad" used to navigate the cursor on a laptop.

I'll just stay with my Desktop Computer and my "trusty" mouse !!!

Posted by:

20 Jun 2012

I wonder if their's any accessibility for those of us who are blind? I am guessing, no such luck! they will never compete with the iPad until they provide universal accessibility. However, I welcome them to do that, Apple certainly needs some competition in the tablet space.

Posted by:

20 Jun 2012

Not fully understanding 'WHAT" Mr Softie is trying to premiere. I guess the first question that comes to mind is,... WHY? IOS and Android has exploded the market segment. What can a 3rd player even as BID as MS can bring,... I guess, I'm from Missouri,...prove it to me!
This could BE a Steve Jobs "NEXT Computer!" Another dismal failure launch for MR S! However, the Hardware looks interesting. Maybe just ahead of it's "cloud" time.

Posted by:

20 Jun 2012

@Dan: You cannot be serious! Apple already has competition in the tablet space. You cannot tell me that you have never heard of Android? Samsung is already, by last count, ahead of Apple in terms of sales. Apple may have a number of superior apps, I'll give them that, but Android is fast approaching the same level of quality and user experience.

Posted by:

20 Jun 2012

I've been using MS products since DOS, right up to date. The one thing that has been consistent has been the weakness of the OS - BSoDs, hangs, crashes, re-installations, virus attacks, driver clashes... the list goes on. There is a long association for me with Windows and having to be an expert user in order to maintain it. iOS on the other hand appears to be solid in comparison to Windows. I'm hedging my bets.

Posted by:

Albert Timme
20 Jun 2012

Was looking for a Windows tablet and there was not one on the shelf. Bought an Android 4 tablet from China. Have it running and am letting our sons play on it as I am not familiar with it. Am currently using an older Gateway C143XL with Windows Vista and will be happy to move to a Windows8 unit at the right price when available.

Posted by:

21 Jun 2012

A very important aspect for business users is the availability of Internet Explorer in a tablet. Lots of firewalls only behave with IE, and that has effectively kept the tablets relegated to the consumer market. This could be a BIG deal!

EDITOR'S NOTE: I don't think your firewall cares what browser you use...

Posted by:

John Alton
23 Jun 2012

If the Windows 8 version had included a phone it would have everything you need in one package. Like Mr. Tindle I am 69 and have gone from desktops and a 28 pound Compaq portable to a Blackberry Playbook and from a 15 pound Motorola portable phone to a small Nokia, from a GPS on a portable computer to a Garmin. Why can't everything be on one machine?

Posted by:

27 Jun 2012

Being able to run MS Office apps on a tablet has some appeal but I couldn't do serious work (online teaching and office management) on a screen that size. If Apple would come to terms with Flash, my iPad would do everything I could expect on such a portable wifi device. When it comes to my "real" work, give me the dual monitors on my desktop and my 17" laptop. [And being a few days shy of 68, I've been through it all, too.]

Posted by:

28 Jun 2012

@John Alton - "Why can't everything be on one machine?" Amen!!

Posted by:

30 Aug 2012

@Pieter, I think you missed Dan's point about accessibility, none of the Android tablets are accessible to the blind or visually impaired. No Android tablet has anything comparable to VoiceOver.

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