Before Apple ever released their millions-sold iPad, Microsoft had a video floating around the internet with its own tablet concept—the Courier, which looked pretty awesome. And then they killed it. And then the iPad came out and it killed everything else. But apparently Microsoft wasn’t quite done with the tablet concept, despite the market being much more crowded than when its Courier video originally appeared. So they just announced the Surface:
While there certainly isn’t anything all that new or different (two words that figured prominently in the release event), I’m personally excited. While Microsoft is generally viewed as a software company which prefers to partner with hardware makers, they realize that in some cases you have to do it yourself if you want it done right. It also makes sense for Microsoft to make this themselves because they don’t have to pay to license their own OS and they can sell it at a loss, something it might be hard to talk another company into. Speaking of which, will this anger hardware makers who typically sell products that run Windows? Time will tell, but so far this is sufficiently different from most of the PC hardware out there (though it comes pretty close to the much-hyped line of “Ultrabooks”). Microsoft could also be helping PC companies by revitalizing interest in the platform overall. Again, time will tell.
Right now we don’t know too much in the way of specs. The device is made (at least in part) of magnesium. It has a built-in kickstand. It has Gorilla Glass. It has front-facing and rear-facing cameras. It’s equipped with USB and microSD connections. It’s available in 32 or 64 gigabyte capacity. The “pro” model (which features a full- or at least fuller-fledged version of Windows 8, as opposed to Windows RT on the standard version) is thicker, more powerful, and comes in a 128 gigabyte capacity as well. The spec sheet doesn’t exactly spell out resolution but both models have a 10.6” screen. I’m guessing the standard model (listed as “HD”) has something close to 1366x768 and the “pro” model (listed as “Full HD”) has 1920x1080. While this is nowhere near the resolution of Apple’s latest iPad, it should still look pretty good on the 10.6” screen. I’m curious about power, specifically battery life, and what the AC adapter will look like. If they could run this thing on USB power that would be a feat, since it is becoming ubiquitous and typical laptop power supplies are annoying. UPDATE: The Verge has some more info on the power adapter here: link (looks pretty cool)
What sets this device apart from the pack (from a hardware standpoint) is the built-in kickstand and the available covers. The Touch Cover is a 3mm touch-screen keyboard, and the Type Cover is a 5mm fully-functioning keyboard with built-in trackpad. These are options that typically might come from a third party when using other tablet PCs. The covers feature a Lumia-esque color scheme, presumably to set the product apart from all those monochromatic iOS devices. The “pro” model also features a pen input device. That is interesting, but it remains to be seen how well it’s implemented. On the software side, Microsoft Office 2013 RT is also bundled (and possibly a “full” version on the “pro” model, but I can’t tell). Hopefully this bears a closer resemblance to Office 2010 than the current Office Web Apps. Speaking of Apps, the Windows Phone app marketplace has been a bit of a disappointment so far. Since this device will eventually share apps with the Windows Phone platform, this will hopefully provide the kick in the pants Microsoft needs to improve the quantity and quality of available apps. Besides Office, the only app that was featured at the release event was Netflix.
Besides some of the hardware specs, the largest detail that was conspicuously missing from the release event was pricing. I believe the word they used was “competitive” which doesn’t really tell us anything. Competitive with other tablets? Competitive with other full-fledged PCs around this same size? I guess we’ll find out. If Microsoft can deliver on the promise of a full PC, not dependent in any way on another computer, they have something that so far has been somewhat elusive. And I suppose it wouldn’t hurt if it actually captured imaginations. But I’m not sure if that’s what this is. If not, there’s always version 2.0.