No, this time it was Microsoft. That’s right, the slow pokes from Redmond just surprised us (kind of) by announcing Surface, a Microsoft-branded Windows tablet with a 10.6-inch screen designed to work as both tablet and PC. It will come in a version running Windows RT as well as a business-oriented version running Windows 8 Pro.
Taking a page out of the Apple playbook, Microsoft led an enquiring technorati down the rabbit hole to announce on Monday what most had been speculating: A Microsoft-branded tablet.
From the secrecy surrounding the announcement to the device itself, the Surface is a break with tradition. Microsoft has never manufactured a device that runs the Windows client OS; its success has come through developing software that runs on hardware from partners like Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo.
But with Surface, Microsoft has its own iPad.
The Surface device has a built-in kickstand on the back of the tablet to prop it up. A Touch Cover has the dual purpose of protecting the screen and also serving as a fully functional keyboard with a built-in trackpad when opened up.
Based on first looks, the Surface is an audacious move for Microsoft. It will be entering a competitive market alone and will risk alienating hardware partners — which, let’s face it, could become a big problem. If Surface does catch on, won’t OEM devices become more undesirable?
Clearly, Microsoft thinks it can knock the iPad off the hill by itself. Android-based tablets have hardly made a dent in the iPad’s dominance and Microsoft deserves a shot at the title. It could not beat Apple at its own game with MP3 players (Zune anyone?), but Microsoft is giving it another go with Surface, this time with more planning, determination and a much bigger base of established users.
No availability or pricing was announced, but Microsoft did say in a release that “suggested retail pricing will be announced closer to availability and is expected to be competitive with a comparable ARM tablet or Intel Ultrabook-class PC.”
In other words, don’t expect the Surface to, um, surface until the fall when Windows 8 is scheduled to launch.
Here’s a quick list of specs for the new Microsoft Surface tablets.
Windows RT Version Specs
0.37 inch thick
10.6-inch ClearType HD Display
31.5 hours of battery life
CPU — Nvidia Tegra 3
microSD, USB 2.0, Micro HD Video, 2×2 MIMO antennae
Office Home and Student 2013 RT, Touch Cover, Type Cover
VaporMg Case and Stand
Configurable for 32GB, 64GB
Windows 8 Pro Specs
0.53 inch thick
10.6-inch ClearType Full HD Display
42 hours of battery life
CPU — Intel Core i5
microSDXC, USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort Video, 2×2 MIMO antennae