NEWS ANALYSIS: The Microsoft Surface tablet is everything eWEEK said these Windows devices would be, and a lot more: not just an iPad alternative, but a whole different kind of device that will make Apple scramble.
Here at eWEEK, we knew it would happen. Microsoft was going to announce a new tablet June 18, and it would be something that Apple couldnt really compete against. But the Microsoft Surface is much more than just a tablet, and its much more than just another iPad clone. Microsoft, in what had to be the companys best-kept secret ever, created a game-changing tablet that doesnt so much compete with the other tablets out there, as it has become its own thing.
The Surface, named after a 40-inch screen device designed to be a collaboration tool, is a tablet that runs either Windows 8 RT or Windows 8 Professional. The device is marginally thinner (by 0.1mm) than a New iPad, and marginally heavier (by 24 grams). The device will come with Microsoft Office and will support any software that Windows 8 supports. It will include USB, High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) and DisplayPort, and it will have a 2X MIMO antenna system for improved WiFi. The version running Windows 8 Professional will be slightly larger and heavier, and may not include Office as standard.
But perhaps most important, this device is precision-machined out of magnesium, and has Gorilla Glass 2.0 bonded to the surface. By the looks of itand thats all we have so farthis reminds one of the build quality of a fine watch. The engineering appears to be impressive indeed. While I could go on and on about the specs of this tablet, whats really more important is whether Microsoft can sell enough of them to make a difference.
One of the critical items that can make a difference is the price. Simply put, Microsoft cant charge more than Apple does for its iPad, or people wont buy it. Regardless of the engineering or the many extras that Microsoft has built into the Surface, the iPad still defines the price of the genre. According to Microsoft General Manager Michael Anguilo, the Surface will cost about the same as an ARM tablet (which, after all, is what it is). A good example of an ARM tablet that seems equivalent is the Motorola Xoom, which retails for $499exactly the same as the iPad.
Anguilo also noted that the Intel-based Surface will cost about the same as an equivalent Ultrabook. A check of Amazon shows that Intel i5-based Ultrabooks retail for $800 to $900, although theres a fairly broad range, depending on features.
Overall, it seems that Microsoft has priced the Surface to be competitive with the devices that it competes against. But Microsoft has added a lot of features that other tablets dont have, and that Ultrabooks dont have. The Surface tablet has a sophisticated cover that includes keys for typing, either as a touch-sensitive surface or as actual keys, but the cover also has a multi-touch surface, and it has an accelerometer so that it knows when its being folded away, and turns off its power.
Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazine's Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.
He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.