Microsoft clearly copied its secrecy-in-product-launch approach from Apple, but the new Windows tablet PC it launched June 18 to compete with the iPad appears to be quite an original piece of work.
At an invitation-only media event held at the obscure Milk Studios on Cahuenga Blvd. in Hollywood, Microsoft unveiled the Surface, a long-awaited competitor to the iPad and all those Android and BlackBerry tablets that currently flood the consumer and business markets.
The launch conference, the location of which wasn't revealed to anybody until 10 o'clock that morning for an event that started at 3:30 p.m., offered a number of specifics about the new device. But Microsoft avoided other facts, and because CEO Steve Ballmer, product manager Steven Sinofsky and designer Panos Panoya did not answer questions from reporters, several important things were left hanging.
Key Facts on the New Tablet
Here is what Microsoft wanted to tell the media:
- The Surface is a 10.6-inch-wide, 3.3mm-thin tablet that will run Windows RT (and Windows 8, when it is launched later this year).
- It weighs 1.5 pounds.
- It's the first PC with a magnesium case.
- It will have "the best WiFi available," according to Ballmer.
- Surface for Windows RT will be available first in 32GB and 64GB but will have expanded storage capabilities later.
- Windows 8 Surface will run on an Intel Core i5 Ivy Bridge processor.
- It will be a multi-touch device, with a touch-screen and two optional keyboards.
- It is equipped with USB 2 ports and a physical vapor deposition (PVD) finish.
- It has a magnetic cover that can be taken off, plus an integrated "kickstand" that snaps back into the unit and disappears.
- It is being marketed as a complete PC workstation in the form of a tablet.
Here's what Microsoft didn't want to talk about:
- pricing, saying only that it will be "competitive with ARM tablets or an Intel Ultrabook-class PC;"
- battery-life expectancy;
- screen resolution;
- the still camera and video capability;
- when exactly it will become available, although Microsoft indicated sometime this fall; and
- which OEMs will make the device.
Microsoft Not Telling Whole StoryYet
Thus, there are still a lot of questions Microsoft needs to answer before the Surface comes to market.
"Surface is a stage for Windows," Sinofsky told the audience of about 100 people. "It's a tablet that works and plays the way you want to. A tablet that's a great PC. A PC that's a great tablet."
Microsoft calls the thin keyboard the Touch Cover, claiming that many people will always prefer a real keyboard over touch-screens. It also has another option: a thicker keyboard with clickable keys called the Type Cover.
"What if you prefer tactile keys? We have another productthe Type Cover," Panay said. "I can touch type on this as fast as I can type on any keyboard. Full trackpad with clicking buttons."
Panay, the chief designer, had several comments about how the Surface came to be the shape and size that it is.
"Putting a kickstand in this product breaks seamless lines, but we needed to do it," Panay said. "We couldn't take chances. Take a look at these three hinges you see on the product. They are custom, and they were spec'd to feel and sound like a high-end car door."
Getting the Sound Right
"We really wanted to get the sound right, so you get that visceral feeling, that emotional attachment. It's there when you need it, and goes away when you don't," Panay said.
"This sits in your hand very comfortably. You can use it all day in comfort. When you talk about the hardware fading to the background, it needs to not get in the way."
Suggested retail pricing will be announced closer to availability, Sinofsky said. Pricing is expected to be competitive with a comparable ARM tablet or Intel Ultrabook-class PC. OEMs will have cost and feature parity on Windows 8 and Windows RT, he said.
Chris Preimesberger is Editor of Features and Analysis for eWEEK. Twitter: @editingwhiz