At Hollywood’s Milk Studio, Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer just released Microsoft’s tablet, Microsoft Surface (the name of an existing technology being extended by Windows 8 to the mobile market). It does not include any collaboration by Barnes and Noble, quelling those rumors, and is Windows 8-based running software very similar to what existing Microsoft Surface products have been running in restaurants for over a year now.
Amid rumors and speculation that Microsoft would be launching an Xbox tablet or Barnes and Noble tablet today, Steve Ballmer launched the official Microsoft Surface tablet in Hollywood’s Milk Studio today in front of a large crowd after showing videos of Microsoft patents and previous hardware endeavors (including a humorous incident where Canadian Customs retained Microsoft mice days after their release, believing them to be counterfeit).
Ballmer stated that the new product will “usher in a new era for Microsoft,” or in other words, Microsoft is now directly in competition with Apple in the mobile market, bringing Windows 8 to the iOS field.
The interesting difference is that Windows 8 is going to be both desktop AND mobile, whereas Mac OS X and iOS have two different goals. Microsoft insists on calling it a PC, and not a tablet.
The tablet’s 1G hardware will have an Intel IvyBridge processor OR WinRT processor (ARM), is 9.3mm thin (plus 3mm for touch cover or type cover) and has a USB 2.0 port (3.0 on the Pro). All of the details were released alongside Microsoft’s usual methods of revealing their take on existing products, with booming techno and flashing lights.
For those new to Microsoft’s touch field, Microsoft surface has been out for over a year. Implemented largely in restaurants, where users can drag menus around and order, play games, and allow the technology to detect when their drink runs low making the waiter/waitress merely a delivery person, the table-t computer has been largely successful inhibited only by its price.
Long before Windows 8, the original Microsoft Surface came with software that did not feature the Explorer desktop (from the user’s standpoint) in favor of a touch-driven, sexy tablet UI where one would drag more pure UI elements around instead of aging windows.
The Surface technology has seen ample use by media companies, where newsrooms would use them to show sports stats live on the air instead of the usual green screen.
I personally think most of the benefit from calling them both Surface arises from trademark recycling, preventing the need to register a second trademark. The future of the original Surface remains unclear at this point, as to whether Microsoft will continue it separately or make the two part of the same “line” of touch systems, with one obviously stationary.
The surface has hardware elements I’ve long-considered missing from the iPad: a fucking USB port for one, so I can finally share my flash drive’s contents with my tablet.
Plus, running Windows 8 and tying in with Windows Azure as iOS does iCloud, one can expect similar performance to an iPad for a fraction of the Apple price. That’s not without saying that tablet may be prone to more bugs and security issues, but recall that it is going to use an Intel processor: x86 viruses being ported over, anyone?
The tablet, as told by Ballmer, incorporates technology to allow it to interact fluidly with a Windows desktop when plugged in (Wi-Fi coming soon, a la our Avengers computing article?)
Unlike the iPad, its meant-for-it cover (made by Microsoft) is much more intuitive – it comes with a builtin touch keyboard, which Ballmer demonstrated at the release can interact with the computer running the latest Windows software. The Touch Cover (they’re calling it) will have the desktop of the tablet change to the same cover as it when connected, in Ballmer’s demonstration – whether this is a configurable gimmick or not remains to be seen.
The Type Cover is another cover which will have a builtin keyboard and touchpad with mouse buttons, as featured in the image above. Interestingly, as many other journalists less awesome than us have focused highly on, the Surface will come with a kickstand built-in – no more mangling to fold up a smart cover, like I have to do to get my iPad to stand at 30/150 degrees.
The Surface + Touch/Type Cover is more along the lines as a hybrid between the already-hybrid Windows tablets and the iPad, with more physical interaction elements and physical ports for connectivity. Finally, you can have more than one port on your mobile device for connecting both a camera to it, and a PC for streaming the pics to a big screen while syncing them.
And note that the camera is on the side, as opposed to the top like the iPad: could it be forcing you to hold it landscape-orientation at all times, or if not is the camera easily covered up by your hand being on the side like that? I personally like to walk and use my tablet – part of the “mobile” experience.
All that’s needed is fewer wires, more use of that Wireless-n technology.
The Surface comes in 32GB and 64GB models, with a “pro” version in 128GB (SSDs are not cheap, so this will affect price a lot). As far as pricing goes, so far all they have said regarding cost is “pricing will be compared to tablets and ultrabooks.” And the pro version that sports 128GB storage will be released 3 months after the first.
With no room for a fan and relying on air-cooling, it will be interesting to see if the tablet is air-cooled like the iPad (what tablet wants a fan?) and if so whether or not Microsoft will either hardware-limit the device (like Apple underclocking the iPhone) or if Windows 8 will be tailored for the hardware some way to limit background process’s heat output.
Remember, this is just generation one of the hardware, and many more are slated to be released in parallel. There is already plenty of room for improvement in my opinion, with wireless interactions a la Apple’s PAN (see the Avengers article linked above).
Here’s the Specification sheet.
Those present to see the thing debuted live are already claiming features they say they wish the iPad did. I do laud Microsoft on a better job with the Touch Cover, which until now the only Apple analog that comes close are third party bluetooth keyboard covers with 1/6th the functionality and features of the Touch Cover.
Microsoft has definitely hit on a few of Apple’s misses, although they’re already starting to clutter up Steve’s clean design goal of the Apple iPad, which may eventually cause some to choose the other instead. But with the cost uncertain other than the fact that it will be the main driving force behind what users choose, time will reveal all.
As soon as we can get our hands on one, we will review it – subscribe to get the news sooner, and post any questions/comments as a comment here. Thanks for reading!
Mark is a "veteran" (and current) system administrator for a local IT firm in his hometown. He is notorious from his Coffee Desk days as the "funny guy" of the editorial staff, writing some pieces for sheer comic relief to the pleasure of many readers (example). Aside from his priceless humor, he has ample insight in the fields of networking and programming given his years of experience with them, often making quips about his own age in the process. Mark is the oldest member of the editors, and by far the most regular. Contributor, that is. :D
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