Microsoft unveils Surface tablet in effort to go Apple one better
Microsoft kept everyone guessing in advance of its highly anticipated launch of the new tablet computer the company designed and built. At an Apple-like press conference, Microsoft showed a magnesium-clad widescreen tablet with features Apple can only dream about. While the announcement event for the Microsoft Surface showed a precision-machined device with bonded glass, a fold-out stand thinner than a credit card, and all of the ports that iPad users want but can't get, what didn't show was perhaps more important--this device will run software that companies demand, including Microsoft Office.
The Microsoft Surface comes in two varieties. The first is an Nvidia ARM-based device that has Windows 8 RT baked in, along with Office and some other applications. The second is based on an Intel i5 and runs Windows 8 Professional. The ARM-based tablet is slightly thinner than an iPad and slightly heavier. The Intel-based version is nearly two pounds and nearly as thick as an ultrabook, although at 0.53 inches, it's still thinner than the Acer Aspire S5 as well as over a half pound lighter.
While the device specs show that the Surface is competitive, there are a lot of things that don't show. The Surface includes a stylus, a 2 x 2 MIMO antenna system that allows for improved Wi-Fi performance, and you can get what Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) calls a Touch Cover. This appears to be similar to Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) Smart Cover, except it has a touch-sensitive inner surface that allows typing and multitouch control. You can also get a cover with real keys.
The cover includes an accelerometer so it knows when it's not being used and turns itself off. The Surface solves its cooling requirements with what Microsoft calls perimeter cooling, which is basically a vent that goes around the entire device.
The Windows 8 RT version will hit the market this fall when Windows 8 launches. The Intel-based Windows 8 Professional version will arrive about three months later. While Microsoft executives wouldn't give exact pricing, they did say that the Surface would be competitive with other ARM tablets, which would put it at the same price as the iPad, or perhaps a little less. They also said that the price of the Intel version would be competitive with Intel-based ultrabooks.
For IT departments, Microsoft has finally delivered a tablet that is sleek and well-designed, so people will want to use it, and that provides a familiar support profile, has familiar security requirements, and will fit into the existing IT environment. Equally important, the Surface will work with existing networks, existing printing, and existing software.
While there will still be plenty of people who want an iPad, and plenty of apps that need an iPad, at least now IT managers have an iPad alternative. Assuming that this Windows 8 device is as easy to use as previous Windows 8 tablets, the Surface has just made the tablet problem a lot easier to handle. IT managers have a device that meets their users' mobility requirements, while also fitting into the needs of IT.
See a slideshow of the Microsoft Surface here.