Yesterday in Los Angeles Microsoft unveiled a new tablet called Surface to better compete with Apple’s dominant i-Pad which has increasingly taken market-share away from the PC market and Microsoft’s established software business.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer led the presentation and explained to curious onlookers that the new Surface tablet will be an entertainment device for users “without compromising the productivity that PCs are uniquely known for.”
Microsoft has taken a long time to unveil Surface, developing a new product that is distinct from the i-Pad with its widely anticipated Windows 8 operating system which will be released later in the fall and optimized for touch-screen tablets in a growing international mobile market.
Surface has two versions that will appeal to the different needs of tech consumers. The first version of Surface comes with Windows RT operating system which is made for tablets running on lower powered ARM chips. It is 9.3 millimeters thick, weighs less than 1.5 pounds (680 grams), and comes with 32 GB or 64 GB capacity. Battery is 31.5 W-h. The display is 10.6″ ClearType HD capactive touchpanel. Software is Windows RT + Office Home & Student 2013 RT.
Surface is equipped with a kickstand for an easier transition from active use to passive consumption (E.G. for watching a movie or rear facing video camera). Surface comes with a Touch Cover magnesium (rubber) case powered by an Nvidia Tegra processor which doubles as a keyboard and senses keystrokes as gestures, enabling the user to touch type significantly faster than with an on-screen keyboard. It will be available in a selection of vibrant colors. Surface also has a full-sized USB port. Pricing is to be determined.
Microsoft will coordinate with PC makers such as Acer, Toshiba, and Asustek Computer to build tablets running Windows 8 on Windows RT using ARM-based chips.
The second version of Surface will operate on Windows 8 Pro operating system which is slightly larger and more powerful with its Intel-based chips.
Windows 8 Pro has a larger 42 W-h battery and an Ivy Bridge Core i5 processor. Thickness is slightly larger at 13.5 millimeters in addition to a heavier weight at 903 grams. The display is the same size with a 10.6-inch ClearType Full HD (1080p) capactive touchpanel and comes with 64GB / 128GB capacity. Software is Windows 8 Pro.
Window users seeking a complete Windows experience in the Surface tablet will need to pay a little more for the Windows 8 Pro model.
Pricing of Windows 8 Pro will reportedly cost as much as an Ultrabook. Availability will delayed. It was announced that Windows 8 Pro won’t be available until “three months after” the Windows 8 launch this fall.
PC or Tablet?
“The Surface is a PC. The Surface is a tablet. And the Surface is something new that we think people will absolutely love,” Ballmer said during yesterday’s gathering in Los Angeles.
Besides competing against Apple’s i-Pad, Microsoft is developing the Surface tablet to compete against Google’s army of Android tablets which are developed by hardware makers such as Samsung, Acer, and Dell. Amazon operates their successful Kindle tablet using Android’s operating system but uses their own apps.
The iPad and Android tablets are centered around entertainment while Windows 8 retains the notion of productivity.
The Surface tablet running Windows 8 Pro will appeal to tech users who are also interested in content creation besides entertainment and web browsing.
Microsoft is faced with carving out a niche in the tablet hardware market, appealing to shifting consumer demands in the computer industry to stay competitive and relevant without giving up their PC roots.
According to Online Publishing Association, by 2013 half of the United States’ 117.4 million Internet users will own tablets.
The global tablet market is estimated to reach $78.7 billion this year, according to research group Display Search.