Microsoft have announced their own in-house designed tablet called the Surface in by far their biggest attempt to try to stake a claim in the fast-growing tablet market.
Can they really challenge the runaway success of the iPad or the plethora of Android tablets that make up what’s left of the tablet market?
First off, let’s take a step back to understand why this is such a big deal for the future of Microsoft.
The birth of the new tablet market has turned the home computer market on its head. Tablets are replacing many people’s need for a full laptop or desktop computer at home. The tablet format and operating system is perfect for web browsing, gaming, Facebook-ing, emailing or watching video. Who needs a big clunky computer for their sofa-surfing now?
Microsoft cannot afford to miss out on the tablet market as it’s bound to eat into their core market and reduce PC sales which in turn drive their software sales. Their rather feeble response to the iPad has seen them all but jettisoned by their usual pals the PC manufacturers, in favour of Google’s Android operating system. Microsoft’s response – we’ll build one ourselves.
So, history lesson over, what is the Microsoft Surface?
It’s a tablet computer with a few bells and whistles hanging off the side. From the PR, the videos and the glossy pics – first impressions are it looks pleasing to the eye, although it isn’t in the same class of iconic industrial design as Apple – but what is?
The main differentiators from a design perspective are a larger 10.6 inch display, a built-in ‘Kickstand’ for standing the tablet up on a hard surface and a cover that includes a touch sensitive keyboard with trackpad. It reminds me a lot of the critically acclaimed Asus Transformer ‘tablet with a keyboard’ combo.
Looks just like a laptop doesn’t it…
Most of the publicity shots include this keyboard cover and it seems as if Microsoft is deliberately trying to blur the boundaries between a laptop and a tablet, perhaps a strategic move to shift momentum back towards their heartland? They seem to want you to think that ‘with Microsoft you can have your cake and eat it – a tablet with all the benefits of a laptop.’
Hmmm. I’m not convinced this approach will unduly worry Apple or the other tablet manufacturers. Whilst I think both the keyboard cover and the integrated kickstand are nice features they’re a little gimmicky and they can easily be matched via the addition of accessories to any tablet.
By linking their tablet so heavily to laptop computers they could they risk a negative association with our working life. “Wow I can use this tablet with Excel!” is unlikely to be a thought that draws customers away from the competition.
The Surface cuts a very slim profile
The Surface has the obligatory built-in cameras, one for Skyping and one for taking pictures/capturing video (although why you’d want to take photos with something the size of a 10.6 inch tablet is beyond me). There’s an SD Card slot, a USB slot, up to 128GB of memory on board and an HD display with some marketing-fluff naming attached to it. You can check out the full tech specs here.
As for the software, there will be two main versions of the Microsoft Surface at launch, one running Windows 8 Pro and the other running Windows RT. The Pro version is a bit thicker in size and packs more processing power, presumably because it’s running a heavier version of the software.
Macbook Air anyone
Microsoft have been coy about the pricing and the launch date but it will probably cost at least as much as an iPad and launch in the Autumn.
So, will it be any good? I can’t comment on the most important part – the operating system – as you can only judge that when trying it out on the device in question, but I’m not a fan of Windows in general so I will probably take a lot of convincing.
One key issue the Surface will have to tackle is that it will take a monumental effort to get app developers to engage with a new tablet operating system and create Surface/Windows versions of their apps. The iPad without Apps would be a good-looking but pretty limited piece of technology – the choice of Apps are a huge part of what makes it an exceptional product.
Taking on Apple and Android head to head by building their own product was perhaps Microsoft’s only option to make a dramatic comeback in the tablet market, but aside from the Xbox, Microsoft doesn’t have a great track record in launching its own hardware. Can anyone remember the Zune music playing iPod rival? I didn’t think so…
Good luck Microsoft.
What do you think of the Microsoft Surface? Leave a comment below to let us know.