Microsoft Makes Its Move, Debuts Surface

Microsoft remains a wealthy and powerful company.  It no longer is the king of computing hill but it still is a tremendous force to be reckoned with and I have thought for a while that it simply had too much money and resources to sit and allow Apple and Google to leave it behind.

So for the last several months Microsoft has been doing two things, continuously building up the successful user base of their XBOX360 console into more than just gamers, rather a total entertainment hub – and the previewing of Windows 8.  The new OS promises to be far more like the others and less like what you think when you consider a Windows OS.  It also holds the promise that what you get from the platform will be consistent from device to device.  Desktop to tablet to smartphone, Windows 8 wants to you know what to expect.

Yesterday Microsoft held what seemed to be a hastily organized conference in Los Angeles and the general prediction was that an e-reader was in the wings, some sort of relationship with Barnes and Noble. What I don’t think anyone expected was Microsoft’s attempt at the proverbial ‘left-hook’ squarely at the jaw of it competitors.

Microsoft’s Surface is their tablet, but it’s actually two different products in the same way the iPad is different from the MacBook Air.  Both hold the tablet form, but one has the guts and power of an ultra book.  Both have a 10.6 screen with proper 16:9 aspect ratio are really thin and reportedly have a “ruggedness” and “high quality feel” to them due to a magnesium case and a kickstand that pops out to hold it at the perfect 22 degrees needed of viewing and video chatting.  The display is called “Clear Type” and certainly shoots at Retina Display quality and falls just short of that in the pixel density department (264ppi v 208ppi).

The brand “Surface” had been attached to a large coffee table sized device topped with a piece of glass (now renamed PixelSense) that allowed for touch interaction and control that led many to think that was the direction Microsoft was headed with their OS and touchscreen.  But that has been recycled here with a non-Pro version that would run of the RT version of Windows 8 and has the same type of processing as other handheld devices (ARM), and then there is this Pro version that knocked everyone out with the news that it would run the full desktop version of Windows 8 and be powered by an Ivy Bridge Core i5, USB 3.0 and other specs that take the device from tablet to a new place of admiration in tech circles.  Here, Microsoft appears to actually built something really neat-o.  In other words, if Apple had released this device, Twitter would have crashed and Walt Mossberg may have had a heart attack from the excitement.

Topping off the cool new tricks is a cover, much like the one Apple added with the iPad2, that clicks onto the Surface, but when opened reveals a full keyboard and trackpad.  The versions shown to the press yesterday were not operable, so no one knows how it feels to work with, or how well it actually works… but it looks beautiful and awesome.

There is way better coverage to be read by people that have actually seen the devices and in some cases held one.

A couple of things to note:  We don’t know how much either of these will cost.  And that will be a giant consideration as the Pro version will probably come in at the $1000 mark which would give anyone pause to consider versus the options in that price range (Mac Book Air), and Windows 8 is going to have to be awesome to really make that deal work.  The RT (non-pro version) has the almost Herculean task of competing in the ring with the iPad – a device so completely in control of that market segment one wonders how anyone (Android or Microsoft) is ever going to best it.  Its price is going to have to be really competitive, below the $499 intro point for an iPad.  Microsoft’s biggest challenge here are the apps.  Apple has such a lead in the department that Android, already with several really nice tablets of their own, can’t grab a real number of developers to spend the time and money to make apps for them.  So, how Microsoft plans on successfully jumping that hurdle has yet to be seen.

It should be noted that Microsoft designed and is building these in-house.  No Dells, Lenovos or HPs.  This is Microsoft’s baby.  We also aren’t sure when these will arrive.  What we know is that the RT version will arrive along side Windows 8, and, confusingly, the version that actually runs on Windows 8 “90 days after that” – an early sign that Microsoft already has some better decision making to do.

Here’s the whole presentation via The Verge: