Microsoft’s new tablet computer, Surface, is their first foray into hardware since they unveiled the Xbox more than a decade ago. And just like the Xbox, the new Surface tablets look poised to take the world by storm.
Back in 2009, the editors of “Wired” magazine said that over the coming five years it would be tablet computing that would become the new cutting-edge in technology. This was on the heels of the release of the iPad in early 2010 and, by all accounting, their assessment of the industry was spot on.
Until now, tablets, for the most part, have not been considered true productivity tools. Their processing capabilities are limited and their virtual keyboards are not conducive to creating or completing any real amount of serious work product. They’ve also lacked any real ability to interface with many devices because of a lack of input ports. The new Surface tablet proposes to overcome these limitations and is being billed as a true productivity tablet.
Surface will come in two flavors. One is powered by the Intel Ivy Bridge chips and will feature the Windows 8 Pro operating system. The other, powered by an ARM chipset, will come standard with the Windows RT operating system. Both feature 10.6″ ClearType HD displays.
The Intel version weighs less than two pounds, is 13.5mm thick, USB 3.0 support, and offers 64GB and 128GB configurations. It also features an included “pen” for used on the touch screen, which definitely puts this version into the “productivity” class of tablets.
The ARM version is a mere 9mm thick, comes in at a sleek 1.5 pounds, and offers storage options of 32GB and 64GB.
Both versions of Surface come with virtual keyboards as part of their operating systems, but come with the option of using either a “touch” or “type” keyboard cover. The “touch” covers are super-thin (3mm) keyboards that don’t feature raised keys, but do offer a larger, more tradition typing surface compared to software-based virtual keyboards. The “type” keyboard is a more traditional, “raised key” keyboard like those found on laptops.
Both keyboards come standard with multi-touch keys and trackpads for a more traditional keyboard experience, which puts Surface ahead of its competition as there’s no question when it comes to being able to type faster on a tradition keyboard compared to typing on virtual keyboards through glass.
Microsoft is expected to roll out the ARM version of Surface in October, in time for the holiday shopping season, with the Intel version expected three months later. It’s unclear today what each version of Surface will cost, but industry experts say it will have to launch at a competitive price point if it expects to compete against the iPad from Apple and the Galaxy from Samsung, which most likely means less than $1,000.
Viewed as the next evolution of tablets, Surface makes the leap toward productivity, which has always been the knock on tablets to this point. If its claims of productivity are borne out, the portable computing industry could see traditional laptop users jettisoning their hardware in favor of Surface, and other tablet manufacturers following suit to beef up their offerings. No matter what happens, however, Microsoft looks poised to become a significant player in tablet computing. For many who’ve been watching the sustained growth in this particular sector, it’s about time the software giant jumped into the mix.