It’s a day worth nothing in your journal when Microsoft surprises us with a new, innovative product, so grab a pen and get comfortable. The company behind Windows, Office, XBox and Windows Phone unveiled a product that some had speculated about, but none had come close to nailing down: new Surface tablet.
And they even managed to pull it off with a bit of punk, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo cool.
While there’s a lot going on here, and surely much more to come over the next few months, here’s what you need to know about Microsoft’s upcoming Surface tablets:
Not a Table, a Tablet
Surface is not a replacement for your coffee table; Microsoft has adopted the name of their hotel and casino novelty for the new product line (the wisdom of this choice is open to debate). Surface is a line of tablet computers that will run Windows 8. There’ll be two models to choose from in the first wave, one running Windows RT – an ARM version of the new Windows 8 OS – and one running a full-blown version of Windows 8 on an Intel processor.
Surface (Windows RT)
Windows RT is the new ARM version of Windows 8 that’s created a lot of buzz; think of it as sort of Windows Phone on a tablet, only not. Windows RT is essentially the Metro interface from Windows 8 stripped of the legacy x86 software foundation, meaning (more or less) that it can only run ARM applications designed for RT, not traditional Windows apps.
This version of the Surface tablet will be like the iPad and Android tablets: a locked-down OS with an app store, media center, included software, and its own ecosystem.
Surface for Windows RT will be fairly thin, about 0.37-inches, and will weigh just over 1.5 pounds. It will have a 10.6-inch HD display with a 16:9 ratio and a molded magnesium shell. The processor is thought to be an Nvidia SoC. You’ll get both front and rear cameras, a USB 2.0 port, a microSDHC memory card slot (supporting cards up to 32GB), an HD video connector, and 802.11n Wi-Fi. You will also be able to choose either 32GB or 64GB of onboard flash storage. Microsoft Office Home & Student 2013 RT will also come pre-installed.
Surface has a built-in kickstand, but there’s also an interesting accessory for the tablet: the Touch Cover. It’s a 3mm-thick, magnetically connected screen cover (à la the Apple Smart Cover for iPad) that protects the screen when not in use, but folds out to expose a keyboard and multi-touchpad, transforming the tablet into a laptop-like device. If you prefer a more traditional keyboard experience, there will also be a Type Cover that works much the same way, but with more key travel.
This version of Surface will ship alongside Windows 8, likely in October. No word on pricing.
Surface Pro (Windows 8)
The other version is called Surface Pro, and it’s a full-on tablet PC. Surface Pro will include a complete version of Windows 8 for both Metro and traditional desktop apps, will be powered by a quad-core Intel Ivy Bridge i5 CPU, come with either 64GB or 128GB of onboard storage, and feature USB 3.0 and a mini DisplayPort. It’ll also have a microSDXC memory card slot for additional storage. The same 10.6-inch display will be there, but with extra pixels.
Because it has more PC-like components, the Surface Pro weighs a bit more (about 2 pounds) and is thicker than its ARM sibling, roughly half an inch thick.
The Surface Pro will work with the two keyboard/trackpad covers, but will also have a stylus with “palm block” for writing on the screen.
The “pro” version of Surface will ship a few months after the ARM version, either late 2012 or early 2013. No pricing has been announced. Strangely, Surface Pro will not ship with Office 2013.
Microsoft, at least at this early stage, seems to have struck the right cords with design; now we’ll have to see how well the OS performs, particularly Windows RT, and what the pricing will be.
If Microsoft is smart, i.e. if they have any hopes of having Surface swim not sink, they’ll price these tablets – more importantly the ARM-based Surface – way under the iPad.
When Microsoft introduced the XBox, the company took a loss on each device, a move that earned them ridicule at the time, but the second best-selling home game console in the world with profits aplenty today. If the Surface debuts at $400, they can go ahead and start working on a Zune-style flop; if the price is too good to resist, Surface just may rise to the top.
In any case, we can’t wait to use one.