Updated 22 May, 2013, 7:43 pm IST
Thursday June 21 12:31 pm
Microsoft Surface Tablet with Windows 8 - First look
Microsoft made a little bit of history Monday; Microsoft announced that for the first time it was going to make its own tablet computers, called Microsoft Surface. There's lots of excitement around Microsoft's new foray into the hardware business. Below you'll find the basics on these new tablets and what it means for the tablet wars. During their splashy press conference on Monday, Steve Ballmer and the other Microsoft execs referred to the company's upcoming Surface devices as tablets. So it makes sense to compare them to other tablets, right? Actually, that's only half-right. The ARM-based Surface for Windows RT looks like--and will be priced like--competing tablets, but the Surface for Windows Pro will be too heavy and expensive to compete head-to-head with the iPad. (For the sake of simplicity, I'll refer to the two models as "Surface RT" and "Surface Pro" hereafter.) Surface Pro's natural competition Windows Ultrabooks. The tricky thing is that the Surface Pro is the tablet that many Windows users think they've been waiting for. It's the one that can do anything a desktop can do It can run the apps we have already (like Adobe Photoshop CS6, and Camera Bits Photo Mechanic), graphics-intensive games (like Diablo), and other tried-and-true Windows software; and it has a serious laptop processor, Intel's Core series that can power through complicated work. But the Surface Pro's price may not come in at what you'd expect for a tablet. You can buy a new 16GB iPad for $499, but Microsoft has said that the Surface Pro's price will be more comparable to that of an Ultrabook--likely hundreds of dollars more. Granted, that would put the Surface Pro closer in cost to a 64GB iPad ($700), but that price isn't the one that consumers have in their heads for a tablet. Nor is it a price that will generate mass-market tablet sales. Also, at nearly 2 pounds, the Pro will be far heavier than most tablets. Evidently the Surface Pro won't compete with top tablets in display resolution, either. Microsoft has said that the Surface Pro will have a "Full HD" display, meaning a display with a resolution of at least 1920 by 1200 pixels. That would put it on a par with the best Android tablets from Asus and Acer; but because those displays are 0.5 inch smaller, their pixel density should be better. And none of those tablets' resolutions can compare with the Apple iPad's at 2048 by 1536 pixels. The Takeaway on the Two Surfaces There's no question that Microsoft's decision to build its own tablets changes the market considerably. But until we know more-precise details about specs and pricing, accurately predicting how well the two Surface models will compete is quite difficult. In the end, the Surface RT may not quite be an iPad killer. Apps are paramount to tablet buyers, and until we see what kinds of Metro apps Microsoft and its developer partner's produce, many consumers may shy away from the Surface RT. Surface Pro, meanwhile, will challenge the current crop of laptops and Ultrabooks--and there it may well win. Why purchase a classic clamshell-style laptop if you can get a tablet that quickly and elegantly becomes a laptop when you need one--all without sacrificing performance, interoperability, or functionality? The big question here is whether consumers can manage with a 10.6-inch display as their laptop screen; for many consumers, I suspect, the convenience of a tablet/laptop hybrid may be worth the drawback of having to put up with a smaller screen. If not, just wait No doubt Microsoft's hardware partners are kicking plans to design Windows 8 tablets of their own into high gear--including models with bigger screens--to compete with the Surface Pro.