After last week's secret announcement card
inviting tech bloggers and developers to a big unveil, the excitement has been building about Microsoft. For the Redmond company to be on the excitement radar is very atypical; we usually crane our necks back and forth for the alternating tennis match of feature releases between Twitter, Facebook, Apple, Google and others.
At 4:00 p.m. PST today, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took the stage in Los Angeles, and got quickly to it, first touting the number of machines around the world running Windows. Ballmer quickly moved to why everyone was there, to either quell or fulfill the rumors that Microsoft had a tablet to share...
"With Windows 8, we did not want to leave any seam uncovered," said Ballmer, talking to a packed and excited house. "We wanted to give (Windows 8) its own companion innovation." We wanted to provide "something new, something different, a whole new family of computing devices..."
With that important word thrown out there, Ballmer brought forth a gleaming, new black tablet PC, as the word Surface appeared on the screen
. Surface is "a tool to surface your passion, your creativity," said Ballmer to the excited crowd.
Windows Live and Windows Division President Steven Sinofsky took the stage shortly after Ballmer, demonstrating the new device. Details immediately out the gate? Surface comes in two models, one running Windows RT (a somewhat toned-down version of Windows 8) and an upscale model running Windows 8 Professional.
Additional image slideshow courtesy PC World
Surface has a 10.6 inch display (with HD on the Pro version), weighs in at 1.5 lbs for RT and 1.9 lbs for Pro, with thicknesses ranging from 9.3 -13.5 mm. The slick looking case is a vapor-magnesium, fused into a scratch-resistant alloy mix during the melting process.
Surface has an NVidia ARM processor for RT and a far more powerful Core i5 Ivy Bridge processor for the Pro version. The USB port (2.0 for RT and 3.0 for Pro) was shown to be capable of transferring a 1 GB file in 5 seconds - nothing to scoff at, either.
Magnetic areas are built-into the case, so that Microsoft's specialized custom cover can snap on and off.
The very interesting cover doubles as a full, micro-thin keyboard - a feature that drew applause from the attending audience. The new and very cool cover is called Touch Cover, with another upscale version sporting a built-in trackpad, called the Type Cover.
Surface's cases were shown in a variety of initial colors, including white, black, blue, red and very bright pink. The cover's keyboard lights up when connected, to let you know everything is ready for use, and it also knows when it's folded back, due to its own built-in accelerometer. These are details that will not go missed by those who finally get a chance to test the Surface.
Also shown was a built-in viewing stand that comes with Surface, allowing it to be used, out of the box, as a laptop-type tool or multimedia device. "Putting a kickstand in the produce flies in the face of a seamless design, but we knew if we couldn't make it work, the device wouldn't work."
It would seem that the coupling of the kickstand and the Touch Cover, Microsoft is trying as best it can to steer people away from purchasing cases for the device, in order to make it more accessible. The Gorilla Glass display should help with this regard as well. Microsoft is definitely trying hard to make this your next laptop — as long as you get the Pro version (and who wouldn't!)
Netflix was briefly shown to the crowd, demonstrating a "semantic zoom" feature. Unfortunately, the first tablet shown by Ballmer crashed, so he had to obtain a second from the table on the stage — not a good sign, especially for those of us old enough to remember the many crashes of XP and pre-XP operating system days.
Observers stated some dismay that Microsoft didn't spend more time showing a variety of multimedia and tools being displayed or used on Surface for the crowd during the keynote address. We'll have to wait for future hands-on reports with this regard (hint, hint - Microsoft,
Senior VP of Product Marketing Phil Schiller then took the stage, revealing that Surface uses "perimeter" or ambient cooling to keep the device cool. Schiller also brought out a digital ink stylus, and wrote on the device with 600 dpi clarity. "Feels like writing exactly on the page," said Schiller of the stylus, adding that Surface contains two digitizers within, one for finger touch transactions, and one for digital ink input via the stylus, so the two input mediums can be used together without confusing the tablet device.
After a how-it-was-made video was presented, it was obvious Microsoft is extremely proud of its Touch and Type Cover system, demonstrating it even further, stating how many layers (7) were squeezed together in its manufacture. Apparently, you can even rest your hands on the keyboard without activating any keys inadvertently.
The price and availability? Surface is to be provided in 32 GB and 64 GB versions, with a Pro version up to 128 GB; however, no price information was revealed, other than Ballmer taking the stage again and telling the audience Surface would be "priced to compete". This was a bit of a let-down, because one of the major competitive points that will set off Surface from iPad would've been how much. Priced to compete can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. As to delivery, expect the RT version sometime this Fall, with the Pro version hopefully before the Holiday season. Fingers crossed...
"Because of Windows 8, the Surface is a PC. The Surface is a tablet." Said Ballmer, wrapping up the keynote for Microsoft's big event. "The Surface is something new."
With Surface Microsoft appears to have found its own voice in the explosive tablet market. I hope Microsoft learns at least one lesson from Apple's success, and delivers on a price point ASAP, as well as a firm delivery time frame.
Lastly, I hope this device gets into the hands of techies and bloggers soon, as this is Microsoft's chance to stand behind the device, warts and all. For now, let's just wait and see just how new-fangled Surface is.
^ Damn I was expecting something better, Is there really a market for super-dumbed down tech? I guess that makes em more cash than a niche uber-tech market,