CES: Might Microsoft talk Surface tablets?

CES: Might Microsoft talk Surface tablets?

Summary: As the guesses and rumors about Microsoft's planned Consumer Electronics Show (CES) announcements continue to multiply, I've decided to throw another into the mix. I'm wondering whether CEO Steve Ballmer and Co. might announce a strategy and/or roadmap for tablet-sized Surface devices this week.


CES 2011

As the guesses and rumors about Microsoft's planned Consumer Electronics Show (CES) announcements continue to multiply, I've decided to throw another into the mix. I'm wondering whether CEO Steve Ballmer and Co. might announce a strategy and/or roadmap for tablet-sized Surface devices this week.

This is purely a guess on my part. It isn't based on a rumor or tip. But here's what's got me wondering:

  • In 2008, Microsoft execs said that a PC-sized version of the Surface multi-touch table could feasibly debut by 2011.
  • Microsoft is known to have been testing the market interest in a smaller Surface. Microsoft execs have investigated a variety of possible form factors that such a device (codenamed Oahu) might encompass
  • Microsoft researchers have been working on a project, known as Manual Deskerity, that is focused on bringing some of the tools and technologies demonstrated in those Courier tablet prototype videos, to the Surface

But the biggest reason I started mulling a Surface announcement -- or even just a "this is coming some day" demo -- at CES is because of a change in a Microsoft executive's bio I discovered this past weekend.

Michael Angiulo is the Corporate Vice President of Planning, Hardware and PC Ecosystem team at Microsoft. Prior to December 30, his corporate bio said he was overseeing planning for Windows, Windows Live and Internet Explorer. On December 30, his bio was updated with this line: "In addition, he is responsible for Surface Computing, PC Hardware, and a variety of partner engagement programs such as WinHEC, the Logo programs for hardware and systems, and direct engineering engagements with OEMs, IHVs and ISVs."

The Surface teams was one of those left in limbo after former Entertainment & Devices chief Robbie Bach's departure from Microsoft last year. When I asked where Microsoft planned to move the Surface team, I was told it was TBD (to be determined). It seems the Surface unit has landed...

A number of Microsoft watchers have reported that Microsoft is going to announce a new version of Windows that can run on ARM chips at CES and focus on this platform as the company's slate offering. (Microsoft execs have told me on more than one occasion that there will be no new version of Windows before Windows 8, so unless the Softies are ready to talk Windows 8, I'm curious what this means.)

As I've blogged previously, I'm more inclined to think Microsoft is going to talk about Windows Embedded as its slate offering at this week's show. (I'm starting to think it might be Windows Embedded Standard 7, rather than Windows Embedded Compact 7, given Microsoft officials have said Embedded Standard is well-suited for thin clients and networked media devices...)

But back to the Surface. I'm skeptical that the recent updating of Angiulo's bio was coincidental. I'd expect he'll play a role in Ballmer's CES address.  The question is whether the Surface also will play a role when Ballmer keynotes on January 5....

As I've said, this is all unsourced speculation on my part. What do you think?

Topics: Laptops, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Tablets, Windows


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • RE: CES: Might Microsoft talk Surface tablets?

    I hope so! Isn't Surface pretty much Windows Embedded with some added touch frameworks and a better name?
    • RE: CES: Might Microsoft talk Surface tablets?

      @incendy Surface uses cameras for additional touch information. Namely, you can get geometry and do image processing. This leads to infinitely more interaction possibilities over simple touch points. For instance you can read an ID card or react to changes in light. Potentially you could even read thumbprints or recognize faces.

      There are a couple of problems with this. Image processing takes up a lot more CPU than the touchscreens of today. This leads to some lag (like the Kinect). The cameras also take up space, hence the table size computers. The speed issue will obviously work itself out over time. Bill Buxton gave an interview several months ago where he discussed the possibility of including cameras as part of the construction of LCD screens. This would certainly solve the size problem, but he implied that the tech was about 3 years out.
      Rich Miles
      • Lower Tier MS Surface Design

        When you look at <a href=http://www.cheaplaptops.org.uk/20070601/microsoft-surface-diagram-how-it-all-works/>this diagram of the MS Surface computer</a>, you see where the screen is illuminated from the underside with infrared light, and cameras within the device capture images formed by the user interacting on the screen. I'm wondering if a more compact design can be achieved as far as imaging user interaction is concerned, by merely illuminating the screen from the underside as before with infrared light, but using a grid of optical sensors to capture variations in the reflected infrared light, due to user interaction onscreen. You won't get the type of image fidelity you would get from cameras used in the current system, but you would be able to get a more compact (possibly less expensive design), and you would be able to track as many fingers on screen, as you could using the current system. If such a system could be integrated into LCD and similar flat screen displays (the optical sensor grid may have to be transparent), you could end up with a touch system suitable for a lower tier MS Surface computer. The lower tier MS surface computer may not be able to interact with real world objects as it does now, but it would be able to track the fingers of multiple users, which is sufficient, I believe, for most MS Surface applications.
        P. Douglas
      • RE: CES: Might Microsoft talk Surface tablets?


        Thank you for the info, that is very cool. I hope they can get all that in a smaller package. I also still love the name, seems like it would be very easy to market
    • classic

      @incendy <br>the worst microsoft shill on the internet just won't let go. microsoft biggest failure (after kin) now in a tablet form factor! she heard some rumors! but how will they put all those cameras needed into a tablet? a 10 inch thick tablet? would be a classic microsoft move ... hilarious.<br><br>and if you haven't seen it yet, it simply doesn't get old:<br><a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZrr7AZ9nCY" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"><a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZrr7AZ9nCY" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZrr7AZ9nCY</a></a>
      banned from zdnet
      • LOL


        Hilarious...utterly hilarious...

        :D :D
        ahh so
  • It would be pretty neat

    To combine WM7 and Surface into a tablet. Bonus points if they could fit Kinect systems into it as well for gesture computing.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • Gesture computing with tablets?

      @Cylon Centurion 0005

      How would that work, then? I saw one person using a Kinect to play World of Warcraft, and he seemed to need a lot of space to swing his arms around in. (And his "gesture vocabularly" was by no means complete, either!) He also had one of the biggest monitors I have ever seen, because he wanted to stand in front of it and still see what was happening in the game. The lesson appeared to be that "gesture computing" means Big, whereas a tablet is Small with lots of people using them on crowded trains. So Small would imply "touch computing", don't you think?
      • Not really.


        Gesture computing doesn't mean you need space. Simple, small hand gestures is all you would need.

        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • Really? I wonder...

        @Cylon Centurion 0005

        I'm thinking "small hand gestures involving touch". <b>You</b> might flick your fingers with pinpoint accuracy (being a Cylon), but I'm Human and do not ;-).

        The technology demonstrated in your link looks like it's got rid of the need of a tablet object <i>entirely</i>, projecting simple controls onto whichever surface happens to be available. With sensor objects attached to four fingers too.
      • Well it was a start


        Of what I was trying to suggest. I don't know if you saw "Avatar" or not, but there was a scene in there where one of the scientists was working at a desktop terminal, and when he went to get up, "grabbed" the window off the desktop and "threw" it onto a tablet he had in his hand, which I though was pretty cool.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
  • RE: CES: Might Microsoft talk Surface tablets?

    I am a huge fan of the potential of surface. If they have figured out how to shrink the surface to the size of a tablet, I would swoon. I don't care what the battery life would have to be. The apps you could create would be breathtaking.

    That said, I play with them every chance I get and I'm always underwhelmed. They are bulky and laggy. A lot of the surface demos I have seen lately relate to how you can use touch and a pen together. Ugh. Give up the stylus already. If Ballmer comes out with a pen, so help me...
    Rich Miles
  • Conflicting views on Windows Embedded

    MJ: Isn't Windows Embedded designed for specialized devices designed for a single application role or a dedicated purpose?

    I mean, doesn't that definition put limitations on what OEM's can offer as a "tablet PC"? An embedded device isn't designed to be a "PC". The only option I could see is that it's designed to be a "media tablet", or something similar.

    Doesn't that go against what Microsoft was talking up already: a slate tablet for consumers "with full Windows compatibility"? Windows Embedded isn't designed to have "full" compatibility - it's designed to be compatible with Windows software as a device with dedicated functionality.

    I've run into these speedbumps when talking to ODM's about component manufacturing. When I say we're looking at designing a "consumer device", they immediately shut us down and claim that " 'embedded' device manufacturing and consumers don't mix", even though the embedded hardware channel has exactly what we're looking for. Microsoft even pushes Windows Embedded device manufacturers to the same channel.

    Why the double-speak?

    We're looking at building consumer devices designed around cloud computing and media activities, but we don't want to limit consumer options for loading additional software. Some Windows 7 components can be lifted out to streamline this, and licensing costs are also much cheaper per unit, so Windows Embedded Standard is desirable, but if we can't get past licensing legal speak, and hardware companies don't want to build consumer hardware, we're stuck at a roadblock.
  • and really long power cords

    It would be great to have a highly mobile Windows experience. But the devil is in the details - like long battery life, intuitive user experience and interaction model, and elegant hardware design. Cutting the legs from Surface, adding batteries (or longer power cords), and shrinking the screen feels like a smaller hammer and not an iPad competitor.
    • RE: CES: Might Microsoft talk Surface tablets?

      You hit the nail on the head. Battery life is one major step to success in the tablet arena.
      I also believe that Surface is MS's little hobby for the time being.
  • Guys, MS has been stabbing in the dark trying to figure out tablets for a

    number of years. Don't expect anything brilliant from the dildo CEO.
    • &quot;Don't expect anything brilliant&quot;


      The same could be said of your posts.
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • RE: CES: Might Microsoft talk Surface tablets?

        @Cylon Centurion 0005 LOL!
  • I said so before &amp; I'll say it again...

    Apple might launch their own 'table' this year.
    • Not likely..

      @rmac_z... while surface is an interesting concept, the fact is it really isn't a consumer driven product. Given the fact that Apple is shuttering its Server lines save for the Mac Pro and the Mac Mini Server, Apple is squarely doing most of their business in the consumer and mobile space computing.

      I have always thought that a surface style computing desk would be kind of cool, but again you lose the ability to be mobile.

      Apple has been more focused on the mobile sector for all these reasons, moving to a surface furniture computing platform wouldn't be in place with the mobile sector, nor would any consumer have any need/want for a big piece of computing furniture in their home.