With Surface tablet, Microsoft breaks tradition

With Surface tablet, Microsoft breaks tradition

Summary: The company announces pair of Microsoft-branded "Surface" tablets running Windows 8 and Windows RT at long-awaited product unveiling in Los Angeles.

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Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (Credit: CNET

It's the end of an era. Or maybe the start of a new one.

Microsoft -- a company that traditionally has relied exclusively on its PC partners to provide hardware powered by its Windows operating system -- is trying out a new business model with next Windows release.

The company is going to offer two Microsoft-branded tablets of its own, both of which are branded as Microsoft Surface.

Microsoft isn't actually manufacturing these new tablets itself -- just as it doesn't actually "make" the Xbox or the now defunct Zune media player. But it will be putting the Microsoft name on these devices. And this, many have speculated, will set up Microsoft as a head-to-head competitor with its own PC maker partners.

Pricing or any information on availability is not available yet. All officials are saying, via today's press release, is that "suggested retail pricing will be announced closer to availability and is expected to be competitive with a comparable ARM tablet or Intel Ultrabook-class PC. OEMs will have cost and feature parity on Windows 8 and Windows RT."

Both Windows RT, Microsoft's Windows on ARM operating system, and Windows 8 are expected to be released to manufacturing this summer, possibly as early as the end of July. And they are expected by us Microsoft watchers to be generally available around August or so.

The Surface for Windows RT is a 10.6-inch device that will include Office Home & Student 2013 RT (the next version of Microsoft's Office 15 apps). It will include support for a magnetically attachable cover that lets you touch type and a kickstand. It will be configurable as a 32 GB or 64 GB device.

The Surface Windows 8 Pro device also is 10.6 inches and includes the same cover option. It is configurable as a 64 GB or 128 GB device and also adds pen support.

In addition to pricing and availability, we also do not know who is building this device for Microsoft. (Samsung Electronics built the Surface 2.0 device, which is the latest version of Microsoft's Surface tabletop computer.) We also do not know if Microsoft is going to have other Surface-branded devices in the family -- including the existing Surface 2.0. (I've asked. No word back yet.)

Microsoft Surface.

The specs include:
  • A full-size USB port and a 16:9 aspect ratio angled at 22 degrees.
  • 10.6-inch, 16:9 widescreen HD Display.
  • Integrated Kickstand: Built-in kickstand lets users move Surface from active use to passive consumption.
  • Touch Cover: 3 mm pressure-sensitive Touch Cover senses keystrokes as gestures will come in different colors.

Panos Panay, general manager of Microsoft's Surface project, (Credit: CNET)

Microsoft came out with a couple of Surface models. One runs an ARM processor for Windows RT, the other an Intel core processing chip for Windows 8 Pro.

Surface for Windows RT

  • OS: Windows RT
  • Light(1): 676 g
  • Thin(2): 9.3 mm
  • Clear: 10.6" ClearType HD Display
  • Energized: 31.5 W-h
  • Connected: microSD, USB 2.0, Micro HD Video, 2x2 MIMO antennae
  • Productive: Office '15' Apps, Touch Cover, Type Cover
  • Practical: VaporMg Case & Stand
  • Configurable: 32 GB, 64 GB

Surface for Windows 8 Pro

  • OS: Windows 8 Pro
  • Light(1): 903 g
  • Thin(2): 13.5 mm
  • Clear: 10.6-inch ClearType Full HD Display
  • Energized: 42 W-h
  • Connected: microSDXC, USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort Video, 2x2 MIMO antennae
  • Productive: Touch Cover, Type Cover, Pen with Palm Block
  • Practical: VaporMg Case & Stand
  • Configurable: 64 GB, 128 GB

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

    About

    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).

    Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

    Talkback

    149 comments
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    • Old Surface

      is now just PixelSense.
      ewqaewqa
      • I'm kinda wondering...

        ... When pixelSense's PixelSense technology will appear in Windows. Seems like an odd omission to Windows 8/RT tablets.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • Brilliant move by Microsoft

      Its a good decision, otherwise Hardware makers were having their own time to bring anything worthwhile till now.

      This will make them more competitive and in turn help Microsoft.

      Technically any of the 700 million Windows 7 desktop are game for the Pro version, full compatibility to Windows 7, USB, Flash support which none others can claim.

      Microsoft is back in business !
      ninjacut
      • Harware partners are key

        It will be interesting to see how they handle this. I'm not thinking they will be pleased.
        symbolset
        • How pleased has MS been with its hardware partners?

          Can you remind us how many Windows tablets those partners have sold in the last 10 years?

          Oh right, nearly none. The truth is that nearly everyone other than Apple has lost money so far on tablets. It isn't like MS is stealing a profitable business away from any of its partners. In fact, MS is probably saving them money.
          toddbottom3
        • Maybe not but...

          The OEMs need to kick it into gear. There were a bunch of form-factors shown at Computex, but none of them were too impressive. In fact a lot of them seemed like they were pretty poorly made.

          I have no doubt that the Surface Tablets will be successful. My guess is that the OEMs will initially be pissed off, but will then strive to redesign their models with more thought.

          Microsoft has had this problem for awhile. They have an idea for how devices should be made, but the OEMs just don't deliver on it. Apple has clearly delivered in the UX area, and now Microsoft is trying to show the OEMs that you don't have to be Apple to be unique.
          wjohnsto
        • But that was Microsoft's issue

          @todd

          But let's get real, why was it hardware partners couldn't sell Windows tablets? Was it because they sucked, or because they lacked a proper tablet operating system?

          Yes, the hardware does kind of suck (battery life), but even if that issue weren't there Windows 7 is not a tablet/touch friendly operating system. So if the Windows 7 tablets had great battery life and anything else you would want, the operating system would have made it unbearable.

          (I will disclose I have never used Windows 7 with touch, but Windows 7 is meant for a mouse, not your fingers)

          Now Microsoft actually has a very usable touch-friendly operating system that hardware partners can innovate with.
          ian.aldrighetti
        • Microsoft will still need partners

          @ wjohnsto

          The OEMs shouldn't be too worried anyway. They know that one of the reasons Apple do poorly in corporate and markets is because IT departments don't like to rely on a single vendor. They want interchangeable hardware, so they can threaten to switch vendors. If the Windows tablet market were to degrade into a single-vendor market, IT departments would choose something else, like Android.
          WilErz
        • They won't be

          But this is meant to motivate them to create better devices.
          dsa791
      • So are the virus makers

        It's going to be hilarious when there's an entire zombie bot army of Windows tablets going up in smoke at the same time.
        Pete&Pete
        • So, like Apple

          The Apple zombies outside the Apple store on release day is actually pretty disgusting.
          hoaxoner
        • what a dumb ass...

          Apple boy getting scared are ya?
          SimonMcG
      • Having thought about it, I agree it was probably a good move

        The hardware vendors have been selling (mediocre) tablets running Android, so can hardly complain about Microsoft entering the tablet market. A lot of them have also tried to sell Linux netbooks and PCs, but found that hardly anyone wants them (unlike servers, where Linux still lags far behind Windows, but has a respectable market share).

        If the PC/tablet vendors had been 'loyal' to Microsoft, that would be one thing, but they haven't. At the end of the day, these are all profit maximising firms. Under US corporation law, shareholders have full control over public firms. They employ managers to do one thing: maximise profit.
        WilErz
    • Good luck with that...

      I really hope Microsoft hits it this time. As a BUILD conference attendee, I have the Samsung PC/tablet hybrid, but I can't make my mind as to what it does best. As a tablet it is too heavy and too wide, albeit it is very responsive and "fluid." As a PC it performs excellently (Intel i5). My only problem: having to carry the "dismembered" parts looked like fun in the beginning, but it's turned out to be a hassle when carrying it somewhere.

      The Microsoft Surface Pro improvements from the Samsung BUILD seem to be in the display for the Pro and definitely the keyboard. For the Microsoft Surface RT the smaller form factor, thinness and weight are certainly welcome.

      Now, about that upcoming price and who's the manufacturer partnering with Microsoft...Samsung? Acer? Nokia?
      ljestrada
      • Probably Sharp again

        Sharp helped them with KIN. Jobbed it out to Elcoteq.
        symbolset
      • The colors are just looking like Nokia Lumia phones

        I am hoping it is Nokia.
        Ram U
      • No dismembered parts

        If I'm looking at this right you won't have any parts to carry around. The kickstand is part of the device, and I believe the keyboard just flips up over the screen to protect it. It shouldn't be a hassle to carry this around, I hope.
        dsa791
    • Not a chance

      Why does an image of plaid bermuda shorts and pale white legs with black socks come to mind?

      Just a hunch but it feels like a dud. Some sort of a hybrid between a tablet and a laptop, trying to clone an entertainment center with a work station. Lord, help us...
      prof123
      • That's retarded

        I love how people really think carrying around two separate devices for all their needs is the "optimum" situation. Every iPad owner I know says the same thing: "This is great, now only if I could work with it too..." The bluetooth keyboard is crap. My wife took hers back after a day. Not to mention, it's still a situation where you're having to carry around two separate peices of hardware for all your needs.

        MS is getting criticism for attempting this convergence, and it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. My Transformer is fantastic for my reading, playing games, and WORKING; The only thing holding it back is the limitations of Android (which are few but noteable). My transformer tablet 810 will be the perfect machine.
        d20dad
      • still better than iFad

        Hunch away all ya want. In the meantime, over at iFruit, they are saying "We shoulda done this with iFad." and iFad users have been saying from day 1 "You should have a kickstand at the least".
        DigitalAtheist