Microsoft's Surface: A few answers yet more questions

Microsoft's Surface: A few answers yet more questions

Summary: Microsoft's Surface could be the lucky winner in the PC industry's form factor derby. But there are enough unknowns to warrant a wait-and-see approach.

Credit: Microsoft

Microsoft released a few more details about its Surface tablet, its touch cover and the pricing model. Filling in those blanks are important, but many important questions remain about the Surface.

The Surface starts at $499---$599 with the touch cover---and Ed Bott has played with one for a bit. CNET's Eric Franklin also weighed in.

However, we still don't know how this Windows RT device really works in the field. As a result, it's a good bet that the well-engineered Surface is going to take a bit of time to ramp. Sure, you can preorder the Surface tablet today, but are you really going to make that leap given that Microsoft is working with a new OS with a learning curve and ARM architecture?

More:  Microsoft finally takes the wraps off its Surface hardware | Is the Microsoft Surface keyboard a big mistake? | Surface RT pricing puts Microsoft's tablet head to head with iPad | Microsoft Surface: Will you 'click in' for $120 extra? | Businesses can't use Office on Windows RT tablets!? | Microsoft's Surface: Critical to Windows 8 launch as PC hedge

Here are issues that are keeping my urge to preorder in check:

Do I want to wait for the Pro version of the Surface? Surface Pro is going to be Intel based and will work with legacy Windows applications. That support is appealing, but the reality is Office is probably the only thing I'd need on it. Worries about whether Windows RT will be orphaned at some point could keep initial demand in check.

Surface is an unknown commodity. Windows 8 has an earnings curve and frankly we're used to Apple and Amazon owning the tablet market. I'm going to need a bit of word of mouth before plunking down my own dough on the Surface.

Apps. App selection is important and it's unclear what the Windows 8 app store will hold. Ditto for Windows RT.

Pricing. The Surface is priced on par with Apple's iPad. The issue is the iPad is a known commodity. Given the pricing, the Surface has to perform on par to better than the iPad. We just don't have enough data to gauge a bake-off between the two tablets.

I'm not an early adopter. There's no need to rush into the Windows 8 tablet market. My plan is to let others lead the way, I'll gauge word of mouth, play around and spend accordingly.

Why all the uncertainty? Let's face it. The PC industry has no clue what form factor will ultimately win. Vendors are pitching convertibles, touch enabled laptops, tablets and everything in between. Intel CEO Paul Otellini said that we won't know for a year what form factor becomes dominant.

Speaking on Intel's third quarter earnings conference call, Otellini said:

I don't think that the tablet as we've seen it evolve over the last several years is the end state of computing. The innovation is going to start pouring in now that you have widely available SKUs on a widely distributed (Windows 8) that will come from multiple vendors that can unleash their creativity. I can't predict what form factors are going to win here but I do think that some of these things that have sort of the best of both worlds---the performance and the capability of a laptop and the form factor and convenience of a tablet are likely to be the things that are most high volume runners. 

We honestly won't know for 12 months.

In other words, the Surface could be the lucky winner, but why bet early as a tech buyer?  

Topics: Tablets, Enterprise Software, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobility, Windows

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


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Underpowered And Overpriced

    Every new detail they reveal about these Surface devices just seems to be another reason for disappointment. First the prices are high; now what about performance and actual capabilities?

    Microsoft's mobile efforts have a dismayingly long track record of overpromising and underdelivering. So far Surface has shown no signs of deviating from the pattern.
    • so lets see

      A powerful OS on a tablet....
      Ability to run 2 apps side by side....
      Free copy of office...
      Arguably the best built tablet ever based on peoples hands on experience...
      Quad core processor more powerful than Ipad 3 and same on GFX

      Explain your troll post please?
      • oh

        Add to that double capacity on comparable Ipads.
        DLNA support so you can stream to any modern TV without having to splash money on Apple TV.
        Both offer the same bluetooth / Wifi specs....
        Both weigh almost exactly the same
        Surface uses micro USB to charge, which is much better than a stupid Apple adaptor.
        Surface has a built in USB Port
        Surface has a built in TV out
        Surface supports micro SD... so in essance you can have 128GB on a tablet.
        Surface has the same sensors AND a Magnetometer
        Surface front facing camera is miles better than Ipad3... which is where you need it on a tablet, back facing cameras are pointless or for saddos trying to show off

        The only thing Ipad really has over surface

        Apps and 3g / 4g.

        Apps will come once windows 8 is released. 3g/4g model - who knows.
        • 3g/4g

          Emm... A 3G USB dongle can be used with the USB port so...
          • exactly

            or tethered via blue-tooth to your phone. Why take on an expensive mobile contract when I carry my phone everwhere I go.
          • 3g via my tethered mobile

            Can I link to 3g via a non Windows mobile device, e.g., my Blackerry? If so, how?
          • emm

            Im a big fan of the surface, but until you show me proof that dongle supporters will be included with RT i wont include it as a feature.
          • erm...

            Why not just set your mobile phone to be a Wi-fi hotspot?

            PS. I've got a Surface - it's awesome. I'm glad it hasn't got 3g in it because 4g is rolling out in the UK next year, hence 3g would have been redundant - better to upgrade the mobile phone and use it as a wi-fi hotspot (IMHO).
          • How do you know this?

            Could you please point us to an publication, by Microsoft or some happy Surface user, how 3G USB modems can be used with the Surface?

            Can we also attach USB Ethernet adapters? Perhaps USB cameras? Or.. anything USB :)
          • Not really...

            Drivers... my friend... drivers...
        • Actually, the wifi is better...

          Assuming the double antennae (MIMO) lives up to expectations.
        • A touch netbook vs everything else

          The Surface (especially the Pro) is akin to having a light, high quality netbook with a touchscreen, which means that you can do EVERYTHING on the go. Install your favorite programs (Photoshop, uTorrent) and games (emulators, Mass Effect, Elder Scrolls) and basically take your desktop with you anywhere. I currently do this now with my Viewpad 10.

          USB & Micro sd open up loads of options that you simply can't have with iOS or Android (like Xbox usb controllers). 4G is just a matter of tethering your rooted phone, and with Chrome and Xmarks on phones you can switch between phone or Surface seamlessly. The only thing I'm wondering about is how does the keyboard respond when the cover is flipped to the back of the tab...
          Sim Lash
          • Keyboard...

            Is disabled as soon as you flip it to the back of the tablet. Sweet.
        • GREAT POINTS

          extremely valid points, and who really needs 3g when you can now even use mifi that is wireless, portable as a phone and mobile with connections of up to 5 devices, works even better than 3g.

          So if anyone was worried about the 3g capability, worry no more cause mifi is an option to cover that aspect
        • Return policy

          Anyone who buys surface RT should look carefully at the return policy. There's two things that are going to happen after Christmas. Returned units and Boxing Day specials. The sale of refurbished RT's Will fill up the shelves. I sure wouldn't want to be the guy that put this thing under the tree. I bet the kids will just love you for it. Well maybe not so much...
      • For some people, anything MS does is a disappointment

        MS could find the cure for cancer, yet some would be disappointed that they din't find it sooner. If one thing in life is true, it's that you can't please everybody.

        So you just have to quit worrying about people like that, and move on. You'll never convince them to change their view, they've made up their mind, and that's that.
        William Farrel
        • l

          Well bill gates is trying to cure Malaria and every one still calls him a greedy bastard.... Some people just cant win haha!
        • We all know

          that the only way Microsoft could make a product that doesn't suck is if they produced vacuum cleaners. :-)

          Actually, I'm not keen on Windows (any version) but I've always had good luck with Microsoft hardware. They make some pretty good keyboards and mice. Here's hoping that these tablets are more in line with their past hardware offerings than with Bob and Bing.
        • If Microsoft cured cancer then the Apple Jacks...

          Would quickly explain how Steve Jobs originally had the cure for cancer in the iPad but he decided to cut it out as it was an unusually high drain on battery life and he felt there wasnt a big enough demand for it.

          They would then go on to tell us how the Microsoft cure for cancer was going to be a big flop because it would be too bloated, too slow and have too many security risks.
      • hands on experience

        Care to point us to users, who had hands on experience with the Surface?
        Where are the apps?

        Any computer is pretty much useless without good application software.