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But the Surface announcement raises as many question as it answers. And though it’s pretty clear that Apple and its iPad are the target of this product, Microsoft is taking a decidedly non-Apple approach to its design and creation.
Virtually everything about the Surface tablet is bizarre, even its name, which was previously used for a lumbering series of smart tables—yes, tables, not tablets—that have been unceremoniously recast as PixelSense. But what many on-site reports from the day of the launch didn’t care to mention is perhaps the most bizarre bit of all: The Surface tablet doesn’t even exist. It’s vaporware.
The devices that Microsoft showed off earlier this week weren’t real; they were simply prototypes. And anyone claiming to have gotten “hands-on” time with a Surface tablet was exaggerating, at best: No one was allowed to touch a working prototype, so those typing videos occurred on dead pieces of hardware without a working screen.
It's worth noting Thurrott skipped the announcement, so his reaction is based on secondhand accounts and viewing the video of the announcement. It's mostly a list of questions, interspersed with some sharp jabs. Given his generally pro-Microsoft leanings, it's curiously dismissive.
One factual correction: The machines shown at the Monday event were not prototypes. Microsoft's engineers probably built and tested hundreds of prototypes over the past three years as they refined the technologies in Surface. What Microsoft showed off on Monday represents the results of all those tests from all those prototypes. The Surface designs we saw are identical to the final product that will ship later this year. It might be more accurate to call them engineering samples.
This is a perceptive column from an experienced Microsoft watcher:
Let’s be clear, though: Microsoft making hardware is not a natural action. It’s what the company does in times of desperation. With the release of Windows 8 looming, Microsoft was indeed desperate for a hardware company to do something to blunt Apple’s runaway tablet machine. The Surface tablet represents an indictment of the entire PC and device industry, which has stood by for a couple of years trying to mimic Apple with a parade of hapless, copycat products.
Rather than complaining, PC makers ought to take note of what Microsoft has produced. It has one tablet—a 9 mm thick, 1.5 pounder—that will run on low-power ARM chips and arrive around October. The black device has beautiful, beveled edges; its shell is made of what Microsoft calls vapor-deposited magnesium, or VaporMg. (Brushed aluminum is so last year, Apple.) It also has a built-in kickstand. Best of all, the device comes with a cover that locks firmly in place, unlike Apple’s flimsy iPad protector, and which functions as a proper keyboard. Both the kickstand and cover-cum-keyboard seem such obvious ideas now that we’ve seen them, yet the great army of PC makers failed to think up anything so clever over the past two years.
More than any other observer, Vance really captures the tone of the event, with details about the human participants that are lacking in the more gear-focused tech press.
Fairly generic commentary:
Apple’s direction is clear on the iPad. Sure, there are keyboards you can buy and other accessories that will sort of turn it into a Frankenbook, but you don’t get the impression that the company really buys into that sort of thinking. “This is a touchscreen device,” the company seems to say. “It’s super at things that touchscreens are super at. If you’re more interested in a computing environment, may we direct your attention to these lovely laptops we have over here.”
See, therein lies the difference. Last week, Apple announced some new laptops. This week, Microsoft announced something that it hopes can replace some laptops.
Don't expect any opinions in this post that is so fair and balanced it seems afraid to answer a single question it raises.