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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.
This is a full-throated, start-to-finish rave-up, in which Surface is "beautiful and functional and simple and honest":
If Microsoft delivers—which means that the price and the battery life should be competitive with Apple's offerings, and that keyboard lives up to its billing—it has a real chance of stopping the seemingly unstoppable Apple empire. Or at least slowing it down.
If it fulfills its promise, if Microsoft Surface Pro is $800 or $900 and can pull six or seven hours of battery life, then things will change. It's going to be hard, since they don't have the app ecosystem yet, but that will come eventually. Microsoft has the user base, the developer base, and the deep pockets to make sure of that.
The only thing Microsoft was missing until yesterday just was a better platform. Now all the pieces are in place for a well-fought war, just like the good old days.
Consider this the canonical pro-Surface argument until further notice.