Microsoft's Surface: A few answers yet more questions

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.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor
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?  

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