Tablet Wars: With "Surface" Has Microsoft Come Up With an iPad Killer?

A June 19th, 2012 Gizmodo post predicts that the new Microsoft Surface - a tablet that is also a PC - will reignite the category-shattering portable computing device wars that Apple has dominated since the introduction of the iPad in early 2010.

Even if Microsoft fails to deliver on all the promises made at the June 18th, 2012 launch (notice that one of the demonstration Surfaces froze up during the introduction, see the uncomfortable President of Windows, Steven Sinfosky, trying to cover up this failure starting around the 13:40 minute mark in the video above), the Surface is a clear shot across iPad's bow and a " the butt" that might just provoke Microsoft's hardware partners to start producing more cutting-edge tablets.

The new Surface from Microsoft features some design innovations that could make it very interesting to anyone who works with a laptop - but wants a tablet for fun. Microsoft's new Surface is a tablet (similar in dimensions to the iPad) but (unlike the iPad) the Surface has a cover that folds out to reveal a built-in full keyboard and trackpad - and it runs Windows Office, something that iPad and Android devices can't currently offer.

Will a tablet with a traditional keyboard be a category that consumers will embrace? Or will Siri (Apple's voice interaction software that will launch apps on the iPad using the new Apple iOS 6 operating system that will be available to consumers in Fall 2012) and the lead that Apple has built up in touch-and-swipe technology continue to guarantee Apple's dominance of the market with tablet trend-setters?

Microsoft's unique selling proposition for the Surface - It's a Tablet That Is Also a Great PC - flows from the way that the device will combine well-designed hardware and software. While Microsoft is touting Surface as a device created for touch (e.g., live tiles work without launching apps) - it seems to me that the Surface will succeed only if it can take full advantage of its keyboard to elegantly manipulate text-based applications - while offering all of the voice interaction and touch-and-swipe functionality available on the latest iPad. Typing isn't dead yet - and a device like Surface could be very exciting to people like me (teachers and filmmakers) and for countless other business uses - if it adds significantly more business functionality to a tablet-like device.

From the demo on June 18th, 2012, it's apparent that the multitasking and portability (note: it seems wifi will be the only connectivity option offered on Surface, at least initially) could make Surface a device that merges text and other media in very exciting ways. Built as a "stage" for the next version of the Windows Operating System - Windows 8, Surface could be the most adaptable portable computing device ever. Or it could be a failed compromise - that doesn't improve upon the iPad enough to attract trend-driven media consumers (who love portability and touch-and-swipe, but also love Siri and the cachet and design of Apple) and doesn't compete with the powerful laptops and workstations currently used by media creators.

Remember, with the exception of the Xbox 360 game console, Microsoft doesn't have Apple's track record of producing and marketing category-dominating hardware and Microsoft doesn't have Apple's catalogue of apps: But - if the Surface is all it's cracked up to be - perhaps all that may change.

Want one? According to Microsoft's June 18th, 2012 announcement (see above) Surface for Windows RT (the existing version of Windows designed to run on low-powered processors, which are used in most tablets, including the iPad, today) will have "comparable" pricing to other 32 and 64 GB ARM (the popular family of RISC-based microprocessors and microcontrollers from ARM Inc., Cambridge, England) tablets. The other version, running Windows 8 Pro (the new Windows Operating System that is expected to launch later in 2012 - perhaps as early as late July) will come in 64 and 128 GB products and will have pricing "comparable" to other ultra-book PCs. No firm ship date for either of the Surface configurations yet - but signs point to the RT version to launch in late July 2012 with the Windows 8 version launching 3 months later.

UPDATE: As of Dec. 20th, 2012, many user reviews of the Surface are positive. On the other hand, some professional critics are not as impressed. Some pros cite the lack of apps in the Windows store (limiting the functionality of the device) and there is concern that finding the niche between tablet and laptop left the Surface as a hybrid that fails to capture elements of the best of either world. Ongoing app development and the introduction of a pricier and beefier Surface Pro (due in 2013) may address those concerns. But CNET says "the Surface RT only costs $499. The higher price tag [the Surface Pro will retail starting at $899 for 64GB of storage or $999 for a 128GB configuration] might be worth it if the Surface Pro really can work as a laptop and a tablet, but some are already calling the lackluster battery life [expected to be one half that of the original Surface] a dealbreaker. We'll find out definitively once we have a chance to test the Surface Pro when it ships in January 2013."

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