On Monday, Microsoft announced a new line of Microsoft-branded, Windows-based tablets called Surface. The new tablets feature 10.6" ClearType HD displays, VaporMg (pronounced Vapor-Mag) magnesium cases, microSD card slots, full-size USB ports, MIMO networking antennae, built-in kickstands, and detachable covers that double as a keyboard. Surface tablets will come in two categories--Surface for Windows RT and Surface for Windows 8 Pro.
Surface for Windows RT
Surface for Windows RT tablets will have ARM processors, and as the name implies run the Windows RT operating system (a Metro-centric version of Windows 8 designed for ARM chips). For more information on Windows RT and its limitations, check out Seth Rosenblatt's CNET article, "Just what is Windows RT, anyway?(FAQ)."
Windows RT tablets will be 9.3mm thick and weigh just over 1.49 pounds. Along with the features mentioned above, they will feature a 31.5 Wh battery, microSD, USB 2.0, and Micro HD Video. They will be available in 32 GB and 64 GB versions.
Unfortunately, Microsoft didn't announced the tablet's retail price. The company would only say that the price of Windows RT Surface models would be comparable to other ARM tablets (think between $400 and $600).
Surface for Windows 8 Pro
Surface for Windows 8 Pro tablets will have Intel processors and run the Windows 8 Pro operating system. They will be 13.5mm think and weigh just under 2.0 pounds. The tablet will have a 42 Wh battery, microSDXC, USB 3.0, and Mini DisplayPort Video. It will be available in 64 GB and 128 GB versions. Again, the company didn't announce specific pricing for these tablets, but they did say Surface for Windows 8 Pro tablets would be comparable to Intel Ultrabook-class PCs (likely around $1,000).
I'm glad to see Microsoft finally release the tablet we've been expecting for so long, but today's announcement left many unanswered questions.
- Complete specs: The Surface's Web site doesn't list either version's processor, amount of RAM, graphics chip, or display resolution. We'll need this information before we can compare Microsoft's new tablet to the iPad and Android tablets.
- Price: The success or failure of Microsoft Surface tablets will hinge in large part on the devices' price.
- Launch date: These tablets won't hit the market until after Windows 8 goes on sale sometime later this year (perhaps late summer or or fall).
- Integration with other Microsoft products: We don't know exactly how, or even if the new Surface tablets will work with Microsoft's existing products--such as the Xbox or Windows Phone devices.
- OEM hardware manufacture reaction: Microsoft has traditionally partnered with PC, tablet, and phone manufacturers to produce the hardware on which Windows and Office run. Selling its own, Microsoft-branded tablets will put it in direct competition with many of those partners. In the Surface press release, Microsoft said that "OEMs will have cost and feature parity on Windows 8 and Windows RT," but only time will tell how Surface affects the Windows tablet market.
Bill Detwiler has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. He was most recently Managing Editor for TechRepublic Pro. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop support specialist in the social research and energy industries. He has bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Louisville, where he has also lectured on computer crime and crime prevention.