Microsoft made official its next steps in the lucrative tablet market with an announcement of its upcoming tablet computer, the Surface.
At first glance, the Surface presses the right buttons. 10.6 inch touch screen, check. Front and rear facing cameras, check. Lightweight, ultra-thin, sleek look – check, check, check. But what makes it stand out from any other tablet on the market? (Or, more to the point, the only tablet that matters, the Apple iPad?)
The Surface tablet will include an integrated keyboard, distinguishing it from the iPad and other tablets which are touch screen only unless you buy an add-on keyboard. Integrating it into the device up front allows Microsoft to make a much tidier and slicker look, as compared to carrying a tablet and a separate keyboard. The keyboard is a mere 3mm thick, or less than one eighth of an inch.
In a departure from Apple’s minimalist design philosophy, Microsoft has also made the keyboard available in a range of colors, including magenta and turquoise. (If you’re more on the subtle side, black and white are also available.)
Another feature not present on the ubiquitous iPad is a USB port.
Pricing and Availability
Not announced on Monday, however, were some key details, such as pricing and availability specifics. The tablet will be available in two versions, a lightweight Windows RT version and a full Windows 8 version. Microsoft said the RT powered table will be available this fall, with the higher end version to follow three months later. As for how much consumers will have to pay, Microsoft merely commented “it’ll be comparable with other tablets”. (The Apple iPad starts at $499.)
Why a tablet?
The consumer desktop market has been struggling for some time now. Microsoft’s hugely profitable Windows division has seen falling sales for several quarters, as consumers flock to the more portable profile offered by tablets. Microsoft’s loss has been Apple’s gain; their stock price has rocketed as revenue on the iPad surpasses that of Microsoft Windows.
Will it Succeed?
Microsoft is no stranger to the hardware business. Their keyboards and mice have been very popular, as has the Xbox. But they’ve also suffered failures, most notably with the Zune. That targeted another Apple product, the iPod, but consumers were less than impressed.
On the other hand, Microsoft has shown repeatedly that they are willing to gain a foothold in a market with a shaky start and then build momentum by pouring money into a product until it takes hold. It may seem far-fetched to consider the Surface overtaking the iPad, but 20 years ago Apple was a struggling company with floundering stock that just couldn’t seem to get out of their niche market of educators, graphic designers, and musicians. Their biggest rival back then was Microsoft, who seemingly could do no wrong.
The Surface has some added features over the iPad, and Microsoft has clearly put a lot of effort into making this a sleek and attractive device. If they can keep the price competitive, the Surface might just become a serious contender in the red-hot tablet market.