CEO Steve Ballmer with the Surface. Credit CNET.
Microsoft has unveiled a new tablet computer, Surface, that attempts to take advantage of one of the few criticisms of Apple’s iPad, particularly among educators—that it is better for consuming content than creating it.
The software maker said June 18 that its device will attach to a removable rubberized keyboard that also acts like a book cover. CEO Steve Ballmer said Surface will be an entertainment and media consumption device “without compromising the productivity that PCs are uniquely known for.”
Microsoft Corp.’s broadside against the iPad is a dramatic step to ensure that its Windows software plays a major role in the increasingly important mobile computing market.
“They are saying it’s a different world now and are trying to put the sexy back into the Microsoft brand,” said Gartner Inc. analyst Carolina Milanesi.
Microsoft is linking the Surface’s debut with the release of its much-anticipated Windows 8 operating system, which has been designed with tablets in mind. The company hasn’t specified when Windows 8 will hit the market, but most analysts expect the software to come out in September or October.
One version of the Surface, which won’t go on sale until sometime in the fall, is 9.3 millimeters thick and works on the Windows RT operating system, which was made for tablets that run on low-power chips designed by British chipmaker ARM Holdings PLC.
It comes with a 0.7-millimeter thick kickstand to hold it upright and a 3-millimeter-thick touch keyboard cover that snaps on using magnets. The device weighs under 1.5 pounds.
The size is similar to the latest iPad, which is 9.4 millimeters thick and weighs 1.3 pounds.
Surface has a screen that measures 10.6 inches diagonally, compared to 9.7 inches for the iPad, but it comes in the 16:9 aspect ratio, which is suited to watching video in the widescreen format. The iPad’s screen size ratio is 4:3.
Microsoft said the Surface’s price tag will be similar to the iPad, which sells for $499 to $829, depending on the model.
A slightly thicker version—still less than 14 millimeters thick and under 2 pounds—will work on Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 Pro operating system and cost as much as an Ultrabook, the company said. The pro version comes with a stylus that allows users to make handwritten notes on documents such as PDF files. It will be released about three months later.
The touch keyboard resembles the lightweight “Smart Cover” that Apple Inc. sells for $38, but comes with a full QWERTY keyboard. It is rigidly flat instead of foldable. A slightly thicker keyboard with depressable keys also will be available.
Although the Surface looks like an elegant device, Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps criticized Microsoft for not using attention focused on the company’s June 18 announcement to highlight some of the reasons that it might be a better option than the iPad. For instance, she thinks Microsoft could have shown how its video calling service, Skype, will work on Surface or how people might be able to use its motion-control sensor, Kinect, on the tablet.