Microsoft just announced their Surface tablet at an event earlier this evening and, while everyone was predicting a tablet of some sort to come out of the Redmond-based Windows barons, I don’t think anyone was expecting…this. Without hyperbole, I can easily say that this is the most exciting product to come out of Microsoft since the Xbox 360, at least in my view. The Surface tablet, running Windows 8, incorporates the best of two radically different worlds, merging the simplicity of a touch-based interface in the new Metro UI with the utility of a full desktop OS running in the background. And after seeing the Surface in action, I’m very excited for what Microsoft has cooked up.
For users seeking simplicity and ease of use, there’s the new Metro UI featured so prominently as the new way to interact with Windows and for power users who want to use it to get real work done, the full desktop OS and its inherent advantages in terms of multitasking and is just a few clicks away. Microsoft reps were quick to state that the Surface is for Professional users as much as it is for the average consumer and the enterprise market, a huge factor in Microsoft’s continuing success over the years, should be quite pleased with what the Surface can do for field applications, especially with those two (incredibly slick looking) keyboard covers they’re coming out with.
In a company that has seen so many missteps over the years in the form of the Kin phones, the Zune (even though I liked it) and their most recent foray into the tablet market, the incredibly disappointing HP Slate, the Surface, along with the forthcoming Windows 8, represent the most forward thinking and creative initiatives the company has put forth in years. Microsoft has taken a good look at the mobile market and recognized that people like the ease of use of tablets and now, they finally seem to be delivering what they’ve tried to deliver before, in the failed experiment that was the UMPC. Finally, at least on first blush, they seem to have gotten it right.
This is the product Microsoft needs right now to compete in a market that left them behind years ago. Will this kill the iPad? Of course not. Like I’ve said before, there’s no stopping the iPad now. This is, however, a tangible threat to Apple’s commanding lead. I don’t expect this to launch into the market and be accepted as quickly or as readily as the iPad was but I do think that this will make the tablet wars a bit more interesting. There’s no doubt that Apple is the clear winner in terms of mindshare and marketing muscle, but Microsoft is no threat to be taken lightly. Microsoft’s ubiquity in the enterprise space is bound to be a big help moving forward and I expect an all-out media blitz when the release date draws near to lure in consumers. While no price was announced, Microsoft did say the price would be “competitive with ARM tablets”, meaning it should be in line with the iPad and the average Android tablet.
The Surface isn’t just a tablet, it’s an all in one convergent device that marries the ultrabook market with the tablet market and combines both into one device. This is why the Surface is a game changer. It’s not simply jumping into the market under one category; it’s creating its own. Expect to see similar copycat devices moving forward. This is Microsoft as we haven’t seen them in years; a hungrier, more focused Microsoft. We’ll soon see if this is a turning point for Microsoft or if they’re still as out of touch as they’ve been for a long while now.
If I were a betting man, I’d put my chips on the former.