Surface Tablet finally makes Microsoft worth mentioning, but who knows if it will be a consumer hit

By Shawn Smith,

Published on Jun 21, 2012   —   4 min read

I don't know about you, but I feel like I'm getting deja vu from last week's Apple product announcement. Microsoft, in a move completely uncharacteristic of their company, held a super secret product reveal at Milk Studios in Los Angeles. Many anticipated it would be a new tablet, and indeed it was. What followed was a product presentation so eerily similar to an Apple reveal that I couldn't help but think they're finally getting it through their thick skulls.

Microsoft is stealing Apple's style, and they're doing a very unremarkable job of it.

There is a strong sense in which Microsoft is trying to latch onto the public�s love of Apple lore and the legend surrounding the late Steve Jobs. At one point in the presentation, great effort was spent pointing out the fact that Microsoft engineers used a special audio chamber to test the sound the Surface tablet makes when you open up its kickstand.

One of them said, It sounds like the door closing on a luxury car.

I find this a rather strange thing to point out so… explicitly. If you've read Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography, you will have heard about the time Jobs made his employees pull an all-nighter to improve the sound the iPod makes when the headphones snap into place. I got the feeling that Microsoft was trying to co-opt this story and spin their own kind of yarn. It's so blatantly copied that even though Microsoft did go through such efforts, they seem disingenuous -as if they needed Apple to compel them to do it.

Even so, this is finally a product to be excited about

All of this aside, Microsoft introduced what could be a remarkable product. The Surface is significant in many ways. It's the first non-Apple tablet that I've actually wanted to purchase, and that says a lot.

Steve Ballmer and his team kept emphasizing the importance of using a tablet to create and consume content. I really think they're onto something. As much as I love the iPad, its keyboard is a pain to use, and I am often compelled to go right back to using my Macbook Pro when I want to be productive. The Microsoft Surface, on the other hand, has a keyboard and trackpad built right into the cover. It may be the first tablet that allows you to be as productive as you would be on your home computer or laptop.

The new Surface tablet runs two different versions Windows 8 for the two different processors in the basic and pro models of the device. The basic model will run an ARM optimized version called Windows RT, and the Surface Pro will run Windows 8 Pro. This has led some developers to worry that Microsoft has introduced a new kind of operating system fragmentation. Developers now have to build two different versions of an app, one for Windows RT and one for Windows 8 Pro.

In reference to the new operating system, the folks at Microsoft kept saying it is the ideal stage for Windows 8, going so far as to draw analogies between the invention of the mouse and Windows 1.0. Here's their reasoning. Just as the mouse was necessary for Windows 1.0 to flourish, so the Surface tablet is necessary for Windows 8.0 to reach its full potential.

Call me crazy, but I don't exactly buy it. I think they just wanted to release a tablet, and they needed some kind of story that's better than it's a growing market and we want a piece of it. Being in business to make money is so out of fashion these days.

Speaking of marketshare, Apple remains the dominant force in tablets. They continue to have over 50% of the tablet market and (get this) 11% of the PC market. No single manufacturer comes close to competing with them, and many have failed miserably. Do you even remember the HP TouchPad that crashed into the ocean last year? Apple hasn't seen any real contender since then, at least until the Surface… um… surfaced.

The Microsoft Surface is still a Platonic Ideal, yet to be realised

Does Apple have real competition here? I really don't think anybody outside of Microsoft has a definitive answer to that question. The media who covered the event were only given short glimpses into the potential of the product. They weren't allowed to touch the Surface unless it was powered off. They had no way to gauge what are, in my opinion, the two things that will determine the success of this new tablet.

Those two things are software and battery life. A buggy lackluster experience is what sank the HP TouchPad, and the same problem could very well plague the Surface on launch. Battery life is another critical issue. What happens if all those productivity-enhancing applications end up draining the battery faster than your drunk mate can empty his bladder at a football game?

Any of these things could happen, and we would have no real way of knowing until the product actually launches and people test it out. For the time being, we're left in the dark. Microsoft has announced no release date and no price. The Surface could launch later this year. It could be anywhere from $400 to $800. At the end of all of this, I feel like I'm looking at a carrot on the end of a long imaginary stick.

I sincerely hope the Surface is a success, but with so little real information to go by, I am prepared for it to be a total failure too.

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