On The Surface: Microsoft Announces Two Microsoft Tablets for Windows 8

So I was wrong.  I was sure the big secret Microsoft announcement last night would just be some streaming media subscription service for the USA.  Instead, 99% of the press got it right and Microsoft announced a Microsoft branded tablet line.  Stealing the name from the table top device … welcome the Surface:

It is thin, 9.3mm, and that depends on which version of the Surface you choose:

It has a case that doubles as a keyboard and comes in different colours.  The case features a built-in kickstand for when you want to prop it up.  There is an audible snap when it closes which is nice.  It is 0.7mm thick, thinner than a hotel room key:

Two Models

The Surface comes in two models.  In broad strokes, the Windows RT (NVIDIA-made ARM-based CPU) is aimed at the consumer and competes with the iPad.  It’s the thinner and lighter of the two devices.  The Windows 8 Pro version is a twofer: it’s a tablet (slate PC) and a PC replacement.  The Pro has an Ivy Bridge Intel i5 CPU and I’m guessing it’ll have around 10 hours battery life based on what we’ve seen from Dell’s future device.


The Body

No, I’m not talking about Elle McPherson, but sexy is what MSFT is aiming for none-the-less.  The screen is Gorilla Glass 2.  The chassis is made from VaporMg (pronounced Vapor-Mag), an injection moulded metal tolerant down to 0.65mm, and providing a perfectly smooth surface.  The cover is snap on.  It apparently has a solid snapping action which I saw being described by a present journalist as reassuring.  This cover doubles as the keyboard which is flat.  Size-wise, it’s thin.  It’s the 1300 * 768 screen ratio you can expect of Windows 8 devices, with a landscape layout preferred over portrait.


Nothing was confirmed.  The Pro edition will allegedly compete in the Ultrabook price range.  The RT edition will be similar to other ARM based tablets.  The Pro edition will be some 90 days later.

Release Date

Good luck! Smile  Surface RT will be shortly after the Windows 8 GA.  It’ll be sold via Microsoft Stores (USA only) and the Microsoft Online Store. 


Windows 8 is still a Release Preview.  Metro apps will be released via the Microsoft Store, built into Windows 8.  Being Windows with 300+ million PC sales per year, the apps will definitely come.  Already there are some big names there, and a Netflix Metro app was announced last night too.  This won’t be Windows Phone.  Office 2013 RT will be bundled with the RT edition.  Only Metro apps and Office 2013 RT can run on the RT Surface.  The Pro Surface will run any .exe or Metro app that can run on any Intel/AMD-based Windows 8 PC/laptop.


Positive first.  Wow, how the hell did MSFT keep this secret?  We already know the spec for the XBox 720 and that it’ll likely have Azure integration for cloud content/games.  The device is sexy.  It’s got a lot of features that I like … built in kick stand for the plane, and a keyboard cover are cool.

My main concern is simple: Will Microsoft release this device outside of the USA?  Will it suffer from The Curse Of Zune? 

Secondly: how did the CEOs of Acer, Asus, Toshiba, Sony, etc, react when they woke up in Asia this morning?  They’re allegedly being charge $85/device for Windows 8 OEM for their devices.  Now they will compete with Microsoft on device sales?  What will this mean?

The way the announcement was made was strange.  It was 23:30 UK/IE time, 00:30 German/France time and God-knows what time in Korea/Japan.  Choosing 15:30 Pacific Time said to me that this was an event for an American audience.  If an International announcement was important, surely they would have gone for 09:00 or 10:00 PST?  Choosing not to stream the event was strange too.  I’d scream from the mountain tops if I was announcing this.  Inviting 150 journalists, many of whom wouldn’t know Windows from a door, to be your single channel of communications is very strange.  Yes, they want to copy Apple and have exclusivity, but this seems wrong to me.  Just my independent opinion.

People are talking about this device.  I’ve already had 5-6 conversations about Surface this morning in the office in the last 90 minutes.  Strange, considering that it looks like only 5% of the world’s population (USA) will be able to buy one.


The Surface is a fab looking device.  I’d like to have a try, and maybe consider buying the Pro version.  Will it be an XBox/Kinect or a Zune/Kin?  Will I end up even being able to buy one of these innovative devices?  Time will tell.  Have a look and make up your own mind:


Some more notes.  MSFT released video recordings of the event.  You can stream it, or download it. 

Above, you can see that the kick stand angles the Surface at 22 degrees.  What if you wanted to record something at the table?  Having the camera pointed downwards would be useless.  The back camera is pointed upwards at 22 degrees to compensate for the kickstand angle.

The keyboard/cover snaps into a magnetically bonded spine.  The Metro UI changes colour to match the colour of the Touch Cover!  There are aligning and clamping magnets to organically connect correctly.  You can hear it snap into place in the video.  When you fold it back, the keyboard turns off, thanks to an accelerometer.  Touch cover allows your fingers to touch the keyboard and it measures force to count those touches as types.  Therefore you can touch type from the rest position.

The Pro edition has a wrap around vent so it’s never blocked. It is silent – I rarely even notice the vent on my Ultrabook, whereas I do on my Build slate.

The screen supports 600 DPI digital ink using a stylus pen.  Zoom in and the ink is still smooth.  The touch digitiser detects the pen being used and blocks touch so your hand on the screen doesn’t cause chaos for the pen digitiser.  The screen is 0.7mm thick, making it the thinnest of it’s kind.  The pen clicks into the side of the Surface.

TPM apparently is included.  It supports HDMI and DisplayPort.  They demo Adobe Lightroom on the Pro edition. 

The cover comes in two models:

  • Touch Cover: a 3mm cover with a multi-touch keyboard.
  • Type Cover: designed for the touch typist wanting great speed.  Key has 1.5 mm travel with full modern trackpad. 

This is a beautifully designed device.  But I’m told that the same was said of Zune which defined The Curse Of Zune by being only available to 5% of the world’s population – the web site wasn’t even visible to us back then!  I’ve asked a person who understands channel, and he reckons it’ll allow MSFT to control the distribution with more quality.  Maybe they’ll reach out to large chains like PC World (UK) and Best Buy (USA) next year, or the year after if Surface doesn’t go the way of Zune.

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One thought on “On The Surface: Microsoft Announces Two Microsoft Tablets for Windows 8”

  1. Surface looks great. Even more so when factoring in the next year when Intel Haswell is released with versions designed for exactly these types of formfactors. Perhaps possible to squeeze that Intel-version below 10mm then.

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