Microsoft unveils Surface Windows 8 tablets


The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones: "This is a really interesting development"

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Microsoft has unveiled Surface - its own-brand family of tablets.

The touchscreen computers will be powered by its upcoming Windows 8 system and contain a choice of an Intel or ARM-based processor.

It allows the firm to challenge Apple's bestselling iPad with a device that can run standard applications such as its own Office programs and Photoshop.

But it puts Microsoft in competition with other manufacturers planning to release tablets designed for Windows 8.

The company's chief executive, Steve Ballmer, said he had wanted to give the software "its own companion hardware".

The devices have 10.6 inch (26.9cm) displays, built-in kickstands and are housed in magnesium cases - which the company described as the first of their kind.

The ARM-based tablets are 9.3mm (0.4 inches) thick - slightly less than the iPad - and run the Windows RT version of the new system. The Verge reported that the chipset will be built by Nvidia. Third-party developers must rewrite programs from scratch to run on the system's Metro interface to work on these devices.

The versions using Intel's x86 technology run Windows 8 Pro and are 13.5mm (0.5 inches) thick. These can run Metro and an updated version of the "classic" desktop meaning they can use software designed for earlier editions of Windows, although some programs will need to be updated to be compatible.

The specifications mean the Surface tablets have bigger screens than the iPad but are heavier.

Pen input

A variety of accompanying covers can be attached using built-in magnets. They double as keyboards with trackpads. One version is flat while the other offers keys that can be depressed.

The devices are also designed to work with a pen accessory using what the firm dubbed "digital ink". When the stylus is held close to the screen of the tablet it ignores touch-input from the users' hands and "samples" the ink at 600dpi (dots per inch).

The ARM-based version will be available with either 32GB (gigabytes) or 64GB of storage. Microsoft said they would be priced at a similar rate to other tablets using the same type of processor built by other firms.

It added that the Intel-based versions would be offered with either 64GB or 128GB of storage and would have price tags comparable to ultrabook laptops.

Different chipsets

Targeting tablets

When Apple unveiled the iPad in 2010 some tech watchers scoffed, dubbing the device a "giant iPod Touch" and questioning whether there was really a market for the product, bearing in mind others had tried and failed to sell sizeable numbers of tablets.

Fast-forward two years and there is no question there is demand for such devices.

Tech research firm IDC recently forecast 107.4 million tablets would be shipped this year with the number growing to 222.1 million by 2016.

It expects Apple's iPad to account for about 62.5% of the market this year with Android devices such as Amazon's Kindle Fire taking a 36.5% share.

IDC does not yet include Windows-based tablets in its market forecasts, but plans to start doing so from July.

It says it does not necessarily believe Windows-based tablets like the Surface will take marketshare from Apple and Android, but says they should grow the overall market for such products.

One tech analyst told the BBC that other hardware makers were likely to feel aggrieved by the news.

"Microsoft can offer a competitive price for these specifications as it doesn't need to pay itself a licence for the Windows 8 software which other manufacturers will have to do, and that might make its PC and tablet-making partners unhappy," said Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at the technology consultants Gartner.

She added that the firm appeared to have focused on a specific part of the market which wanted a more powerful device than the iPad.

"They seem to be be targeting a professional audience," she said.

"So they are going head-to-head with Apple within the corporate sector. Price will be key - these devices won't be at the bottom end of the market. They will probably let other manufacturers fight over that space."

By contrast the tech research firm Forrester said it thought the focus for ARM-based Surface tablets would be consumers, rather than the enterprise sector.

But one of its analysts warned there was a risk customers would shy away if they found it confusing distinguishing between the two types of Windows 8 experience. This will be the first time Microsoft will offer a version of its PC system designed for chips based on ARM's architecture.

Steve Ballmer holds Surface tablet Mr Ballmer described Surface as "a whole new community of computing devices"

"Microsoft will be its own worst enemy in this market," blogged Sarah Rotman Epps.

"Consumers aren't used to thinking about chipsets. Choice is a key tenet of Windows, but too much choice is overwhelming for consumers. Apple gets this, and limits iPad options to connectivity, storage, and black… or white."

ARM's ambitions

Despite the potential for confusion, British chip designer ARM said it was "excited" by the news.

The firm's designs have already proved popular with smartphone makers, but Microsoft's support for its technology in Windows 8 offers it the potential to expand into a market dominated until now by Intel and AMD.

"This represents a significant milestone in Microsoft's journey to expand the support of the Windows operating system and embrace the ARM architecture," said Lance Howarth, the firm's vice president of marketing.

"With the Surface for Windows RT announcement we are delighted to see yet another example of this partnership in action which follows on from various Windows RT devices demonstrated at Taiwan's Computex show recently."

Intel said it was also "pleased" about Microsoft's move.

"Intel believes in and supports an open and healthy ecosystem that delivers a broad scale of innovation and choice in solutions and user experiences," a statement said.

"We also believe Windows 8 on Intel architecture will deliver the most complete experience with the best performance and compatibility across all computing platforms."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 351.

    296. Pat Taylor
    Wow, magnesium cases. Has anyone seen what happens to magnesium when it burns!"

    The thing is that it's not that easy to ignite (except in powder or thin strips).

    Apparently magnesium is actually used as furnace lining because it's so resistant to heat.

    Having said that, it still seems a bad 'marketing' idea, given that most people think of magnesium as metal that burns...

  • rate this

    Comment number 350.

    BBC, Apple is not the only challenger you know. There is also Android. I would expect your "experts" to know this by know

  • rate this

    Comment number 349.

    It seems to be quite good. Other than the new keyboard and possible the metal casing, nothing really seems to be new, but that doesn't really matter. As it's probably meant to be like Google's Nexus; to drive OEMs, it might do well.

    While it does seem to do what its meant to do well, it is missing a laptop mode; I'm not sure it will sit on your lap or other uneven surface well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 348.

    Sure, nothing's wrong with Windows!

    New tablet owners are desperate to get their hands on mobile anti-virus software, all kinds of 3rd party firewalls and defenders, registry and dll cleaners, "your tablet is infected" scareware and other techno-wonders previously not supported on any tablet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 347.

    @ Chris

    Nothing is wrong with Windows, it's just about time it jumped into the mobile world, it's already 4 years late...

  • rate this

    Comment number 346.

    Looking at the photo in the article, MS could have done better than have a corpse present their new toy.

    Hope it's good though, competition is healthy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 345.

    whats wrong with windows everyone?

  • rate this

    Comment number 344.

    I'm a web/mobile developer bought a macbook pro and an ipad( 6 month ago). Not keen on the icloud or the macbook pro as my 3 year old sony vaio runs quicker. Windows 8 pro with Intel would be a good bargain as long as its not more than £699 same price as a new ipad 64gb. Value for money apple are the worse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 343.

    Should we really care, it wont save the world, it wont improve the climate and Bill Gates can stick his thumb at Steve Jobs (RIP). The young will buy it, the old will buy it because the young have bought it. There is only so much time you can spend sat watching a screen dilluding yourself into thinking its worthwhile.

  • rate this

    Comment number 342.

    A couple of years after the advent of the iPad that some people are still trying to understand how to use it - and I was the same. Now I use the camera to quickly copy documents I will need sight of later; I have .pdfs of all the stuff I need to refer to; I flick through presentations with people; I word process via a bluetooth keyboard; e-mail; run Daylite case management. Its a business tool.

  • rate this

    Comment number 341.

    Micro$oft - you're "totally new computing device" is a blatant copy of an iPad. The world's most popular computing device doesn't run windows - I know you see this as a problem, but we consumers, don't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 340.

    @326.Emma Cambridgeshire

    You sure ? One thing Apple is world famous for is creative computers ... MS doesn't cut the mustard at all.

    I have an iPad and iMac and generate fully renedered artistic graphics without any problems on both devices - so not sure what Apple were telling you on that score.

  • rate this

    Comment number 339.

    @ 328 Centres for Stuff I Heard from Some Guy
    "My DSLR has a magnesium body. I have never been prevented from taking it on a flight."

    You know we used to say the same about water.

  • rate this

    Comment number 338.

    whooopeeee - Microsoft have invented the ... er, notebook.

    comon guys, this is old tech packaged with a new OS (once it is released - Longhorn anyone?)

    MS have missed the raison d'etre of the iPad - that being consumer desirability.

  • rate this

    Comment number 337.

    If anyone from MS is monitoring these messages - at this R&D stage could you build a bigger screen and the price has to be lower end, or I will wait until someone sells what I want.
    Price it globally - I'm not a fan of paying over the odds just because I live in the UK. (Apple - take note). And its own use only so USB HDMI very useful/essemtial..

  • rate this

    Comment number 336.

    "It will appeal to those millions of people who are used to the Microsoft operating system." What? The mobile specific Windows 8 that hasn't come out yet? Rory you muppet!

  • rate this

    Comment number 335.

    331 "Apple has been very innovative (and i have an iphone, ipad and macbook) but as a company they are not commercially aware".
    Becoming the richest company through lack of commercial awareness takes some doing.
    "they prevent you from interfacing with some many things will ultimately mean a shift in marketshare"
    Am I the only one who prefers wireless to dusty grovelling for leads and interfaces?

  • rate this

    Comment number 334.

    this article is a little disingenuous. The Intel powered tablet will be priced the same as an Intel Ultra-slim type laptop. So it will compete with laptops with proper keyboards and more ports. The ARM version will compete with the iPad and is expected to be priced likewise. They are both pig ugly, as you might expect from microsoft.

  • rate this

    Comment number 333.

    With so many pads already on the market,I wonder if there really is a niche for yet another,because no doubt this one will be more expensive than most others so could possibly only apeal to the "snobs".
    I have a pad,just as good as Apples but half the price.

  • rate this

    Comment number 332.

    I don't really get the hype of this tablet, Asus recently unveiled a host of Tablet's that will run Windows 8/RT. the Asus Transformer range has been around for a while and is a much better hardware manufacturer. Their tablets are thinner and lighter. They have been running android which lacks Office but there are plenty of alternatives and Microsoft will be bringing Office to Android and iOS


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