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 71.

    "41. Bob Long
    Windows is 30 years of fail and the fact that Apple have gone to the dogs doesn't mean we've forgotten what MS are like."

    How is it 30 years of fail?
    It's allowed millions of people to easily use a computer. I'm not MS biggest fan, but they got us up and running. Also, how have Apple gone to the dogs?
    I suspect you're an IT Pro/enthusiast. This stuff is aimed at amateurs, not us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Well if they are as good as their windows phones i don't think apple will be that worried.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    This is great news - have wanted to run proper apps on a small device for 10+ years. I will certainly be looking at getting one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    41. Bob Long

    Says the guy who probably posted this from a windows XP/Vista machine with Internet Explorer and no firewall installed.

    Calling Microsoft one of the biggest failures in 30 years is like calling Boeing a failure for copying the Wright brothers.

    Only someone completely out of touch with history of IT would post utter nonsense. Even hardcore linux fans would laugh at such.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    Windows 8 yuk! Loaded it , tested it, hated it. Its windows for teletubbies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Much like Microsoft's Xbox Slim this tablet actually looks like a very nice piece of machinery.

    If this Tablet is able to produce features to laptop-like capabilities (e.g. I can use Microsoft Office) then I believe Microsoft could really impact Apple's iPad market.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    re. 56. Centres for Stuff I Heard from Some Guy

    No it's not illegal, it has to have an operating system. If they were to add in supplementary software such as Office etc., then yes, but not an OS. Apple have been doing it from day one, their OS is unique to iPad and comes with every one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    One day every city will have a telephone and the world demand for computers will be around 8. Predictions proved to be totally wrong.
    Let's see on this one. Price and performance are key. I want a tablet that matches my laptop and is not just a fashion item. Get these right and who knows.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Mark my words. this is doomed to failure. Remember the iPod killer Zune?

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Do you actually have one?
    There are plenty of excellent & powerful apps that are a reasonable priced: Amplitube, Sketchbook and the Brian Cox 'Wonders of the Universe" are just 3. There are plenty of truly useful and educational Apps for free as well. Jailbreaking is a joke for people with an unfathomable addiction to Flash who can't adapt to new ways - if you need that, buy a laptop.

  • Comment number 61.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Unlike that comment I'm not paid by a PR firm (I post in comments all the time). The Ipad and other Apple products are just scams. The ipad can only play Apple approved programmes and does not allow SD cards (this gives you extra GB), this is so they can charge you for bigger storage models and rip you off on the "app store".
    Apple are just ripping off consumers like Microsoft did in the 80's.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Looks interesting but it seems to have a pretty powerful processsor which means its going to get hot, people complained about the new iPad getting warm!

    I used to use an original MS TabletPC (HP TC1100), was fantastic to use but the lack of native applications made using the pen interface very cumbersome.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Go up against the iPad is never going to go well. I wish MS would do further research into getting their Surface 2.0 OS for the home environment, as that is really quite a unique bit of kit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Lets be real about this; these are media display devices. That's how 90% of the people will use them --face book, you tube and email. This device will not have the horsepower to run business applications at a suitable speed. It's an all-in-one chip and consequently will do most things at a performance level slightly lower than a mid-range laptop.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    "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"

    Surely that's illegal and would fall foul of US and EU competition law? Bundling of h/w and s/w to give a competitive advantage was outlawed in thedays of the mainframe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    at last a tablet taht you can "do stuff " on ...i want one

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Heavier == Fail.

    The iPad is just about light enough, MS engineers must all be male, coz making it heavier and not lighter is an epic fail.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Lets face it iPads are rubbish unless you Jailbreak them!
    So you have to invalidate the warranty the same day you buy one!
    No flash support, no USB and for the massively over inflated price the App store is full of kids games!
    The interface is cool but it doesn't work with anything unless it's apple!
    I wouldn't buy or recommend another!

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Designing the device is only part of the story, MS need to get the supply chain sorted so they can get the devices into the hands of consumers in days rather than weeks (like Apple have managed), if they can crack that they'll have a winner.


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