Microsoft unveiled a bold new line of hardware products that appears on the surface (no pun intended) to be a challenge to its partners to take the tablet computer more seriously. Two versions of its Surface tablet were revealed including a consumer model powered by an NVIDIA ARM processor and a professional one featuring a Core i5 processor and full HD video on a 10.6″ screen.
What might be more telling than what Microsoft did reveal about this upcoming series of devices is what it didn’t say about them. Perhaps these features won’t be available with the Surface, or Microsoft is still working out the details… either way, I left yesterday’s announcement with more questions than answers.
If you’re going to make a tablet that doubles as a full-blown PC, you need to let us know what we can expect in terms of RAM. Can I, as a professional user, expect to run two programs or ten at the same time? This is an important detail, and one that I don’t like being left in the dark about.
The Surface for Windows RT may be running a much less RAM-dependent version of the OS, but I still like knowing what I have to work with. This is one of the great things about running a desktop-class OS, and I feel that Microsoft will need to answer this question before anyone can make a buying decision.
How Will the Covers Be Made Available?
There were two covers introduced by Microsoft yesterday. The Touch Cover and Type Cover are both pretty interesting, and I’m a fan of the concept, but how exactly will these covers be made available? The specs sheet Microsoft has released at this points lists both of these covers under both tablets, so one could assume that either both of these covers are included, or the covers are sold separately and both models can use either cover.
One report states you buy the cover with the Surface, so the unit itself comes in a variety of cover colors as opposed to a variety of covers being made available for the device. That’s a cool thing, which means you don’t have to buy the cover in addition to the Surface. I personally would like to know how much of an investment you would make if you wanted more than one keyboard. Say, blue and pink depending on who has the Surface on a given day?
In any case, I’d be curious just how expensive these covers will be if sold separately.
It would be foolish of anyone to expect a dedicated graphics card in one of these tablets, but I expected Microsoft to at least touch on what these devices would be capable of in the graphics department. Are we looking at something that could compete with the iPad as a casual gaming device, or are we instead working with whatever the included CPU can handle?
The idea of playing Minecraft or World of Warcraft on a tablet may sound silly to some, but there is a large number of gamers out there who would love that kind of portability. They might even pay good money for the Pro version if that means it can handle PC games you can’t currently play on any other tablet without going through a remote desktop utility.
How can you introduce a product without naming a price? Sure, Microsoft said that Surface for Windows RT would be competitively priced with other ARM tablets, but what does Microsoft consider to be competitive, and where in that $200-1000 range will it fall? That’s a pretty big variable to consider.
Surface for Windows 8 Pro is another enigma. Microsoft gave a hint at its price by stating it would be competitive with Ultrabooks. This means, to me, that you’re looking to pay anywhere from $900 – $1500 for one of these tablets. The version with a 128 GB SSD will probably by somewhere in the high range of that figure, if not over it.
Either way, Microsoft has to price this thing to compete with the iPad. Android devices are what they are, but the iPad has thus far been the benchmark on which all other tablet prices have been measured to this point. To introduce a tablet computer, even a desktop replacement tablet computer, without a price really doesn’t mean anything at all.
We know there’s a gadget coming that does some pretty impressive things. Until I know what the price is, I’d consider it to be a non-announcement.
We heard about the front and back facing cameras on the Surface, but we really didn’t get any more information than that. Are we looking at a front-facing camera capable of delivering HD video in a Skype call, or just another VGA FaceTime type experience? Is the back camera going to have the quality of the new iPad, iPhone 4S, or many of the Android devices out there or something less than desirable?
If you don’t tell us, we can usually assume the worst. In any case, I’m not excited about the fact that there is a camera until I know what type of camera we are looking at here.
How will the Surface charge? Are we looking at a device that charges like an iPad, or a laptop? One can only hope the device charges from a 10w USB port, but with a Core i5 processor, that might not be the case. Ideally, the method in which the system is charges has a direct impact on my buying decision. If I have to find an outlet to get a little extra life out of it, there might be some limitations to its true portability.
Possibly just as important as how it charges is how long you can go between charges. Beyond the watt hours, Microsoft has said nothing about the battery life. Can Microsoft not even give us an estimate at this point? Five hours? Ten hours? Two hours?
Because this new tablet is made to accompany Windows 8, Microsoft will not give us a release date. Instead, it stated that the Surface for Windows RT will be available right after Windows 8 and the Pro version will come out roughly three months later. By that, we can deduct that a product launch would happen sometime between now and sometime in 2013.
Windows 8 is expected to be released in October, which would make the Surface available for the holiday season, but this is just an estimate at this point. Either way, it’s hard to get excited about something when you have no idea when it will come out.
In almost every way, Microsoft has done everything in its power to reveal something interesting without telling potential users exactly what to expect. I heard a lot of highlights at the unveiling, but nothing about which I could base a buying decision.
If anything, this announcement was likely a challenge to its partners to do something incredible with the Windows 8 platform, and not so much an attempt to take those customers away. Perhaps this cloud of mystery is more about keeping the partners happy than anything else.
Then again, it’s Microsoft.