- Topics Mentioned
- Operating System(s):
- Windows 8
We have covered Windows 8 extensively regarding what to expect from Windows 8 tablets. Microsoft’s upcoming operating system is scheduled to hit retail later this year and will come packed with a touch-friendly interface ready for tablets. However, we didn’t anticipate Microsoft’s latest move of actually moving into the hardware realm directly and announcing its own tablet.
The Windows giant announced the upcoming release of the Microsoft Surface on June 18 in Los Angeles. The company revealed not one, but two versions of the tablet that we will analyze below. One of them is based on Windows RT and the other on Windows 8 Pro. Windows RT is referred to as a modified built of Windows designed for ARM CPUs and it does away with the desktop entirely. Windows RT will run specific Office apps and software designed to work with the Metro interface. The Windows 8 Pro version will probably offer cross-compatibility with regular desktop software as well as Metro apps.
According to Gizmag, you will be able to switch between the Metro user interface and the traditional desktop if you purchase the Intel-based Pro model. You will also be able to utilize a Windows 7-like file system in the desktop mode for this model.
What Having 2 Versions of the Surface Means for Microsoft
As you may have noticed, Microsoft’s strategy seems quite clear by offering two models. One model will be a true iPad contender while the other will be more expensive and geared for enterprise users. The premium model is this model while the cheaper ARM-based model will be based on consumer usage. We will discuss some announcements Microsoft has already made in terms of some software compatibility and how the company will be targeting consumers.
The Hardware and Specs
Microsoft has revealed a lot about what to expect from the tablet when it debuts toward the end of the year. Unlike Windows 7 tablets that are geared specifically for enterprise users and come with a steep price tag, the ARM model of the Surface will be competing with the iPad. Microsoft has chosen to focus on both enterprise and consumer users with a lower price tag and ease-of-use for this model. Even the Pro model shouldn’t be out of reach for most users as it is said to rival Ultrabooks in cost, as GigaOM pointed out.
Microsoft offers other details about what the Surface will offer for users. Both models will have a similar exterior appearance. Microsoft will be offering customers two different covers for both models. One of these covers will be called the “Touch Cover” and based on touch input for keystrokes. Meanwhile, the other will be called the “Type Cover” and offer physical keystrokes or a keyboard with buttons on it for typing.
The Windows RT model will come with a 9.3mm thin chassis and feel very light to hold; weighing at 1.49lbs. It will also come packed with USB 2.0 support, microSD support, and a 10.6” HD display with 16:9 widescreen support. Microsoft calls it a “ClearType HD Display” and says it will offer users an ultra-wide viewing angle. Other specs being reported related to the Surface include a Nvidia Tegra 3 system-on-chip (SOC), 32GB-64GB memory support, a Micro HD Video slot, and a 2×2 MIMO antennae.
The Windows 8 Pro version will have generally a little more to offer as it will be priced higher. It will come with 64GB-128GB RAM instead of 32GB-64GB like the ARM model. Its CPU will be an Intel Core i5 CPU instead of ARM and an Ivy Bridge SOC. It will also be slightly thicker than the 9.3mm Arm-based Surface. It will measure 14mm thick and weigh around 2lbs. The Pro model will come with a digital ink-based digitizer, unlike the ARM version. We will go more into detail regarding this below. Input support includes microSDXC, USB 3.0, a Mini DisplayPort for video, and also a 2×2 MIMO antennae.
2 Different Digitizers Will Be Available for Typing and Multi-Touch
The upcoming two version of the Surface will also offer two different digitizers for touch input. According to SlashGear, one of these digitizers will be the standard multi-touch of tablets like the iPad comes with. We can expect the ARM based version to house this digitizer. The other digitizer, on the other hand, will be geared for pen/stylus input. It will offer support for digital ink. Stylus input will automatically be converted to digital ink. The Windows 8 Pro version will be reserved for this type of input.
What this means is that you will get the precise typing implementation of pen tablets geared for writing, drawing and digital art, if you purchase the Pro Surface. Examples of tablets that support this type of input would be the HTC Flyer or the Wacom Bamboo. Digital ink actually works with Microsoft Office apps very well and Microsoft has been supporting it for quite some time.
“It’s like writing on paper, but in a way that can be saved, edited, and shared as a digital file. Imagine having the potential to change the way you communicate by sending personal messages and fun drawings, annotating driving directions, or just making someone’s day with a little humor.”
Although the Pro model will feature digital ink support, it should also include strong multi-touch support. Otherwise, it will alienate users who want to use their fingers instead of a stylus. Because of the fact that Microsoft is talking about the Surface as if it was one tablet, it is hard to tell if one model will offer two digitizers or the company is referring to each model separately.
The Road to the Surface
Microsoft pioneered the term “Tablet PC” since the Redmond-based tech giant has been supporting this concept since 2000, but it wasn’t until Apple released the iPad that a consumer-friendly tablet became available. The Surface isn’t Microsoft’s first foray into this realm however. Microsoft had a planned tablet that was scrapped, called the Courier, that was also meant to be consumer friendly albeit with a focus on Microsoft Exchange e-mail. Due to internal disputes within the company, it never reached the light of day.
What should make the Surface a success is Microsoft’s already-strong enterprise base. That base combined with Microsoft’s Xbox experience should make it, at least, a very competitive iPad rival. According to Business2BusinessCommunity, Microsoft is targeting consumers so heavily that the Windows giant has revealed it will even be supporting one of its upcoming flagship console games on the tablet: Halo 4. There will be some sort of integration between consoles and tablets related to the game.
Microsoft may even bridge the gap between devices using the Surface as the hub. One way this can occur is with the company’s upcoming SmartGlass technology. Microsoft is becoming a major player among gamers, entertainment enthusiasts and average consumers. It is no longer a company that is sitting back comfortable with its Windows empire and enterprise-based productivity software. Microsoft is entering new markets and tackling both hardware with software.
It will be interesting to see how well-defined the app support, especially related to the Microsoft Office suite, is on the cheaper and ARM-based version of the Surface. It will also be interesting to see if both tablets will succeed in this crowded market and carve out their own niches or if only one will remain a true iPad-rival in this volatile market.