The obligatory Surface blog post

Greetings, hippies. To be honest, I was going to simply ignore Microsoft’s unveiling of the Surface tablet. I mean, tablets. As much fun as it’s been to poke fun at Bill & Ballmer’s Excellent Adventure through the years (and it has been fun), it just feels so 1996. Besides, the Redmond gang is making a much better run at things than I seem to be, so who am I to judge?

I know, a two-bit blogger. I’m supposed to judge.

Let’s start with the positive aspects of the Surfii. Yes, they exist, even in the eyes of a dedicated Macolyte. The new tablets aren’t ugly. Not to damn with faint praise, but Microsoft took an admirably minimalist route in the hardware design department. Sure, you could describe them as a bit plain, but I think most folks would rather Microsoft err on the side of bland than on the side of Clippy. Sometimes, the design needs to just get out of the way and let people work, which this one seems to do.

The Surfii also possess actual ports in the form of a microSD, USB 2.0 and micro HD video on the "consumer" RT and microSDXC, USB 3.0 and Mini DisplayPort on the "pro" Pro. I’d probably trade the display interfaces for HDMI, but maybe MS has a form of AirPlay in the offing to make such matters moot. The heft and girth of both tablets is fine. The Touch and Type Covers could be really cool. Each incorporates a keyboard into what is basically Microsoft’s version of a Smart Cover. The former is flat (good luck touch typing) and the latter is a quasi-normal keyboard. But since no one has stumbled upon one of these at a Redmond-area watering hole, we don’t know if they are truly awesome advancements in the field of tablet keying or simply make the Surfii feel like Atari 400s.

All in all, theses tablets seem decent enough if you’re pining for a Microsoft-blessed tablet experience. Which is where the real problems lie.

Microsoft is not known for their masterworks in the fine art of simplicity. At last count, over 1,859 versions of Xbox 360 bundles exist—and that’s just counting the ones that include Halo. There are six different versions of Vista. Although that’s according to Wikipedia, so your own estimate may be more valid. Sadly, this tendency to create a product for every niche and a niche for every product has extended to the Surface.

First, as you may have noticed, there are two Surface models, the RT and the Pro. And their differences aren’t just a matter of RAM, storage or processor speed. The RT sports an ARM architecture and runs Windows RT. The Pro sports an Intel Core i5 (okay, that’s cool) and runs Windows 8 Pro. So do you, Joe Bob Consumer, want the tablet that acts like a tablet or the tablet that acts like a touch-enabled MacBook Air with a sproingy keyboard? That answer might be easy for you, but I doubt it’s so crystal clear to the great tablet-buying throngs. Microsoft could have avoided this problem by either going with one architecture or two separate product lines. Yes, I know the latter seems to go against the simplicity mantra, but it’s better to be perfectly clear than overly simplistic.

Second, both Surfii run versions of Windows. Well, duh, of course they do. But in a tablet landscape dominated by iOS and Android, is there room for another ecosystem? I dunno. Maybe. But even Microsoft will have a hard time getting people to switch from one or the other to its particular brand of finger-poking fun. Who wants to re-buy all their apps just to use Windows? Even die-hard MS fans and Apple haters may balk at the idea of forsaking their Android apps for yet another buying spree. Unless you buy the Pro, of course; then you just install all your desktop apps. I think. Right?

Third, what do these things cost? Much has been made over Microsoft’s inability to set a firm release date or reveal pricing. Nothing takes the wind out of a new product announcement quite like, "And we’re gonna get it to you guys just a soon as we can which will hopefully be soon and for a reasonable amount of money." I’ve seen Kickstarter projects with more definitive timelines.

(Also, what’s up with Microsoft making folks download a PDF of the spec sheet? A rather flimsy one at that? That’s just poor form.)

So, are the Surface twins the great iPad killers gadget bloggers have been slavering for since the dawn of 2010? Of course not. Do they totally suck? I seriously doubt it. Do they have what it takes to become a real player in the market? Unless Microsoft has its own, pull-a-hammy-while-shifting-the-paradigm "one more thing" waiting for a launch-time reveal, I wouldn’t bet on it.

Later,

Fox

Comments closed
    • Ricardo Dawkins
    • 7 years ago

    [quote<]I'd probably trade the display interfaces for HDMI, but maybe MS has a form of AirPlay in the offing to make such matters moot. [/quote<] OH MAN... I think The Tech Report is so late to the Apple fanboy thing... hahaha. /me returns back to watching the movie from Windows Media Player 12 in my Xbox 360

    • Shambles
    • 7 years ago

    “but maybe MS has a form of AirPlay in the offing to make such matters moot.”

    Mac fans commenting about products that they know nothing about. Water is wet.

    Non-macs have been able to push media to other devices for years, far longer than AirPlay has existed. Hell, even Windows 7 had it built into media player 12. But of course we’ll keep pretending that Apple invents everything and nothing exists until Apple rips it off them self.

    Not only was AirPlay beaten to the punch, but you can use DLNA on any platform and push any networked content from one device from another. Sitting in my bedroom with my phone I can send music from my Desktop in the den to my HTPC in the living room to play over my theatre system. All this using any phone, laptop, or desktop in my house running several different operating systems.

    • obarthelemy
    • 7 years ago

    The plural of Surface never was, and never will be Surfii.

    I don’t know about room for another ecosystem. I know about desire for true Office, Exchange integration, and entreprise management abilities. Regarding the ecosystem, I think App counts are wildly overdone. What real users need are a few ’10-20 ?) very good apps, not thousands of pin-up calendars.

      • superjawes
      • 7 years ago

      But Surfii sounds so fuuuuun!

      So would Surfaces (pronounced “sur-fuh-seas”), but I think I like Surfii better XD

      • BobbinThreadbare
      • 7 years ago

      Each user probably needs about 10 apps, but they’re a different 10 apps.

      When you have 1000 users who each need at least one app that none of the other 999 do, you need a lot of apps.

    • ET3D
    • 7 years ago

    Surfii? Thanks for making the horrible “virii” look better.

    • NeelyCam
    • 7 years ago

    Hmm.. I feel increasingly confused and/or tempted. I swore not to touch anything until Haswell comes along, but…

    And even if I stay strong, what will I do next year? Get one of these Pro ones with Haswell, or go with a Haswell Ultrabook? Is there a difference?

    The lines are blurring… I can’t see them anymore! Help! The room is spinning!!

    • DeadOfKnight
    • 7 years ago

    These will do well. Microsoft and their hardware partners have plenty of marketing muscle to throw behind it.

    • ryko
    • 7 years ago

    “But maybe MS has a form of AirPlay…”

    I know you are the resident Mac guy, but there is a wireless display tech out there called wi-di that intel came out with last year or so. I have no idea if the surface pro has it or not but it is only available with intel processors and a few other intel specific items like wireless chip, gpu, etc…so no arm and winRT love there.

    Side note: i understand that wi-di is just a shortened version of wireless-display, but try pronouncing wi-di out loud. Is it why-die like wifi? Or is it we-dee? Or maybe some combination of the two? Either way it is a horrible name. Really think that they would have thought about it for awhile…might explain why you have never heard of it!

      • excession
      • 7 years ago

      Remember this?

      [url<]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smart_Display[/url<]

    • cegras
    • 7 years ago

    I’m really surprised at the lukewarm reception to the Surface pads. I think either one has the potential to be much more than just a media consumption device, and they look well made and well thought out. Competition is always good, and this looks like good competition.

      • alphacheez
      • 7 years ago

      I’m honestly looking forward to x86 dockable tablets. I think at least asus has some plans to do something like a transformer with x86 underpinnings and a highish res panel.

        • cynan
        • 7 years ago

        I know, right?

        Who was the genius at MS that vetoed copying the Transformer concept in favor of a “soft” keyboard that doesn’t add additional battery life. And before you say “the USPTO”, I’m sure all it would take is a bit of creativity to get around any patents Asus holds on the design. All they would have had to do is modify the way the keyboard attaches or change something minor enough.

        And it looks like [url=http://www.slashgear.com/microsoft-patent-takes-the-transformer-prime-one-step-further-08217529/#entrycontent<]MS is already considering such designs[/url<]. Yet they still decided to go with the limpboard. This idea is pretty neat - potentially offering a keyboard with not only an integrated batter, but additional processor (which really only makes sense to me if it was a discrete GPU).

          • cegras
          • 7 years ago

          Portability. I assume they want it to be more portable than a laptop (around as portable as an ultrabook), but with the freedom of a tablet.

          • rado992
          • 7 years ago

          Well, in case you haven’t noticed, they DO have the Type dock, which is a “real” keyboard and touchpad combo and 5.5mm thick. No word if it includes additional battery cells though, probably not. We’ll have to wait and see if they decide to tack on a battery and GPU inside in the future. 🙂

        • Arag0n
        • 7 years ago

        All surface ports are at the same side, doesn’t it looks to you like a design made to make sure all ports can be plugged into a dock? 🙂

    • paulWTAMU
    • 7 years ago

    all depends on price. If price is good, awesome. if not, then it doesn’t matter.

    • tbone8ty
    • 7 years ago

    Price these right and they will sell. Full fledged OS and stylus will sell well in the corporate environment.

    If the win8 RT version is even slightly higher than the asus transformer prime with dock than forgetaboutit.

    • StuG
    • 7 years ago

    I hope the pro model is priced well. If so I would consider getting one.

    • allreadydead
    • 7 years ago

    A core i5 tablet is meant to replace both laptop and tablet. In your case, your MBA and iPad. Does it have enough power to be “The One” computing device for your every need ? No. But this time, it will be all next-gen at your face with enough power (core i5), app support (x86 windows). And hopefully, it will have a responsive touchscreen, enough battery life in a fully portable form factor.
    App support of x86 bundled with portability, ease of use, IPS HD screen and all the shineys of tablets in 1 device. As a concept, it has a future.

    All my concerns are focused on win8. IF it fails on battery life, performance and UI front, this “cool” concept cannot survive…

      • Rand
      • 7 years ago

      Win8 is precisely the reason why I couldn’t care less about Surface, I love the idea, and I love the concept and I desperately want a well designed implementation.

      But Windows 8 isn’t it, it’s horrific if you use a mouse at all IMO. So you end up little better off then Asus Transformer with Android.
      It covers the tablet side, and it has a keyboard but no desktop side. Win8 has the desktop side, but not in any sort of a desirable sense.

      Give me Metro and a real desktop OS integrated into one, and I’ll buy in.

        • sweatshopking
        • 7 years ago

        how do you figure android is better than windows 8???? you lose the classic desktop, and trade the decent ms touch environment for the horrible android one.

          • BobbinThreadbare
          • 7 years ago

          So you keep claiming, and Android keeps out selling WP.

            • sweatshopking
            • 7 years ago

            see my other post where i say people are morons, and sales don’t equal better. in fact, there are MANY examples of superior products losing out to poorer ones. you know that.

            AND i was talking about windows 8. not windows phone.

            • End User
            • 7 years ago

            [quote<]and sales don't equal better[/quote<] OS X vs Windows is definitely an example of that. Thanks!

            • sweatshopking
            • 7 years ago

            I don’t disagree with you, but at this stage i’d say they’re both solid OS’s. i think osx did win in the early 2000’s but since then i think they’re both quality Operating systems. I PREFER windows, as it’s more gaming friendly, and i have more experience with it, but osx is a fine system.

          • End User
          • 7 years ago

          [quote<]you lose the classic desktop[/quote<] So Windows RT must kinda suck as far as you are concerned.

            • sweatshopking
            • 7 years ago

            I wouldn’t purchase a windows RT tablet, likely. the major advantage of it vs android would be the integration with my win 8 desktop and phone, but it’s not as compelling as x86. I’d purchase x86 for sure.

      • Noigel
      • 7 years ago

      Let’s start taking bets on battery life. I’m thinking they’ll market it at 7.5 hours.

    • [SDG]Mantis
    • 7 years ago

    As a teacher, I look at how this fits into my world. One of the things that we do most, quite honestly, is share MS Office documents with students. We share, comment on, and revise these documents. I know that people with iPads and various Android devices have no real issues with viewing the basic text, but editing — particularly reading and editing comments — is another story. And Excel by touch without a mouse, or at least a track pad, is just ugly.

    Office RT does bring the ARM model, potentially, something that no other ARM tablet has: full ability to edit, comment on, etc. an office document. That means a level of data creation ability that we have not yet seen in the tablet arena. Sure, there are alternative office packages. But Office is the standard package these days and until that changes, the ability to open, mostly edit, and sort of save changes is a huge step backwards from having a single file that you can fully edit on a Mac or Windows machine.

    But, at the moment, my real question is price and battery life of the Intel-powered model. Where does this thing fit in the hierarchy of the tablet or ultrabook pricing? If I can get a 10.6″ 1920×1080 tablet with Windows 8, 8+ hours of battery life, 4GB RAM, 128 GB SDD, for $750, I’m sold. A detachable keyboard (particularly if the thicker one adds battery life and comes in under $150). Yes, I am asking a lot. I want the Surface Pro 128GB to undercut the 64GB iPad 3…at least without the keyboard. But I want to have a device that, with a keyboard, will be price competitive with the middle-line of upcoming ultrabooks.

      • Vulk
      • 7 years ago

      It’s nice to dream.

      I want to hit the lottery and ride unicorns with fairy wings too.

      Look at the BOM for the list of materials you just listed for the Pro version. Really look at it. The Processor costs $200+ alone. That screen is at least another $70-80, 128GB of NAND isn’t particularly cheap right now because supplies are still constrained. Last time I checked Vapor Magnisum cases aren’t going at super rock bottom prices either. The BOM on that thing has to be fairly close to $500. By the time they pay someone like Pegatron to build and ship them, they would basically be selling them at or below cost at $750.

      Maybe after taking a pile of cash and basically lighting it on fire with the Xbox, they might be willing to do the same again here. But shy of that, I seriously think you’re dreaming if you think that the Surface Pro is going to slot into the market where you think it should. I also think at some point investors are going to see the goose egg on the balance sheet, and then look over at the pile of cash Apple is making, and ask Ballmer some questions if that happens.

      Plus don’t rule out the fact that MS might still be in the process of shooting itself in the other foot and releasing office for iOS unless someone with some sanity finally nixed that.

      • trackerben
      • 7 years ago

      As they say, it’s the apps. A free and decent Office on this tablet may be what gets it listed on any number of educational, industrial, and government buy lists. This was foreseen by Google which quickly acquired the rival QuickOffice to defensively bundle into Android. But I’ve used QuickOffice and it’s nowhere near ready to compete, at least with MS Office on notebooks.

      • cynan
      • 7 years ago

      Based on the fact that most [url=http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005OUQADC/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_sr_1?pf_rd_p=486539851&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe-1&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=B004HKIIFI&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=1ZHT5JW1584PGST3945H<]Windows 7 tablets[/url<] (with real Intel core processors, not those Atom toy ones) cost over $1,000, $750 might be asking a lot. Though if the Surface Pro isn't $999 or less (and preferably $899 or even $799) then Microsoft just doesn't want market share badly enough. Either that, or they're just not as competent (and ruthless) as Apple in setting up OEM hardware agreements.

    • jjj
    • 7 years ago

    “Unless you buy the Pro, of course; then you just install all your desktop apps. I think. Right? ”
    Yeah except those don’t have a touch UI so…,well, you’ll need nine inch nails (that’s a downward spiral :P).

    There are a bunch of other things to point out:
    – sure the material looks nice but the lines are so 80s and the x86 version is too heavy for a tablet
    – the keyboard+stand solution require a flat surface so this is no laptop
    – for the x86 version “price competitive with ultrabooks”, for a device that is less than a convertible utrabook (see the previous point) and has a smaller screen, is not good enough.Ultrabooks in general are not good enough because of the very high price,so having a product worse than that is pretty bad.
    – the ARM version could do ok but only if they price the keyboard at a reasonable price point (not like Asus did with their dock)

    Finally,the x86 version should just be stopped by the regulators, MS is a monopoly in the x86 space and they shouldn’t be allowed to make/sell the hardware.

      • sweatshopking
      • 7 years ago

      it’s 900 grams. the first 3g ipad was only SLIGHTLY less, and had 1/10 the power.

        • End User
        • 7 years ago

        The current iPad 3G is 27% lighter. It has 3G, a 2048×1536 display, a 10 hour battery life and you can buy it today. By the time the x86 Surface goes on sale it will be competing with the 2013 iPad.

        Fast forward to a Microsoft conference call the day the x86 Surface is released:

        “Hey, maybe you haven’t been keeping up with current events, but we just got our asses kicked pal!”

        “Game over, man! Game’s over!”

        “We’re on an express elevator to Hell, going down!”

          • BobbinThreadbare
          • 7 years ago

          If only MS could go back in time and compete with an earlier iPad.

      • Shambles
      • 7 years ago

      [quote<]Finally,the x86 version should just be stopped by the regulators, MS is a monopoly in the x86 space and they shouldn't be allowed to make/sell the hardware.[/quote<] I think you need to educate yourself a little bit: [url<]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X86[/url<]

    • ratborg
    • 7 years ago

    Seriously one of the issues is that there are two models. Just wait until all of the other OEMs announce their models. The Wintel (or is this now WintelArm) ecosystem has always thrived on presenting loads of different options. Is it messy, yes. Does it allow for unique customization and companies other than just Apple to survive, yes!

      • Vulk
      • 7 years ago

      MS is charging an arm AND a leg for a Win8 license apparently… And they’re a direct competitor. I’m guessing the OEMs lining up to join that mess are growing by leaps and bounds every minute. Seriously the whole world is going to tilt under their weight as they all concentrate outside Redmond waiting for their magic cert to lock their boot loaders completely down…

      Honestly I’m trying to see how releasing these tablets helps their long term goals. Then again I’ve always thought their goals were to deliver high margin software to low margin devices, letting other companies eek out an existence in the race to the bottom market of hardware manufacturing. Instead they’re going to try and be Apple… Good luck with that.

      It truly pains me to say this, but Android is looking more and more like the sanest OS offering out there, and I DO NOT like giving over my data to Google. But at least you can side load apps on their platform without buying what is looking to be a hideously expensive ‘pro’ tablet or 3 year exemption by the Librarian of Congress.

        • ludi
        • 7 years ago

        [quote<]I've always thought their goals were to deliver high margin software to low margin devices, letting other companies eek out an existence in the race to the bottom market of hardware manufacturing.[/quote<] A business model that utterly fails with tablets. Apple got to the market first with a vertically-integrated model that allows them to own the total purchase price. Android minimizes the OS costs, allowing the vendors more freedom to differentiate their prices based mainly on the hardware costs. Now Microsoft sees that the future of mobile computing may be heavily invested in mobile devices and suddenly all they've got is a traditionally-expensive OS and office suite. So either they have to cut way back on the software cost and maybe set some difficult precedents, or else try to develop a vertically-integrated ecosystem of their own. Sure, it's the usual bumbling we expect from Microsoft, but what good third option do they have?

        • ratborg
        • 7 years ago

        There are rumors of the price for Windows RT license but I doubt the major players will actually be paying much for license.

        [url<]http://app.tech.pentontech.com/e/es.aspx?s=1481&e=141234&elq=e68e115db7904b51b79323041a8e5ab5[/url<] The latest such rumor: Microsoft is charging hardware makers $85 to use Windows RT (the ARM-based version of Windows 8) on tablets and other devices, a heady fee that might make such devices uncompetitive. Aside from the fact that this “report” ignores the fact that Apple charges a pretty penny for its far less capable iPad, which runs an astonishing $500 to $830, with an average selling price of $665, let’s just examine the facts. First, Microsoft doesn’t charge “a” fee for any version of Windows. It charges different fees based on volume and other considerations. So although “Bob’s PC Shop” might in fact pay $85 to use Windows RT on its device, HP or Dell may pay as little as $5. And second, this story was completely made up. Second, Microsoft already makes somewhere between $5-15 per Android device sold today. [url<]http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2011/10/microsoft-collects-license-fees-on-50-of-android-devices-tells-google-to-wake-up/[/url<] [url<]http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/07/06/us-samsung-microsoft-idUSTRE7651DB20110706[/url<] I don't think they are trying to be Apple. More like kickstart the market for Windows tablets.

        • sweatshopking
        • 7 years ago

        by sideload, i assume you mean “copyright infringement”?

          • alphacheez
          • 7 years ago

          Side-loading is done more commonly for homebrew or apps that aren’t in the google play store.

          I’m not sure if you’re just trolling or what.

            • sweatshopking
            • 7 years ago

            i have a developer unlocked phone. i sideload apps, but that’s a small percentage of users. i assumed he meant, as most people who sideload android apps do, downloading apk’s and installing. that’s the VAST VAST VAST Majority of sideloading that goes on.

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