The Surface is remarkable no matter which way you look at it. Firstly, it’s a complete departure from Microsoft’s business model around Windows – building their own device instead of selling a license. Ballmer has played this down, saying they just wanted to “prime the pump” for Windows 8 devices – i.e put a rocket up the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to make them create better devices – but personally I think it’s the right thing to do, regardless of how it affects the OEM relationship. We saw some interesting Windows 8 devices at Computex, but no OEM is going to take the care required to build a device to match Apple.
Secondly, it’s the first product Microsoft have managed to keep secret right up until they chose to announce it, which garnered them some huge free PR as the entire nerdosphere stopped dead to watch the announcement. It also makes me wonder what else they have under wraps in the consumer space. Are they building their own Windows Phone? What about XBox vNext (which I’m determined will be called XBox 8, given Microsoft’s fondness for the numeral).
Then we come to the device itself. Panos Panay’s well-rehearsed, passionate, hand-waving talk was enough to bring a tear to the eye of your local Dieter Rams fanboy. It felt a bit telegraphed, but no more so than Jony Ive talking about components made of pure unicorn sperm at an Apple keynote. The remarkable thing here is feeling that Microsoft has finally woken up and taken a leaf from the page of Steve Job’s “not good enough” manual. Keep sending the product back until it’s perfect.
Seriously, check out that touch keyboard. It’s not just a capacitive device, which would suck because you can’t rest your hands without triggering key presses. It’s a gram-sensitive push keyboard. We haven’t seen any third-party reviews, so everything is coming unfiltered via the hype-machine, so grain of salt and all that.
The launch didn’t come without questions. Detailed specifications are hard to come by, all we have is an About page with a link to a very sparse spec sheet. This probably means that the final devices are still being fine tuned. We also don’t have specific pricing, with Sinofsky simply saying that prices will be “competitive” with equivalent hardware. And we don’t have a launch date. The Windows RT devices will be available along with Windows 8 (which is when!?), and the Windows 8 Pro devices will follow 90 days later.
Windows 8 Pro? Yeah exactly. The Windows RT device runs on ARM, while the Windows 8 Pro device runs on Intel.
While watching the live streams I was whooping with delight at the first device revealed. I’ve been waiting to see a well-executed ARM tablet for Windows 8 since ARM support was announced. Then they showed the Intel device, and I was suddenly confused. Do I want a laptop replacement? Or an iPad-alike? I abhor a tablet with fans and vents, but I love the idea of being able to drop into Visual Studio (or Photoshop, or a game) on a tablet. Especially a tablet with an unobtrusive, usable keyboard.
Put it this way: if Microsoft had only announced an ARM tablet yesterday I would have bought one, but now I have to decide. And if I’m undecided, what will mom and pop consumer think?
I would have bought one, that is, if I could. Microsoft should have set a pre-sale price at the very least. There were certainly a lot of nerds keen to open their wallets yesterday, and in my opinion Microsoft were crazy not to set a price and get some sales off the back of the hype.
But still, the Surface is remarkable. That’s where I stand until I’ve had hands-on time with the devices.