Microsoft tackles iPad with Surface

2012-06-19 09:32

Los Angeles - Microsoft Corp introduced its own line of tablet computers on Monday at a much-hyped press event in Los Angeles, marking a major strategic shift for the software giant as it struggles to compete with Apple and re-invent its aging Windows franchise.

The new tablet line, named Surface, includes a consumer device aimed directly at the Apple iPad, and another, larger machine designed to run the full suite of Windows software. Both include a keyboard that doubles as a cover for the device, and both will be powered by versions of the new Windows 8 operating system.

The move breaks with Microsoft's operating model of the past 37 years, which has relied on computer manufacturers to make and market machines running Windows. It could throw the world's largest software company into direct competition with its closest hardware partners such as Samsung Electronics and Hewlett-Packard.

However, the success of Apple in recent years has underscored the benefits of an integrated approach to hardware and software, and Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer said on Monday that the company "didn't want to leave anything uncovered" as it rolled out Windows 8.

The new software is the biggest overhaul of Windows in years, and features a new touch-friendly interface dubbed "Metro". It is scheduled to be available for the Christmas shopping season.

New generation

The lighter, thinner version of the Surface tablet, built on an Nvidia chip designed by ARM Holdings, will be the first to market at the same time as the general release of Windows 8, and will feature Microsoft's popular Office suite of applications.

It is comparable to Apple's new iPad, heavier but slightly thinner. It has a 27cm screen and comes in 32GB and 64GB memory sizes.

A second, heavier tablet aimed at the new generation of lightweight laptops called "ultrabooks", running on traditional Intel chips, will come in 64GB and 128GB models. That will be available about three months after the ARM version, Microsoft said.

The company gave no details on pricing, except that they would be competitive with comparable ARM tablets and Intel-powered Ultrabooks.

Industry watchers were generally impressed by the devices' specifications, but doubted they would be a sure-fire hit.

"I don't see this as an iPad killer, but it has a lot of potential," said Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst at tech research firm Forrester. "This raises more questions than answers. The story that Microsoft told today was incomplete. They focused on the hardware innovation but didn't talk about the services, the unique Microsoft assets that could make this product amazing."

Contrary to expectations, Microsoft made no mention of integrating content and features from its top-selling Xbox game console into either tablet, or the Skype video calling service it bought in 2011.


Sales of tablets are expected to triple in the next two years, topping 180 million a year in 2013, easily outpacing growth in traditional PCs. Apple has sold 67 million iPads in two years since launch.

Apple, which makes both hardware and software for greater control over the performance of the final product, has revolutionised mobile markets with its smooth, seamless phones and tablets. Rival Google may experiment with a similar approach after buying phone maker Motorola Mobility this year.

Making its own hardware for such an important product is a departure for Microsoft, which based its success on licensing its software to other manufacturers, stressing the importance of "partners" and the Windows "ecosystem".

"The question is: 'Why is Microsoft doing it?'" said Michael Silver, an analyst at tech research firm Gartner. "Lack of faith in the OEMs [computer makers]? There's definite risk here as Microsoft increasingly competes with its customers."

When it has ventured into hardware, the Redmond, Washington-based company has had a mixed record.

Apart from keyboards and mouses, the Xbox game console was its first foray into major manufacturing. That is now a successful business, but only after billions of dollars of investment and overcoming problems with high rates of faulty units - a problem which was nicknamed the "red ring of death" by gamers.

The company's Microsoft-branded Zune music player, a late rival to Apple's iPod, was not a success and its unpopular Kin phone was taken off the market shortly after introduction.

The company killed off a two-screen, slate-style prototype of a tablet device called Courier later that year, saying the technology might emerge in another form later on.

  • martin.vandermerwe - 2012-06-19 10:12

    It's all about the OS, nothing to do with the actual hardware, that's what makes Apple a success!

      donovan.barker - 2012-06-19 13:00

      Actually that is incorrect. Apple success is based on their operating system yes. But unlike windows you can only buy apple OS on an Apple device. They only use the best hardware suited to their operating system. This is what makes Apple a success (and of course their brand recognition). While windows is available to be used by all manufacturers components. So hardware is hugely important to Apple software!

      raath - 2012-06-19 13:38

      Somewhat true - Apple writes OS code for specific hardware, and that is why they don't have issues, and perform well. Once you start playing with drivers and all kinds of third party software you sacrifice performance - and that is where Windows is kicked in the nuts (and bolts)

  • maarten.slabbert.7 - 2012-06-19 10:18

    Have you ever tried using a windows mobile device? Then you will know wh windows mobile is just about extinct. Add the ARM processor and you would struggle to give me one of these. I don't think Apple or Samsung have anything to worry about. But all of a sudden MS's move to try and block Android make alot more sense

      scott.kirby.752 - 2012-06-19 10:36

      Ummmmm windows mobile is extinct, these tablets will be running Windows 8. The exact same Windows 8 you will have on desktops and laptops and having used Windows 8 Beta for a while now I can tell you it is fairly awesome!!! As easy to use as Android and as pretty as iOs.

      badballie - 2012-06-19 10:44

      Actually I wouldn't part with my Lumia for anything, it depends on what you need and use, I suppose. Other than a few hic-cups here and there windows 8 has proven to be faster and better than windows 7. The final say is of course with the consumer, those with zero technical knowledge choosing the safer main stream options and those with a bit of knowledge opting for the more involved options like windows mobile.

      lydonmcg - 2012-06-19 12:11

      You do realise that there is a VERY big difference between Windows Mobile (which is pretty much extinct) and the newer Windows Phone 7, right? So what does Windows Mobile have to do with this (especially considering the Surface will run Windows 8...)

      raath - 2012-06-19 13:39

      Windows Mobile is gone, but that doesn't mean that Windows Phone and Windows 8 is much better - it is still Windows.

      maarten.slabbert.7 - 2012-06-19 14:57

      Hey, by all means! Buy your Windows8 devices. And when you hit the same old MS problems..... I will be the guy laughing my ass off and reminding you that I told you so. Just because they call it Windows 8 does not make it any better than any previous failures. Windows is for poeple who do not know how to use real OS's.

  • Jan - 2012-06-19 10:36

    Microsoft has decided to abandon it's traditional user base. Is this the big opportunity waited for by Linux?

      badballie - 2012-06-19 10:49

      Not unless Linux makes their systems more user friendly, even people with limited technical knowledge battle with Linux's basic coding needs. People will use low maintainability, easy to use OS's like Microsoft until the alternative is as mindless and easy to use. Software and gaming compatibility and availability is also an issue. One however must acknowledge the bounds and leaps Linux has made over the last few years. I personally use both OS's and wouldn't give either up, although I must admit Linux is my favorite.

  • Dean Barrett - 2012-06-19 16:28

    Wow, so many South Africans seem caught up in arguments that are largely outdated...The old Apple argument of reliability, stability etc while still mostly true (minus the huge Mac only virus from earlier this year) is really the 'go to' option for Apple fanboys who don't like anything antiApple... Fact is, Apple's last year of products has been less than flattering and it seems to be stagnating on products and OS's that are starting to show their age (in the fast paced tech market). And people are really starting to catch on - go read international forums. People want change and innovation and are starting to look elsewhere. Yes Win8 is a risk and will not hold favour with many but it is a step in the right direction in that it is carving a unique and NEW identity for Microsoft in 2012...While I may not choose their Surface I will definitely be looking at Win8 powered tablets later this year. What?I can have full desktop functionality, office, hdmi, USB and Ethernet inputs on a device as fast and portable as an iPad?Do want. And why would I ever opt for an iPad over that?

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