By Matt Burns
“It embodies hardware and software working together. People want to work and play,” Steve Ballmer said today amid much fanfare at Milk Studios in downtown Los Angeles. Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has officially entered the ring with Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL).
Microsoft views the Surface as a “stage for Windows 8.” It’s 9.3mm thin, has full size USB 2.0 ports, a massive kickstand and weighs only 1.5 lbs. The casing is made out of magnesium (specifically, a material Microsoft calls VaporMg) and screen is covered in the Gorilla Glass 2 and optically bonded, a feature Microsoft brags was specifically made for the Surface. The Surface is directly aimed at consumers, and with that, the iPad.
Windows 8 is at the core of Surface. As such, it’s Metro device but also has access to all the Windows, not to mention Xbox features. This is clearly the product Microsoft had in mind when it announced the Xbox SmartGlass feature at E3 earlier in the month.
Microsoft also announced several accessories for the Surface including a clever 3mm thick cover that features a full (albeit super-slim) keyboard. Since it’s held on by magnets, it will likely be called a copy of the iPad’s SmartCover, too. The backside of the Surface even features a massive, unit-wide kickstand.
There will be two hardware options for Microsoft’s Surface, with both an ARM option and, for the full Windows experience, an Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) chip.
But like most hardware, it’s nothing without the right software. Ballmer was very clear at the beginning of the announcement event that this tablet’s strength is the Windows ecosystem. This tablet runs Windows 8, and with that, both Metro and the traditional desktop environment. Every application that runs on Windows, save perhaps Skyrim and the like, should run on a x86 Surface.
Still, if Microsoft is attempting to take on Apple, it will need to court a new crop of developers. The iPad’s strength comes from its legions of small 3rd party devs that for the most part completely ignore all things Microsoft. Up until this product, there wasn’t another tablet platform with the same sort of penetration numbers as the iPad. But with the Surface, Microsoft is essentially giving developers a massive user base as the applications will hit both mobile and desktop units — and Metro’s dedication to the touchscreen makes the deal even sweeter.
The new Windows RT-powered Surface will sport either 32 or 64GB of storage depending on the purchaser’s preference, while the more traditional Intel variant will come with either 64 or 128GB. Microsoft declined to dive into specifics about their new tablet’s release, though they were quick to note that the Surface tablets would be priced “competitively” when they make it to market.