On Monday night, Microsoft (MSFT) unveiled, what appears to be, an attractive and innovative tablet. Named "The Surface," the new tablet features capabilities similar to those found with Apple's (AAPL) iPad, but with some notable differences, as well.
While Microsoft's new tablet will remain at a significant disadvantage with respect to available apps (compared to those available for the iPad), it will also offer desirable product features not found with the iPad. Notably, the tablets will include and/or be able to run Microsoft's Office software (Word, Excel, Power-Point) and will have an ultra-thin keyboard integrated into a magnetic cover, as well as a built-in stand.
At first glance, the tablet looks sharp and appears to address the main weakness of the iPad (limited work-related software and no keyboard). While you can buy and connect a keyboard (and a stand) to the iPad, I believe that the seamless integration of these features into a tablet is a very desirable feature. This is particularly true when considering the unobtrusive design of the keyboard addition -- stealthily built into an ultra-thin magnetic cover. Furthermore, the availability of Office products, in conjunction with a fully-functioning keyboard, bridges the gap from more passive consumption tablets [like the iPad and Amazon's (AMZN) Kindle] to tablets with more work-related capabilities.
A lot remains to be seen with respect to the new Microsoft device (e.g. actual usability; user acceptance; exact price; reliability; will there be glitches?). That said, at first glance, the device seems to provide some reason for optimism with respect to Microsoft's future in the table market. While enterprise users currently tend to use the iPad, a Window's tablet that provides the work-related features that enterprise users desire, and is more compatible with other enterprise hardware/software and infrastructure, could change the dynamics of the market.
While "The Surface" tablet is a potential positive for Microsoft, it appears to be a potential negative for the traditional hardware makers like Dell (DELL) and Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), both of which have failed in their earlier attempts to enter the tablet market. First of all, by entering the tablet hardware space, Microsoft will become a strong and deep-pocketed new competitor in that market. Secondly, it leaves Google's (GOOG) Android as the only tablet software produced exclusively for the hardware-makers. This could increase Google's bargaining power; notwithstanding the fact that the hardware-makers should also still have access to Window's software for their own tablets. Finally, the introduction of a tablet with more work-related functions and better ease-of-use is bound to eat further into traditional personal computer sales -- much more than was the case with more consumption-driven tablets, like the iPad and Kindle, alone.
In summary, I would view Monday night's announcement as positive for Microsoft, a negative for Apple and the other hardware manufacturers, and neutral for Google.