Microsoft’s Surface aims to be the first true iPad competitor

Though the Kindle has been a success in its own right, its content-centric approach, smaller size, and frugal specs don’t put it in direct competition with the iPad. However, Microsoft’s newly announced tablet, Surface, seems to be aiming for Apple’s jugular, matching specs and adding ones that are sorely missed by many on the iPad.

Surface will come in two flavors: a Windows 8 RT version comprising a Tegra-based ARM chip and running the tablet-only RT version of Windows 8, and a Windows 8 Pro version comprising an Intel i5 Core Ivy Bridge processor and running the full PC version of Windows 8. The former will be .37 inch thick, exactly the same as the iPad, and weigh 1.49 pounds, or about half an ounce more than the iPad. The Pro version will be thicker at .55 inch and heavier at 1.99 pounds.

Both versions will sport a 10.6-inch, 16:9 Clear-Type display employing Gorilla Glass. Though the specific resolutions have not been disclosed, according to Microsoft’s official specs, the screen for the RT version will be “HD”, while the Pro version will be “Full HD”. Most expect the RT version to sport a 1366 x 768 WXGA resolution. One would think any resolution lower than 1080p would not be sufficient for taking on the 2048 x 1536 Retina display of the new iPad, but Microsoft doesn’t seem to think its lower-end users will mind. Though this might render the RT version, which size-wise matches the iPad almost perfectly, DOA for some.

A full-on USB port, absent from the iPad, has made its way into both Surface tablets, with the Pro version supporting the lightning-fast USB 3.0 standard. The RT will be available with 32 or 64 GB of storage, and the Pro version will be offered with 64 or 128 GB of storage, but both appear to be expandable via microSD. The inclusion of the port is curious, as if it supports a high-capacity card, it will probably prove more cost-effective to purchase the 32 GB version and stick in a 32 GB microSD card to achieve 64 GB of storage. Thus, I would expect microSDHC to not be supported for the RT version, although the Pro version explicitly supports microSDXC, and the same logic would apply. We will have to see if there are any size limitations on the microSD card for either version.

Microsoft is claiming that the Surface will be able to capture the strongest Wi-Fi signal of any tablet on the market using 2×2 MIMO antennas which are less easily blocked by your fleshy hands. This is reassuring in light of the iPhone 4 and iPad’s reception issues.

As pictured above, the tablets come with a built-in kickstand. This enables the use of the Touch Cover or Type Cover, detachable front covers in the vein of the iPad’s smart cover, but which sport a built-in pressure-sensitive multitouch keyboard/trackpad or physical keyboard/trackpad, respectively. The cover includes an accelerometer, which disables the keys when the cover is folded behind the tablet. While third-party keyboard cases have been around for the iPad and Android tablets for some time now, this is clearly the biggest innovation in the space, as it is a first-party peripheral (maybe even included in the cost of the device) that is thin and functional, adding a negligible amount of size to the overall package.

The consumer and release previews of Windows 8 have shown that the OS is capable of being a more-than-worthy competitor to iOS, which many consider to be quite stale at this point in its life-cycle. That said, while the pace at which the Windows Phone marketplace has grown has been quite impressive, the accelerated expansion of the ecosystem should be priority number one for Microsoft at this point so as to have a chance at taking on the iTunes behemoth, especially considering Surface’s pared-down RT version. One can only expect integration with the services already present on Xbox Live, as well as cross-compatibility for content purchased on either device.

In this way, and with the awesome new keyboards, Surface seems to have the potential to steal some market share from the almighty iPad. The Pro version might just be the perfect marriage between a full-on laptop and a tablet, though the expected crappy resolution of the RT version might result in that model being a non-factor.

Price will definitely be a contributing factor to the success of the tablet, but for now Microsoft is only saying that “pricing for Surface for Windows RT will be on par with other Windows RT tablets,” and “pricing for Surface for Windows 8 Pro will be on par with Ultrabook-grade laptops.” Too high of a price will scare consumers away from both versions, but is less of a problem for the more innovative Pro version. If the RT version, which shares similar specs with the iPad, has a price even close to the latter, the RT’s crappier screen should push the consumer toward the iPad. We’ll have to wait until the Windows 8 launch, at which time the RT version will be released and 90 days after which the Pro version will be released, to see what impact these tablets have on the market. Would you forgo the iPad and buy one of these tablets? Feel free to let us know why or why not in the comments below.

[Surface.com, Engadget]

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5 thoughts on “Microsoft’s Surface aims to be the first true iPad competitor

  1. I’ll take a Pro please. Can run any program you want + apps? Sounds good to me.

  2. ab says:

    Where does Android fit in all of this? Does this mean the Microsoft operating system will be back in? If so… maybe Nokia Lumina becomes a hot new phone.

    • Gadi says:

      Android tablets (and smartphones) are suffering from fragmentation issues, wherein the glut of devices using Android are not optimized for the OS and developers of apps find themselves trying to make one app work on thousands of different devices (check out a graphic of the breakdownhere). Also, most Android users are not using the latest version of the OS, which in the case of smartphones is due to poor mobile carrier roll-out. Finally, Google doesn’t have a proprietary flagship device (yet) that will set the baseline for other devices to build off of, so the whole Android situation is a mess. Windows 8 RT will indeed be used on other companies’ devices as well, but in announcing their own proprietary tablet, Microsoft is getting to the party early and setting the stage for what a Windows 8 tablet should be (though probably souring the business relationship with said companies as they do it).

      In regards to “Microsoft’s OS being back in”, I do think Windows 8 is the opportunity for Microsoft to get back to its position of being a prominent player in the OS space, as long as they build up their content marketplace with blazing speed and provide seamless integration across all their devices. Remember, the Xbox has a huge install base and lots of available content and partnerships with content-providers. Couple that with this tablet and, as you mentioned, a Nokia Lumia, and Microsoft might be able to offer a decent alternative to the iTunes ecosystem.

  3. Anon says:

    Will it support Microsoft office or Word/Excel?

    • Gadi says:

      The Surface Pro will run a Full version of Windows 8 and thus any Windows-compatible software such as Office, and I can’t imagine Microsoft won’t release at least Word and Excel as apps that can run on both versions.

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