news Global technology giant Microsoft has revealed that its Surface tablet will go on sale on 26 October next week, as its Windows 8 operating system also launches, in three different models and with only a small markup for Australian buyers compared with US prices.
The Surface tablet is Microsoft’s attempt to take on Apple’s dominant iPad tablet, which enjoys a market share in Australia usually estimated at upwards of 80 percent.
In some of its specifications, the Surface is similar to the iPad. It’s a similar size, featuring a 10.6” screen, it weighs about the same at 680g, and like the iPad, it features a powerful mobile processor (NVIDIA’s T30). It comes with a large amount of RAM for a tablet, 2GB, and like the iPad it supports Wi-Fi network access, has on-board storage (32GB or 64GB) and has two cameras – both 720p HD, on the Surface’s front and back. Like the iPad, the Surface also has in-built speakers and sensors such as an accelerometer, gyroscope, microphones and a light sensor.
However, ther’s where the similarities end. Unlike the iPad, the Surface will not support 3G or 4G mobile broadband, meaning users will need to connect it to a Wi-Fi network or share their smartphone’s 3G connecting through tethering to deliver Internet access to it, and although Microsoft has not yet confirmed the Surface’s screen resolution, this is expected to be much lesser than Apple’s high-end iPad ‘Retina’ displays.
But perhaps the main difference between the iPad and the Surface, to a casual user, will be the fact that it runs Microsoft’s radical overhaul of its Windows operating system. The Surface will run a cut-down version of the new Windows 8 operating system, which will also launch globally next week, dubbed Windows RT. Windows 8 obfuscates access to Windows’ traditional desktop operating paradigm, featuring a new user interface formerly dubbed ‘Metro’ and modelled along similar lines to Microsoft’s Xbox 360 dashboard design and the design of its Windows Phone 7 operating system. It is designed to be used with a touchscreen interface, along with more traditional keyboard and mouse control.
In a statement issued early this morning, Microsoft said its Surface tablet would be sold in three models in Australia – a 32GB version priced at $559, a 32GB version bundled with a black Touch Cover (an addition to the Surface which functions as a keyboard and a cover) for $679 and a 64GB version bundled with a black Touch cover priced at $789. All prices include GST. The same models will sell for US$499, US$599 and US$699 in the US, meaning that the Australian prices represent a modest markup on the US prices for the same models.
Microsoft said that a variety of accessories would also be available, including Touch Covers in five vibrant colours — black, white, magenta, cyan and red — priced at $139.99 “so customers can express their personal style”. “Customers will also have the option to purchase a Type Cover in black for $149.99,” Microsoft said, “which adds moving keys for a more traditional typing feel.”
The Surface will be available for purchase in Australia through the company’s Surface.com website, and it will come with the Windows RT version of Windows 8, which includes a version of Microsoft Office customised for the Surgave.
So far, there has been little evidence of consumer interest in the Surface in Australia apart from in the early adopter segment. However, in the enterprise, chief information officers have indicated their interest in adopting the device for corporate work, according to a poll ZDNet Australia conducted of Australian chief information officers in July.
At the moment conventional thinking in the IT industry appears to be dominantly along the lines that Windows 8 will be largely ignored by large enterprises and consumers, apart from in the tablet area, where many people expect it to have a chance at displacing the iPad in enterprises, due to the iPad’s historically (if not currently) poor manageability and the fact that the laptop/tablet category seems logically designed to converge in the long-term.
Personally, I’m on the fence about whether the Surface – and Windows 8 in general – will succeed and if so, when. As I’ve previously written, in order to displace the iPad, which most people seem pretty happy with, Microsoft and its partners need to do something actually better than Apple is doing. But with Apple’s lead in hardware, software, third-party developer mobile ecosystem and market share, plus the plethora of enterprise manageability tools which have popped up to manage it in large organisations, this seems like a pretty tough ask. Pretty much the only advantages Microsoft appears to have at this point are the fact that Apple has not yet converged the tablet and laptop categories – so maybe Microsoft can – and the fact that Microsoft currently dominates the enterprise, an area which Apple has always treated as a secondary priority. Can the Surface find its place in this dichotomy?
… my gut says ‘not just yet’, but I’m certainly looking forward to reviewing one.
I won’t be buying one myself just yet, but I remain open to being convinced by the Microsoft machine that it can pull this off. After all, it was only a few years ago that Microsoft was struggling to convince people like me that its entrance into the video gaming console scene would pay off. And it was only a few years later that Microsoft was struggling to convince people like me that its new mobile phone operating system (Windows 7) would go anywhere. The same in databases. The same in virtualisation. The same in servers (think about its decade-long battle with Unix/Linux). The same in CRM, business intelligence, identity. And the list goes on.
You have only look at Microsoft’s current product line to know that Redmond can sometimes take a while to get something right … but that it does have a degree of persistence that few other companies have. This is the thing I love about Microsoft. It never gives up.
Image credit: Microsoft