As expected, Microsoft unveiled its new tablet, called "Surface," in Hollywood today. The device is designed to attack the market-leading iPad's only real weakness: the perception that it's a device for consumption rather than creation — for reading and watching rather than getting things done.
Unlike the iPad, Surface is less a pure tablet than a sort of collapsible PC. It runs Windows 8, the latest version of Microsoft's well-known operating system. There's an integrated stand and two covers that double as full keyboards, one of which provides a more conventional, tactile typing experience. The whole thing weighs in at about a pound and a half. It's sleek and black and has a ultrabook-esque selection of ports. (Covers come in a range of colors.)
A relatively subdued but kind of intense Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO, called the tablet "a tool to surface you passions, ideas and creativity." He also stressed that it's all about Windows 8, a piece of software that "deserved its own hardware innovation."
Pricing was specified, other than to compare the various versions of the device with tablets and ultrabooks already in the market. We'll be able to buy Surfaces later this year (most likely).
Microsoft caught plenty of flak in the tech blogosphere for announcing the event last week, then keeping the location (Milk Studios) a secret until...this morning! The presentation also didn't go off without a hitch, as one of the Surfaces seemed to lock up.
Even though Microsoft does build hardware, it's never really built its own PC, although some may recall it ill-fated "Courier" tablet, a dual-screen design that predated the iPad but never made it to market. So Surface, which takes a lot of chances by bringing numerous features to the party than iPad users typically get from somebody other than Apple, represents a big departure.
It also represents an effort to extend Microsofts cred with business into the tablet space. So far, business-oriented tablets like the BlackBerry PlayBook have failed miserably.
The gathered tech journalists in Hollywood were impressed. It remains to be seen whether the public will also take to Surface.
UPDATE: I should point out that my "collapsible PC" remark is probably more applicable to Surface Pro, which really is a PC that you can fold up. The Surface RT is the simpler model. It will also be cheaper. Both can use either of the cover/keyboards. So Surface is actually a "family" of two devices and two covers.