Earlier this week, Microsoft (taking a page from the Apple playbook) hosted a press event to unveil its "mostly" secret Surface tablet, destined for sale sometime late in Q4. While Microsoft's motivation for entering the tablet market with self-designed and branded hardware is multi-sided and somewhat controversial, the fact remains that the Microsoft hardware team in Redmond has produced a device with massive ramifications to both consumers and businesses alike.
In short, Surface has the potential to save companies billions of dollars, all while making the IT department's life much easier.
At first glance Surface is merely Microsoft's attempt to run with Apple and Google in the tablet market. iPad fever is becoming contagious; commercial success with consumers is rapidly spreading to IT departments as employees demand to compliment their device load with a lightweight tablet. Many are caving in, but there are still many security and management features lacking in iOS keeping it from further penetrating governments and large enterprises.
Windows 8 (like nearly all versions of Windows) addresses everything IT wants from a security, management, and application compatibility perspective. However, whether intentional or not, Microsoft has created the perfect computing device for your business.
A Look at Surface
Microsoft introduced two models of the Surface family, Surface and Surface Pro, each uniquely positioned for a particular segment of the market.
The Surface is based on ARM, runs Windows RT (so no legacy app compatibility), and is largely aimed at consumers. Surface Pro is based on Intel Hardware (an unspecified Core i5 Ivy Bridge chip), runs Windows 8 Pro, and is aimed at enthusiasts and professionals. Being based on Windows 8 means Surface Pro is a full, no compromises PC capable of running everything from a simple Metro app to Adobe's Creative Suite.
What really sets Surface apart from any tablet are two brilliantly designed features. When combined, these two things solidify the crazy sounding things Microsoft has been boasting about during this ramp up to Windows 8.
For starters, Microsoft has integrated a stand directly into the back of the tablet. Pull it out, and the tablet can sit upright on a desk without third party accessories, additional weight, or cost. When closed, it seamlessly disappears into the back of the tablet.
Second, their two magnetically attached smart cover designs are a game changer... and make Apple's iPad Smart Cover look archaic by comparison. Besides serving as mere protection for your tablet or a simple on/off switch, the magnetically attached covers integrate a full qwerty keyboard and trackpad.
Touch Cover is a pressure sensitive soft keyboard only 3mm thick(!), which Microsoft claims is twice as efficient as typing on glass and way more comfortable. Type Cover houses tactile keys with a 1.5mm travel over the pressure sensitive variety, while still adding very little to the overall thickness. Supposedly, the keys offer a satisfying typing experience just as good (if not better) than most Ultrabook keyboards.
Surface Pro also integrates a pen for digital ink. According to Microsoft, the optically bonded display puts the pen closer to the screen than ever, making it feel like you're actually writing on it.
What Surface Means for Business
Take a look at what Surface Pro offers: 10.6 inch full 1080p HD display, backwards compatibility with Windows 7/XP software, Hyper-V, full device management, digital ink, powerful processor, decent graphics, USB 3.0, and display port. That makes it the most versatile, powerful tablet ever.
With the Touch Cover or Type Cover added it's also a fully-featured notebook PC capable of real productivity tasks, making it possible to outfit employees with a single computing device instead of two. Without having to outfit each employee with both a laptop and a tablet, businesses can save a bundle on software licensing, hardware, peripherals, damages, etc. IT departments get to enjoy reduced management overhead, and deploy secure devices that can be remotely managed using technologies already in place.
The best part is that even if Surface may not be suited to those who like bigger screens on a notebook, you can bet Microsoft's design work is bound to find its way into partner products. Expect to see Surface clones and Ultrabook/tablet transformers (many already shown at Computex a few weeks ago) galore in the year ahead.
Microsoft estimates the ARM based Surface tablet in Q4, with the Intel based Surface Pro due some 90 days after.
Microsoft Surface proves that a tablet doesn't have to be a companion to a PC. It can, in fact, be the PC without having to compromise on power and versatility. To think, all it took was some guy at Microsoft to say, "Dude! What if the cover could be the keyboard!"