1. Price. The biggest question about Microsoft's Surface tablets is how much consumers will have to pay to get their mitts on one. Surface for Windows RT, which uses ARM chips and emphasizes portability over power, should come in at less than the Intel-based, more fully-featured Surface for Windows 8 Pro. How much less remains to be seen. Most analysts believe Microsoft will at least have to achieve cost parity with the new iPad, which starts at $399, to gain market share against Apple.
But even that price is $200 more than Amazon's Kindle Fire. Microsoft will need to let go of its traditionally fat margins to make a go of it with Surface.
2. Availability. Surface's launch date is also key, but unknown. Microsoft said only that Surface RT will debut first, with Windows 8 Pro coming 90 days later. Ideally, Microsoft would want Surface RT out in time for the back-to-school shopping season, which is (spoiler alert) about two months away. Failing that, it's a must that Surface be available well in time for the 2012 holiday season.
[ Why is Microsoft risking valuable partnerships by delivering a home-grown tablet? InformationWeek's Fritz Nelson explores 5 possible motivations in Microsoft Tablet Surfaces A New Strategy. ]
3. Performance. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer demoed both Surface models at Monday's launch event at Milk Studios in L.A., but it was tough to get a real sense of their potential. Important questions about speed, battery life, and overall performance remain.
That's partly because Microsoft revealed little about the Surface's internal components. We know that Surface RT will run Windows 8 RT and will be powered by an ARM-based chip, but we don't know the make or model. Microsoft was similarly vague when it said only that the Windows 8 Pro version would run "a third-generation Intel Core Processor."
4. Durability. Microsoft claims it built Surface using a proprietary manufacturing process its calls VaporMg (Redmond says the pronunciation is "Vapor Mag"). According to Microsoft, VaporMG is a unique "combination of material selection and process to mold metal and deposit particles that creates a finish akin to a luxury watch."
Sounds impressive, but since this is, by Microsoft's admission, a brand new process, it will take several months to determine how Surface stands up to everyday wear and tear, coffee splatters, bumps, and dings. A luxury-watch finish is great, but there's a reason most people don't bring their Patek Phillipe collection to work.