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Microsoft Takes Tablets Seriously With Surface

Microsoft's new tablet, which they refer to as Surface, looks at first glance to be a serious attempt at a competitive tablet -- bearing in mind that the pricing is as-yet undisclosed. OEMs will be competing not only with each other, but with Microsoft.

On Monday, Microsoft revealed Surface, their new tablet running Windows 8. I want one -- depending on what it costs.

Microsoft's Steves Ballmer and Sinofsky made the announcement at a mystery event in Los Angeles and made it clear that Surface fixes what is wrong with today's tablets, hitting hard on some of the same problems I have with them. They seem to be designed with arbitrary criteria separate the needs of real business users. Sure, everyone loves using tablets, but everyone also runs into their limitations, mostly surrounding documents. Dealing with real documents, and even with short stuff like e-mail, is a series of compromises and hacks (sometimes elegant hacks, like this Logitech keyboard for the iPad).

Surface will be a "no compromise" device. It will, say the Steves, be a great tablet and a great document system.

Notice from the picture above that the device has a built-in keyboard cover. Notice further that the keyboard has a trackpad. I assume, but don't know yet, that you'll be able to use a mouse, perhaps through Bluetooth, but certainly with the USB plug in Surface.

Android and iOS are not designed to work with keyboards. iOS doesn't know how to handle all the typical keys. Windows 8 will not make this mistake.

Notice in the this next picture that Surface has a stand built in. When you open and close the stand a specially-designed sound is emitted.

Microsoft released a lot of specs about Surface. It's a teeny bit thinner than the iPad and a teeny bit heavier. The Surface Pro version is thicker and heavier. It's not clear to me from reports, but I suppose Pro runs on Intel chips, which have many advantages for businesses.

The most important difference between the Apple and Microsoft worlds is the OEM competition in the Windows markets. That may be changing some. Microsoft will be selling a device that could make OEM systems look bad, and those guys have to pay the Windows license fee too. Microsoft will also be selling these devices in their own brick and mortar stores. I'm currently in Boston for a show and there's a soon-to-open Microsoft Store in the mall at the Prudential Center right across the street from the Apple Store.

As I said recently, hybrid tablet/notebooks running Windows 8 won't just disrupt the tablet market, they may make notebooks obsolete. Look at Surface: If you have this do you really need a notebook computer? More joy for the OEMs. And if the keyboard-included design of Surface becomes standard and popular, it will be hard for Apple to do the same thing. But I'm getting way ahead of myself there.

The picture above shows another bar Microsoft is setting high: a choice of colors. This too is something you don't typically see from OEMs and a recognition from Microsoft that these devices aren't just functional, they're fashion statements.

Many of you are, no doubt, incredulous that Microsoft could gain the initiative in a market that has zoomed so far past them, but it's not hard to see. Everyone makes mistakes; smart companies learn from them. The empire is striking back.

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