Microsoft Surface Questions That Need Answers

Microsoft threw one hell of a party today; its pair of Microsoft Surface devices could be one of the biggest jumps forward in product design in recent memory. Could, because there's still so much we don't know. And Microsoft's not sharing.

Is Surface a revolutionary tablet/laptop/wunderkind? We won't know for sure until we get answers to these five unfinished pieces of business.

Is mobile data built in?

One point that went glaringly omitted during tonight's presentation: data. Specifically, will either the RT or Intel version of Microsoft Surface come in a 3G or 4G edition? Wi-Fi is fine for most, but if you're pushing the business angle — which Microsoft very vocally was — online anywhere becomes incredibly important.

What about the specs that matter?

Storage is one thing. RAM, processor speed, and battery life are entirely another. Those are the things that most affect your computing experience. How well does it multitask? How fast does it run? How long will it last? Microsoft didn't include any of those three in its spec sheet, and declined to answer when asked directly. That's not a good sign.

How much does it cost?

Microsoft execs hinted at the prices of both the RT and Intel models of Surface, saying that they would be "competitive" with the market. Let's assume that "the market" means "the iPad," which puts the ARM-based surface at around US$600. But the x86 Surface doesn't really have a clear correlation, other than maybe the MacBook Air and other Core i5 ultrabooks, which puts it anywhere from US$1000 on up.

So why not just say that? Because Surface isn't coming out for months and months. Announcing a price now would leave Apple and the rest of the tablet hardware makers plenty of time to undercut.

When is it available?

We know that the ARM version of Surface will touch down concurrently with Windows 8, and that the Intel version will follow three months thereafter. Which would be incredibly helpful if we knew when Windows 8 is launching. It's certainly close enough to finished, but all indications have pointed to October for final release. Which is a long, long way away, in tech years.

Does that keyboard case even work?

Then there's maybe the most disconcerting open question: does this thing work? Sure the display looks great and the demos were mostly smooth, but in hands on sessions immediately following the event that super-futuristic, ultraflat keyboard case was strictly look, don't type. That's going to be Surface's biggest selling point, and it's clearly not ready yet for primetime. Will it ever be?

The one thing we do know is that Surface has a boatload of promise. It's exciting, it's the future, and unlike previous Microsoft tablet promises, it's got enough muscle behind it to avoid the vapourware pile. But that's a far cry from living up to expectations. And the sooner we fill in these blanks, the sooner we'll be able set ours.


Comments

    Article seemed overly negative for some reason (Microsoft hatred?)
    You basically answered most of your questions within the article; "Surface isnt coming out for months and months".

    This isnt like an Apple launch, which reveals and launches the device within a week so they can provide specific details.
    It is a first look at a brand new device, i would have been suprised if they revealed everything today.

    Im looking forward to it, should be a kick ass device if it is everything they showed.

      It's not overly negative, it's cautious. I criticise Gizmodo more often than not but I'm with them on this one. These questions are make or break for me and they aren't being addressed.

      I love the keyboard/cover concept, I think the preliminary slab looks great and how it ties in with W8. If it's as good as what I think it is, This Is My Next Tablet. If it disappoints on all these friends, it's just another iPad contender. I'm guessing it'll be somewhere in between, but every one of these things matter. At this point, I'm not settling with a tablet with <1080 resolution, especially given the new iPad's 'Retina' Display. I'm surrounded by high-resolution displays with almost imperceptible pixels, if this thing comes out with the 1280x800, I'm simply not interested.

      i agree
      this article read like, "Bill gates didnt specify that he isnt gay, which is a worry. But then again he might not be gay...or IS he?"

    If Microsoft gets the specs and cost right, then this device will be a wonderful bit of kit that will change work life, at least for me and I'm waiting on a few answers too. The specs is the biggest for me as I wish to know if the ARM is SnapDragon, Dual Core, Quad Core and what speed and the same for the Intel version. You say i5 chip but what's the speed and how much RAM??? I'm guess the devices could use their own storage space as RAM or extra RAM but that might be a little too limiting.

    The article was (to me) a little negative to me, almost like the author had already given up a little but if Microsoft does it right then I'm buying one for sure.

    How long does it take to boot and become usable?
    What is the battery life?

    These are questions our end users are asking when enquiring about mobile devices and the reason we are implementing iPads (instant on and a full days use from one charge)

      at the same time, not very often do companies ever talk about these things in a product launch. its more for the hands on bloggers to review it.

      its kind of a given that you will have instant resume and ~18 second boot times with ssds
      that kind of spec is not something microsoft "designed" its just a predefined feature of the hardware everyone else already uses

      also customers who dont read tech blogs, probably wouldnt be tech savvy enough to ask your questions

      also battery life and boot times are extremely subjective depending on your usage and how much preboot crap you have loaded

    does it come in brown??...

    I didn't get any negativity from the article. It asks fair and reasonable questions and provides a balanced view overall, I reckon. I am a little naive, in that I simply assume MS wouldn't be stupid enough to bring out a new tablet that wasn't using the latest gen SoCs. I read somewhere that the guts come from nVidia, so I'd expect at least a quad-core Tegra 3. Anything less would be suicide.

      who cares it runs windows... don't want or need to run WINDOZE... ever!

        how clever! 'windoze'. very droll, normandy. Thanks for coming into an article about something you don't want, and telling us you don't want it. Informative.

        Good for you. I , on the other hand, rely on Windows-only software for pretty much everything I do on my computer and I tell you what, if I could use the same applications at work I'd get a lot more done.

      im pretty sure ms arent stupid enough to use tegra 3

      the best part is, im pretty sure they optimised the hell out of the tablet to work with w8

    It's not hard to make arguments for something that doesn't exist. As a result pundits do it all the time. But the problem with a Microsoft tablet will be the same as with the OEM versions - Windows 8. As different as Windows 8 seems on the surface, it's really the same old story with the same old Microsoft strategy - it tries to be everything to everyone. The hybrid tablet/keyboard products now being introduced in experimental form factors fail the primary test of a tablet - the one established by Apple with the iPad - that is, simplicity. They are, in fact, just bastardized laptops. From the reviews I've read of Windows 8, it's redolent with the same bastard flavor, in which it's difficult to tell whether you're in Metro or in Windows 8. The effort to integrate the two has made them all but indistinguishable, yet the functions of the two operating environments are widely dissimilar.

    Apple, despite the appearance of convergence between OS X and iOS, remains clear on the differences, insisting that the iPad is not a PC. I don't blame Microsoft for trying a different tack, but just because it's different doesn't mean it will be successful. Microsoft has a good thing with Windows Phone 7. Had they followed up on that creative approach to a touch interface with a version of Metro for a media tablet, they might have been late to the game, but they would at least be in the game. Instead, they are trying to combine Rugby and Soccer on the same field at the same time - and the result is utterly predictable: Chaos. As if the technology market is not chaotic enough already.

    While it's certainly possible to see a Microsoft made tablet as a prototype for the OEMs, rather than following Microsoft's lead, they will struggle to differentiate themselves from the Microsoft product and from one another, just as they do now. The result will be confusion among consumers and the low demand that such confusion creates. So Microsoft and their OEMs will be stuck fighting for a viable piece of a niche market that really has no viable pieces. And none of them will compete with the iPad in any meaningful way.

    It's not surprising that Windows pundits remain bullish on Microsoft: Their livelihoods depend on Microsoft's success. It's failures only make their own prospects look bleak. So it's no use looking to them for clarity. They're swimming in muddy water. There's no clarity to be had.

      but i WANT a bastardized laptop. i want my tablet to be able to do everything my laptop does except run diablo 3 and even then diablo 3 would be cool too. im sick of "simplified" im sick of bs about user interfaces i want a device that works....and as much as the haters love to hate windows has always had that going for it...its vercitility. many people i know dont use that stufff but i personally cant wait to be able to use mouse without borders and a proper file explorer with security and backups and restors and networking that can do more then just connect you to the internet. ii want to be able to use office. i never want to feel like carrying a tablet instead of my laptop is a compromise And i know a LOT ofpeople are the same.

      yes you can get that stuff in ubuntu and osx but you CANT on tablets...yet. not with an interface that is designed to be used with it.

      I don’t know what lack of clarity you speak of. Microsoft has always catered for everything for everyone and it’s a strategy that has done well for them. It is this strategy that I like them.
      I only need to have 1 copy of windows and I can run it on all of my laptops, desktops and even my windows slate pc. All the software is the same and (this is a power user niche) I can create OS images for easy reinstalls and recovery etc. I had some hardware trouble with the slate out of warranty and if it weren’t for MS’s ability to be flexible and work on all form factors, id have no way to diagnose the issue without shelling our hundreds of dollars to an it pro.
      Having a converged OS allows IT professionals to justify to use it because they only need to provide tech support for 1 OS and for the same os they are familiar with for over a decade. I have seen so many businesses proclaiming they are going to integrate an iOS or even android device into their businesses but either fail or find that it causes more issues than it solves.
      Ironically it is also this strategy that contradicts your argument. While what you say is true about OEMs will try to differentiate themselves however there will be little confusion, because no matter what customers buy, it will always be a windows tablet with the same OS. Customers just have the ability of choosing between 40 different hardware and design combinations. If that is a terrible thing, then im sorry to say apple has dumbed down and blinded our society. Choice is a good thing for everybody, even businesses as it encourages innovation and rewards those who succeed. Apple is a good example, but they haven’t done anything different for eons. When the ipad first came out, a lot of techies complained that it is just a giant ipod touch and you couldn’t do much on it.
      Now there are a lot of apps, but technically it is still a giant ipod touch that runs photoshop
      Whatever happened to personalisation and customisation. Not everybody wants to buy the hipster “simplistic, dumbed down design” approach apple uses. I am actually pretty impressed with the surface because where Microsoft has put a lot of effort into their design, it has all be functional and USEFUL.
      Granted, there is room in the market for a simplified device like the ipad. But there must also be a place for something for power users. Even though windows 7 wasn’t optimised for touch and pen input. With a few tweaks and plugins I have been using it with absolute ease for almost 2 years and I cant go back to a normal computer unless im gaming.
      Additionally the RT version bridges the gap between powerusers and dumbusers perfectly, allowing a nice balance between price, performance and a whole lotta more functionality when they do need it.
      Lets face it, a tablet is not meant to be your ONLY computing device, but it needs to handle most of the tasks as most people these days work on the go or like to take their computers (which hold their life) with them. The ipad does not increase your productivity and anything the ipad can do, a pc can do as well. Games? Check. Entertainment? Check. Productivity and work? Check. Enterprise and even retail? Check. Power an ATM? Check.
      My favourite joke that ive heard is:
      What is the difference between an ipad and a surface?
      The Surface runs itunes

        I agree with the majority of comments on this page. I love PC and Apple gear alike. Both have their niche and their place in the World.

        To say that this new device will replace your laptop and tablet is pushing it a little far as I really don't know many users that will think 'Gee, 128GB of storage... I'll never fill that!'. I have a tiny iTunes library, but that alone is 20gigs of storage gone straight away, plus the OS, another 8gigs or so at a guess (there's 20% of your storage gone already); The average game or major software package would be around the 5GB mark etc etc.

        If MS have gone down the same route as the new MBP, then 'upgrade-ability' will be zero until user mods are available. Modding newer and newer tech is getting a tad fiddly, and risky. Or you have the privilege of paying through the a$$ for someone else to do it for you.

        I think software will play a big part in this. Is there more software coming out that we are not aware of which will automatically dump completed work and documents over to a NAS when you get home? Or an add-on that links physically like a hub that you could plug into your network and transfer mass files via Ethernet for later use, or whatever; I'm just thinking aloud here.

        As a daily device, the portability and (potential) speed of the Surface (Pro) will definitely be a game changer, but as a daily workhorse I still don't think it will have enough grunt for what I do, and without question not enough storage needs for what I do. I really don't want to start carrying around numerous peripherals either.

        I'll be sticking to my PC tower at home and MBP for on-the-road work for the next 12-18 months at least. Don't forget, as with most new devices - the initial release is more than likely going to be missing key things we haven't even touched on here. It could be software/hardware or a mixture of the two. I'll be waiting at least to see what's offered up with the second gen model once the initial teething issues have been ironed out.

      That Rugby and Soccer analogy is awful and you should feel awful. Also bastardized laptops.

    Does it include the Clippy Office Assistant and a 30 day trial version of Microsoft Songsmith?

      Oh man, songsmith, that horrible software that never was? That would be pretty darn hilarious if Microsoft included a copy of that with every unit sold haha.

    Personally I like the 'idea' behind the keyboard but if that's the final product, it looks like it will be a pain to use. Hopefully it's just a mockup, otherwise I'm gonna have to buy some keypad stickers to make 'em stand out a bit more.

      If you look carefully, you will see there are two different products and, from everything I've read today, I think you are way off when it comes to how usable they will be. This is not the $10 roll-up keyboard you buy on eBay, this is based on some seriously innovative technology MS have been funding for several years.

      actually thats a great idea to get a tactile feel while keeping a slim formfactor
      though im sure someone will release an aftermarket version with vibration, that would be cool

    Can you use it to hammer in nails?
    http://youtu.be/Jf1fRu9YgfE

    My question still is, why would you buy this over an iPad? Especially true with the Windows RT version. I see no obvious advantages there.

    The pro version is certainly interesting. But there's been Windows tablets before. Remember Windows XP Tablet PC edition? They didn't sell great. The software was crappy, and the prices were ridiculous. I really hope Microsoft have fixed up the software since then, the latest Windows 8 build certainly seems focused on touch screen devices (to it's detriment), hopefully that translates well for a tablet experience. It doesn't sound like they'll be pricing these against tablets though. Instead opting to compete against "ultrabooks". If this is the case I hope they can compete against ultrabooks on more than just price. They'll need the performance and battery life to match, and they'll need to offer the accessories to use these tablets as PCs to boot. You certainly won't want to be using a 10" screen as a monitor all day!

    So certainly underwhelming right now. The idea of replacing my currently laptop with a tablet that's just as capable certainly interests me, but I'm not convinced this is it.

      Everything you are saying about early Windows tablets also applied to netbooks and they used to sell as well as iPads do today. I'd also suggest it applied to the first and second gen MacBook Air but in both cases that is because the devices came out before the technology was there to make them viable.

      Oh, and as you seem concerned about whether or not MS have "fixed up the software" since Windows XP was released, I am happy to report that have been two full version updates, as well as a handful of Service Packs. There will be another full version update to Windows 8 before these devices ship, so I think it should be OK.

      Just out of interest, what is your current laptop's specs? I'm thinking you probably get two hours out of a battery and it runs Core2Duo. Am I right? If I am even close, I think Surface will easily be able to run rings around your laptop.

        Totally wrong , my MacBook pro goes for 9 hours... And it's two year old running an I 7 .... U faied again

        > If I am even close, I think Surface will easily be able to run rings around your laptop.

        You're not, and you've got no facts to back up your claims. Again.

          he was being faceitious

          hes indicating that history is not an indication of future. especially technology because you simply cant compare them. and you seem to base your comments around a 10 year old piece of software that even microsoft has stopp supporting.
          You dont see windows users critiquing the ipad because of how bad the Newton was

          The main point is that alot of "innovative ideas" were implemented before the technology was available to smoothly execute it. Look how terrible the first iphone was compared to what it is now
          it wowed everybody but it didnt gain traction until later models were released.

          nobody gets it right the first time, simply because technology improves and a newer model is almost going to happen to beat it and make it look bad

          at the time windows xp tablets were the best we could have at the time. There are huge number of tablet users and only microsoft seemed to bother catering for them.
          THe only reason for lack of success is beacuse it wasnt a cultural fad like the ipad is and high cost. doesnt mean the device was great or sucky.

    I could have sworn Microsoft said a little while ago the ARM version of Windows 8 wouldn't be available until next year unless this has changed more recently. But if that's the case and the x86 version isn't due until a few months after the RT version, we could be waiting a while. It would make more sense to release the x68 version with the x68 version of windows 8 and the RT version with the ARM Win8. Hmmmmm

    Hey, I just noticed something interesting that confirms everything I have always thought about the differences between Vista and Windows 7. Vista is version 6.0 and Win7 is version 6.1.

    While the cellular connectivity blanks in the presentation may be frustrating, you only need to look at the mess and legal actions that followed the release of Apple's iPad 3 to understand this approach by Microsoft. Unlike 3G worldwide, 4G is all over the place in terms of standards, frequencies and availabilities. The longer they leave the announcement, hopefully they can sort out the mess for more markets . I see this as some good marketing by Microsoft. Has Microsoft got someone faces on their marketing and product development teams? Seems like they are finally getting their "stuff" together to take a kick back at Apple. That keyboard option is a winner for business work, as will be legit compatibility with Office. The conservative IT guys in the big companies are going to love this. Let's hope Microsoft don't drop the ball again. We need healthy and real competition in the computer market.

    I don't think Microsft are stupid. The RT will be priced the same as the equivalent sized iPad or less. Microsft are giving themselves the best advantage possible and to stop competitors trying to price themselves better than the RT tablet (Google). Even though I am an Apple user I am hoping Microsft will pleasantly surprise the market at the release of Windows 8 with its RT offering.

    Who makes the digitiser for the stylus? Big question for artists with pressure sensitivity and accuracy needs.

    The whole launch smacked of haste. They knew that all the unanswerable questions would be asked. Why launch something half baked? Oh, that's right, it's Microsoft. They should have been able to nail all the questions, but they didn't. Do they know what they're doing? But then again, all the MS cool aid drinkers win cream themselves regardless of the lack of specs. If this were Apple, and these were Apple fanboys, you haters would have an absolute field day. Why shouldn't MS be put under the microscope for this vapor ware? Promises count for zero. The proof is in the pudding, but the pudding has no ingredients yet.

      err...what are you smoking?
      its not finalised product,
      the presentation was primarily to reveal the device. Not to launch the final version
      the core features were presented
      they dont want to release prices 6 months in advanced leaving themselves open to undercutting? Apple holds out announcements until a week before availablity, leaving users who just bought devices remorseful. MS just annoucned it giving me plenty of time to sell my slate before it depreciates and save for the new one

      so you hate a device and is fail because of this
      sigh

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