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.