Everyone's agog about the newly-announced Surface tablet from Microsoft. There are plenty of questions left to be answered, but the biggest is: do you want one? Gizmodo's Luke Hopewell and Lifehacker's Angus Kidman explore the issue.
LIFEHACKER: So Luke, the live launch for the Surface had barely begun yesterday when you loudly proclaimed that you were officially adding it to your "do want" list. What is it about the Surface that particularly inflames your gadget lust?
GIZMODO: The main thing that caught me was just how good Windows 8’s Metro UI looked on the thing. Obviously if it’s backed by Microsoft we can expect half-decent integration of its flagship operating system, but seeing it how it’s meant to be seen is so refreshing.
Microsoft has been saying that each iteration of Windows is “built for touch” ever since it minted Windows XP, but we’ve had a bunch of half-baked tablets from other manufacturers since then. This is Microsoft’s ace-in-the-hole: a company-built and backed tablet that has some real innovation in there. Hello, kickstand, stylus and multi-touch keyboard case.
You’re not as prone to gadget lust as I am, but is it something you’re at least a little impressed by?
LIFEHACKER: Like you, I enjoy seeing a tablet-centric operating system actually running on a tablet. While working with Windows 8, I've whinged repeatedly about how Microsoft's claim that Windows 8 is designed to work equally well with touch, keyboard and mouse is just so much self-serving BS. Touch is the focus; anyone else is definitely an afterthought. So it's good to see Microsoft backing its vision of how we should work with some hardware where that actually makes sense.
If I was going to use a tablet for more than just casual browsing and media consumption (a market already very well served by the iPad and Android devices, not to mention the PlayBook I actually use myself), Windows 8 would very likely appeal to me. It would integrate well with Dropbox and offer me a lot of familiar apps, albeit with fairly poor keyboard support.
Actually, that's the big thing I'd want to check in person: how well does the keyboard case actually work? The early hands-on reports suggest that hasn't quite been worked out yet. I might want a physical keyboard in any case, but it's an interesting innovation -- if Microsoft can get it right and price it right.
And there's the rub. Do you reckon a Windows 8 tablet has to be substantially cheaper than the iPad to gain a foothold? That's been the path for Android . . .
GIZMODO: Microsoft isn’t a company prone to being a “loss-leader”, meaning that it isn’t going to price the thing the way Amazon did with the Kindle Fire. Having said that, it's not going to make it absurdly expensive either. Microsoft has indicated that the RT tablet will be priced around other ARM-powered tablets (read: iPad), and added that the Pro tablet would cost about as much as an ultrabook. Clearly, it’s going to make a splash in the market no matter what the price is.
Something else you touched on there is how well the keyboard works. It’s a great idea to integrate the keyboard into the cover and it essentially puts other third-party manufacturers out of a job before the starting gun has even gone off, but Microsoft wasn't demonstrating the typing to anyone yesterday in the US. That leads me to think that it’s either not finished -- which isn’t so bad considering it still has a few months to perfect it -- or it just doesn’t work very well, which based on the need to swap out the tablet during the press conference itself, is of more concern to me. The last thing Microsoft needs is for its flagship product to be DOA on launch day. The hype around this product can’t survive that.
On the topic of hype, I don’t think people should be screaming for Microsoft to take their money until the company comes clean on exactly the type of hardware that powers the thing. RAM, mobile capability and the presence or absence of a camera is still unclear. Why do you think that is?
LIFEHACKER: Easy: as the Windows 8 launch date comes closer, Microsoft needs to demonstrate that the platform has real legs. It's not going to be taken up rapidly by business users, so establishing the consumer bona fides is important. Getting some pre-launch hype is important.
As for specs: I'd argue a lot of them don't matter. The average iPad buyer doesn't know anything about the specs beyond the onboard storage and whether it has 3G. They certainly don't know what the processor is. I'm not saying geeks don't care, but the tablet and phone market is a lot more about design than about grunt. (I'd be amazed if there was no camera, what with Skype and all.)
Clearly, 3G capability does matter. I suspect the lack of information on that front reflects a not-quite-finalised go-to-market strategy. US tablet sales have typically been very tied to carriers, and those deals take time. Saying nothing now means everyone can get excited, then we can all curse when it turns out to be a North America-only deal.
Without a price, I can't definitively say if I'd buy one. But what I know certainly doesn't turn me off.
GIZMODO: Right now, I don’t own a tablet, but as I said, I love the look of Windows 8 running where it should be: on Microsoft hardware. To be honest, if it’s priced right and actually works, it might find its way into my life. There’s a few boxes to check between now and then though in terms of what this thing actually is but right now it looks really promising.
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