Live from Studio B

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Tape and strings literally made Surface. Panos Panay, General manager Surface team, Microsoft

To start there will be a part 2.

This week we saw the first of the two Microsoft Surface branded tablets go on sale. After months of speculation the Windows RT version was priced at $499 for the base 32 GB model without a Touch Cover (Microsoft’s screen cover that doubles as a keyboard).

To be honest I’m less interested in writing about technical specifications of devices than in the applications they run (unless I am compelled). In preparation to write this post about the Surface, I read some of the early previews written online. It was interesting reading in part because Microsoft had invited a handful of writers and bloggers to their Redmond campus to not only show off the device, but to also show off the team behind it. And because honestly they can better tell the tale than I will link to them. This post is simply me opining on what they saw and the device itself.

I don’t really view the Surface as a hero device in the way technology writers usually ascribe to. A hero device being the signature device of a platform with all the bells and whistles to attract the geeks. In today’s consumer market, this means the device has to meet a number of checkbox items that are available on other platforms as well as over internals that are acceptable as bleeding edge by technology enthusiasts. Things to be considered are thinness, battery life, screen size and resolution, chipset, and price.

Now the Surface RT doesn’t qualify as a hero device by the standards I just set. The price of the base model matches the base model of the iPad, but people wanted it to be cheaper and include the Touch Cover as part of the price. It has a 10.6 inch screen with a 1366×768 display which goes against the 2048×1536 screen used by the iPad and considered the industry leader.  It runs Windows RT, which is Microsoft’s version of Windows running on ARM chipsets. To many it is considered an inferior version because of its doesn’t have the compatibility of its x86 based cousin.

And yet the Surface is a hero device.

The coming crop of Windows tablet PCs are nice and have all the feature sets people are looking for. You want NFC, swappable batteries, Ethernet ports, and 3G connectivity you can find it from Samsung, Lenovo, Dell, HP, Asus, and Acer. You will find a lot of designs from pure tablets (without keyboards), hybrids (tablets with keyboard docks), and traditional tablet PCs (with attached keyboards), but what you won’t find are a lot of devices that make a statement and are objects of consumer desire.

I am not saying these devices are ugly, but some are uninspired. The Asus and Acer models build off of what they’ve done with Android tablets.What the Surface provides is that one Windows 8 and RT device that despite everything, makes you want to buy it. Every post this week written by someone who’s had a hands on with the device has come away with the sense that it was made well. That this was a device that was obsessed over. The Surface is the type high end device needed to take the lead in a market where the iPad is leader. Its a design point and a lightning rod.

A lot of companies (Acer) have complained about the Surface, that it will be detrimental to the PC ecosystem. I don’t think so. What I think is that instead of Windows tablets being compared the majority of the time to the iPad, they will be measured against the Surface. And that’s not a bad thing, because the comparison will stay within Windows and not iOS and Windows.

SO, what did I think of the device?

I have to say I was expecting the price to be $400 with tax. With the materials invested in and the tools used I wasn’t expecting fire sell prices (which many seem to). I’m going to have to sit and hold one in my hands, but having played around with the second and third generation Zunes and having seen some of Microsoft’s prototype work, I’m positive. I’m intrigued by the choices they’ve made for the device. Like going with a 10.6 inch screen as opposed to 11 inches which a lot of OEMs are using for Windows. I also want to see how well the screen works with the resolution chosen. I know some people are freaking out and saying its a fail, but i also know that the guy that headed up the efforts on screen resolution works in Applied Sciences and dealing with screens is what he does.

In my use case, I’m upgrading, so the Surface doesn’t meet my needs, but I really want to find a place for it. 

So that’s it, turn in for part 2

Image: Slash Gear 

Quote: The Verge

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