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Microsoft Surface Swims into the Mobile Ocean

surface artMicrosoft has come out from behind the curtain to join the mobility party. With the launch of its Surface line of tablets, this is a key moment for the personal computing universe. After a long hiatus which must have been filled with days and months of inner reflections and torment, Microsoft has made another move to include hardware as a company product.
Other than Xbox, Microsoft hardware has failed to make an impact. Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO, announced that the company was evolving from a software development shop to offering software, devices and services. Surface places Microsoft in the tablet market and thus reengages its competition with Apple and Google. In addition, it will also compete with many of Microsoft's OEM partners.

Surface has been an evolving technology. Here is one of the early Microsoft News press releases about the subject:

"Microsoft Launches New Product Category: Surface Computing Comes to Life in Restaurants, Hotels, Retail Locations and Casino Resorts

First commercially available surface computer from Microsoft breaks down barriers and provides effortless interaction with information using touch, natural gestures and physical objects. Picture a surface that can recognize physical objects from a paintbrush to a cell phone and allows hands-on, direct control of content such as photos, music and maps. Today at the Wall Street Journal's D: All Things Digital conference, Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve

Ballmer will unveil Microsoft Surface, the first in a new category of surface computing products from Microsoft that breaks down traditional barriers between people and technology. Surface turns an ordinary tabletop into a vibrant, dynamic surface that provides effortless interaction with all forms of digital content through natural gestures, touch and physical objects. Beginning at the end of this year, consumers will be able to interact with Surface in hotels, retail establishments, restaurants and public entertainment venues."

Dateline - CARLSBAD, Calif. - May 29, 2007

In 2007, Surface 1.0 was not yet a consumer device with its price tag of $10,000. That was only five years ago. Microsoft's 2012 Surface is designed to be used by individuals and especially within the connected enterprise. There are reasons to explore the functions and capabilities of these Windows 8 based tablets. If you are absolutely opposed to Windows of any size or functionality, there will not be enough here to convince you to start up the steep mountain path learning another interface and very usable, but different features.

The key decision process revolves around what computers, smartphones and other mobile devices you and/or your company uses. The Surface, with its Windows 8 framework, fits right alongside Office and Windows 8. Microsoft calls its products a ‘whole new family of computing devices'. There will be a Surface for Windows RT and one that runs Windows 8 Pro.

Ballmer, says; "There will be times when we build specific devices for specific purposes, as we have chosen to do with Xbox and the recently announced Microsoft Surface," Ballmer also said, "It truly is a new era at Microsoft; an era of incredible opportunity for us."

When examining Microsoft strategy, it is important to start with the company's huge user base of 1.3 billion Windows customers. Ballmer has identified that they can sustain dual strategy of packaging Microsoft's software with its own devices and licensing operating systems to other hardware makers.

As you start reading, please remember that the Surface RT is available now. The Surface Pro is anticipated in January.

Surface Overview
First thing to know is that Surface has a Tablet footprint. There are two models - Surface RT and Surface Pro. They are about the same size with similar features of two cameras, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ambient light sensor, micro SDXC card slot, stereo speakers and microphone.

With either device, you can add a Touch cover, a 3mm-thick magnetic cover that doubles as a protective case and a pressure sensitive keyboard. The Surface RT is available with 32GB or 64GB of storage, the Pro has 64GB or 128GB. The Pro has 4GB Ram; the RT only 2RGG. Both models have a USB connector. The Pro supports USB 3.0

The mutual feature set stops here. The RT model runs Windows RT and Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 (Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote.) It only works with apps available in the Windows Store. It has an ARM processor, similar to smartphones, and cannot run legacy apps or Windows 8.Surface Pro runs the full Windows 8 OS on a third-generation Intel Core i5 processor with Intel HD graphics 4000, making this more effective for users seeking compatibility with windows devices.

The Surface has a different set of goals than other tablets. Surface does not have a huge library of apps such as those that drive iOS and Android devices. However if you are searching for a replacement for your older laptop, Surface is worthy of close inspection even with its MS insignia.

All the software -- the UX, the Start menu, Windows Store apps, the Metro design aesthetic - focuses on getting Office to run on an ARM-based tablet. It's "Office" first, "compete with iPad" second.

The Office side of this is perfect. Everything else that will make Windows RT and Surface attractive in the consumer and business markets is playing catch-up. Choice is to combine all things in one and go through the required updates over the next 12 months.
The Surface is a new form-factor for running Word in ultra-portable, cloud-connected mode that also happens to have many tablet functions.

Surface is comparable to other tablets -1.5 pounds at 10.81 inches long, and 6.77 inches tall. The device has a magnesium case, Gorilla Glass screen, and a kickstand. Many tablets lack that solid feel and if you move them around they creak. The Surface doesn't creak. The 720p HD cameras are unobtrusive. A power cord is included.

A required accessory is either the Touch Cover or the Type Cover. Without a keyboard accessory, the tablet's productivity package falls short. The Type Cover features real keys with real key travel. It has a full keyboard and is closest to what you are using on other computers. The problem with the Type Cover is that while it is closer to what you know, the key press is shallow and not like the feel of the keys as you type.

The Touch cover looks like a flat piece of plastic for a child's game. The keys have pressure sensors to record finger taps, and not actual keys, The Touch can be hard to become accustomed to and move between Surface and other computers. The Touch Cover is modern and colorful. The Type Cover is not.

Each user has to try both to determine which is more adaptable. Spend more than a few seconds testing in your local store as when you decide you spend a little over $100 for a keyboard! The touch is $119 and the Type is $129. Perhaps Microsoft needs extra revenue. Yes, there is a bundled price that will save you $20.

Speakers have been appended and do not have functional use. The speakers have such low volume that any potential noise louder than a library or private office overlays Surface sounds.

The raw pixel numbers separate the Surface and the iPad:
• Current, 4th generation iPad: 2048×1536
• Surface Pro: 1080×1920

The retina display stands above all others. However, the Surface's RT screen is receiving good reviews. Microsoft is more interested in the user experience than the ‘speeds and feeds' of its devices. By this, it means that it cares more about the final, in-hand experience, and less on how a spreadsheet lines up. Of course, that is up to your personal preference. The display provides a direct connection the Windows 8 OS. So if you are a screen artist, the Surface will be satisfying for work and entertainment.

The Surface has a full USB port, a Micro SDXC card, and a port for HD video out. All ports are separated from the charging cable connection. The ports add functionality. Just how much it will add, depends on the adoption of the Pro, not the RT, within the enterprise. Microsoft has said that it is building a device for its current user base and beyond. Everybody wants USB.

The keyboard connection is terrific engineering design. Lower the unit near a Touch or Type Cover's connecting magnets and "click" you have a connection.

This little extra is really quite useful. The fact that it may deny business opportunities for manufacturers of accessories is not a concern. Out of the box, the Kickstand helps with immediate use.

The question - should you or should you not? Clearly, if you already own a tablet that is effective for you, this is not that big a leap to spend the money. The Surface RT is way too underpowered for what professionals need. There are many good features, but it falls way short of what the Surface Pro will deliver. The Windows RT system will only satisfy the early adopter got to have folks. These early buyers will likely want to upgrade soon after Pro is released

Over the past few weeks, there have been many reports of Apps that work elsewhere yet crash continually on the Surface RT. This is very unacceptable for any vendor. What has apparently happened is Microsoft managed their development process so closely that it restricted developers access to early hardware. While a few apps were ready for Surface's release, this has resulted in apps that don't work properly.

The RT is all about using Office applications. This is not a mobile, access-anything device, this is a mobile Office device. Word is quick and easy to use making, the Surface appear fast. Other use of the RT turns out to be slow and not responsive. Things like the Start screen and the charm have been optimized to behave like a Formula 1 car. Everything else is less inspiring.

Apple's neatest trick is that its smartphone and tablet devices don't feel like computers. They simply act as lenses out to your digital realm. They just get out of the way and realize that digital realm within your analog perception. Surface doesn't achieve this at all. It's very obvious that you're using a PC whenever you sit in front of it, or indeed whenever you pick it up.

However, if you're using Word, Surface is as snappy and slick as an iPad, albeit obviously recognizable as a classical PC-class computer.

Does the market actually want a device that runs Office first, and does all the other tablet tasks second? The innovations that are built into the surface are worthy to notice. The fact that Microsoft is late to the mobile party should not deter consideration. Microsoft has many interface innovations that evolve from the Kinect interface which supports a gesture-driven menu system, powerful search tool, and incredibly cool and versatile split-screen feature.

Today, the RT lacks access to the volume of apps that many users are semi-permanently attached to. The traditional Windows interface on the RT is very much out of place.

There is a price to pay for all this
• $499 - Basic Surface unit with 32 gigabytes of storage, and no Touch Cover
• $599 - Basic Surface unit with 32 gigabytes of storage, and a Touch Cover
• $699 - High-capacity Surface unit with 64 gigabytes of storage and a Touch Cover
• Touch Cover: $119
• Type Cover: $129
• Various Surface dongles: $40 each

Bottom line choices:
Avoid if you:
• Already own a tablet
• Use Mac products
• Hate Microsoft
• Do not want to go near Windows 8

Consider if you:
• Want a tablet
• Want Windows 8
• Use Microsoft all the way
• Ready to spend $600

If you are a developer and want to enter the MS App universe, go to this page to gather information - Designing Developing Apps for Windows 8 - http://msdn.microsoft.com/library/windows/apps/hh779072

Microsoft has delivered other hardware to consumer marketplace. The hits included keyboards, mice, and web cameras. The misses include network routers, wireless devices, Response Point and the no longer available Zune. Surface is receiving initial accolades for hardware that works, slightly over priced and a Pro version that is not yet available.

The first choice is to accept my recommendation to avoid the RT and wait for the Pro. The serious choice to buy or not to buy, dear reader, is yours.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: If you are considering the Surface, please follow the following news. This information is current as of November 11.

Reports from early users say that magnetic edges of Touch Cover split at the seam. The defect appears to be the same in each case -- the Surface's cover comes apart at its seam.

Microsoft admits that a small number of covers for its Surface tablet are prone to splitting after two weeks or less in users' hands and that it's replacing the defective ones. The company sent an email statement that they are "aware of a small number of instances of material separation" of the cover accessory. "Microsoft makes every effort to ensure our customers receive a high quality product."
These screen problems do not appear to be just a bad batch as this defect is being found in several countries.


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