While companies from HP to Acer to Lenovo have announced information about their forthcoming Windows 8 tablets and computers, Microsoft itself has stayed relatively quiet about its own hardware – its Surface tablet. That is, until today.
This morning the company revealed that its first tablet computer will be available for pre-order starting at 9 a.m. Pacific time today from Surface.com. It will start shipping and be on sale at Microsoft stores on Oct. 26, the same date that Windows 8 is officially available.
The Surface, which has a 10.6-inch screen and a pop-out kickstand, will start at $499 for the 32GB version. The base model doesn't include the company's new and innovative Touch Cover, which clips to the bottom of the tablet and doubles as a keyboard and a protective cover.
The 32GB tablet with the Touch Cover will cost $599. A 64GB version with the Touch Cover will start at $699. The Touch Cover separately will cost $119.99 and comes in a rainbow of colors, including red, blue, magenta, and white.
The price is competitive with Apple's iPad, which starts at $499 with 16GB of storage space. But the Surface is more expensive than many had predicted.
"We wanted a base package that would let people enter the tablet market. It's highly competitive," Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft's Windows and Windows Live division, said when speaking to a group of journalists on Microsoft's campus Monday. "We know the prices of our competitor and we know this is a better deal, plus it is a bigger screen and holds more stuff."
While a number of Android tablets have fallen below the $300 price level and a few below $200, all of the Windows 8 tablets and computers introduced so far are priced at $499 or more.
And that's intentional. Microsoft is marketing the Surface and other still-to-come Windows 8 devices as more than just tablets -- they are computers. They are the Windows experience completely "reimagined."
"We think of PCs as a generic device that can work across a number of different scenarios and form factors. They have peripherals and ecosystems and we wanted to bring all of that goodness to a kind of device that you carry along with you all the time, that has all-day battery life with its roots in the ecosystem and in the notion of productivity," Sinofsky said. "That's where we start with Surface. That's the perspective we bring to market."
The Surface is, however, just as much about hardware as it is about software for Microsoft. After years of letting other companies make hardware, the company decided to create the best hardware, it says, to set the best stage for Windows 8.
The tablet is crafted from a new "VaporMg" metal Microsoft says it developed to make the Surface extra-durable, able to withstand drops and bruises. The kickstand mechanism has been specially developed, even down to the very sound it makes when you snap it back. The Touch Cover keyboard doesn't have physical keys, but touch sensors built into the cover. And the 10.6-inch, ClearType HD screen was also specially made so it could accommodate a wider keyboard.
"We had to use every ounce of space smartly," said Panos Panay, the general manager of the Microsoft Surface project. Panos and his team went through over 250 mock-ups of the design of the tablet.
The tablet has a lower-powered Nvidia ARM processor, which unlike Intel processors is built on totally different underlying architecture. The new architecture doesn't let you run older apps on the tablet (you can still run those older apps on Windows Pro tablets or computers), but it does come with Microsoft Office 2013.
Microsoft's investment in the production of the Surface was clearly no small undertaking, and neither are its marketing efforts. Over the next couple of weeks Microsoft's advertising will be hard to avoid. It has begun running Windows 8 countdown ads on TV and just released a brand new ad for the Surface itself, heavy on dancing and choreography.
Additionally, Microsoft will open more of its own stores. Over the holiday season, it will put up an additional 34 holiday shops, making for 65 stores nationwide for the heavy buying season. On Oct. 26 it will launch a pop-up store in New York's Times Square, which will feature Surface front and center.
"I have used a lot of tablets and this is not a tablet, but this is the best tablet I have ever used. I've used a lot of laptops and this is not a laptop, but it is also the very best laptop I have ever used," Sinofsky said. "It's a new kind of device."