After long days of anticipation -- and a great deal of speculation -- Microsoft (IW 500/16) unveiled its newest gadget to the market this week: the Surface tablet.
Presented to a select crowd of enthusiastic journalists and bloggers in an elite Los Angeles venue, the wide-screen device promises a heavy load of innovative new features packed into a slight, 9.3 millimeter frame. Most notably of these are an integrated stand and a three millimeter pressure sensitive cover that doubles as a fully-functional keyboard, which drew spontaneous applause from the crowd.
The secrecy leading up to this presentation and the flash of its delivery recalled Apple's (IW 500/14) preferred style rather closely -- and the allusion seems intentional.
With its HD screen and light-weight, user-friendly design, the device is clearly designed with the consumer in mind, which places Microsoft squarely into Apple's turf.
Moving focus on the consumer rather than the enterprise, said Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps, marks a fundamental pivot in Microsoft's product strategy. Doing so, she said, "lets Microsoft compete with vertically-integrated Apple on more even ground."
Taking the iPad head on like this may seem like an overly ambitious position for the company's first step into the tablet market, but CEO Steve Balmer is confident that this new device has what it takes to face that perpetual market-dominator, even after so many competitors have fallen in the attempt.
The trick to this, he said during Monday's event, is to give users the entertainment value they expect from tablets and add something new to the mix: productivity.
"People want access to information and the ability to create content anywhere anytime," he said.
"People want to do all that without compromising the productivity PCs are uniquely known for, from personal productivity applications, to technical applications business software and literally millions of other applications written for Windows."
The Surface, and the technology it represents, is the culmination -- and hardware manifestation -- of the much anticipated Windows 8 expected out by Microsoft later this year.
This newest version of Windows represents a fundamental shift to the basic platform, featuring upgraded cloud computing services and supporting a wider-range of devices. In a previous press event, Ballmer placed heavy stakes on this update, going so far as to call its release the "dawning of the rebirth of MS Windows."
At Monday's event, he explained that the Surface is the vehicle to this rebirth.
"Much like Windows 1.0 needed the mouse to complete the experience, we wanted to give Windows 8 its own companion hardware innovation," he said.
That innovation is the Surface -- "a whole new family of computing devices from Microsoft," he said.
Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft's Windows division noted the revolution this represents.
"Just as we have re-imagined Windows, we have a vision for re-imagining the tablet," he said. The result is "a tablet that is a PC. A PC that is a great tablet" -- a combination that finally gives users an integrated platform for both their "Angry Birds" and Microsoft Office needs.
Though certainly flashy, the presentation was not without its due kinks. Most notably was a tense moment when Sinofsky's Surface model failed to respond to a touch command while attempting to show off a native Netflix app.
While, another functional model was on hand to complete the presentation, the glitch was enough to create some concern for the system's stability -- a claim that has often dogged Microsoft in the past.
With no official release date yet assigned to either Windows 8 or the Surface, though, the company will certainly have time to work out a few of the bugs.