Microsoft Surface – A sigh of relief

I had subconsciously made it a point to follow the Microsoft Press Conference on Monday. At 4:30am (India Time) I instinctively woke up to check my twitter timeline, to find a link to the live blog at Engadget. Much to my amusement, the conference was just about to begin – so I tuned in.

What I saw next, was eventually lead by a sigh of relief and satisfaction in the foreground, yet a truck load of excitement in the back of my brain. Surface is a major leap for Microsoft Windows. A lot bigger than the transition from Windows Mobile 6.0 to Windows Phone 7. Windows 8 and its revolutionary Metro UI were game changing already. The OS has the “touch interface” in its DNA. But with Surface, it becomes a whole new story.

Microsoft’s Windows lies at the heart of Microsoft’s product ecosystem. The evolution in computing devices originating from a certain Cupertino campus did eat a huge chunk out of the PC market, and open new markets where Microsoft had tried it’s hands earlier in 2001 with the Microsoft Tablet PC range. Microsoft was out of the big picture for a long time, taking only a few steps in with the whole new Windows Phone in Oct 2010. But that still kept Microsoft out of the tablet business. Especially when every other OEM is trying to get their share of the Tablet market, some with very weird approaches – Rise of the Phablet. Microsoft entering the tablet market was inevitable and apparent with its Windows 8 operating system being targeted to low end devices and extended support for ARM. But that was still not game changing. What is gaming changing is a signature device running the Windows 8 operating system.

With Surface, Microsoft has its own hardware presence in the tablet arena and the ability to provide the richest Windows 8 experience by gracefully integrating the hardware features in the OS. After looking at Surface, I won’t hesitate to say that Microsoft has lived up to its potential – The war is back on! All thanks to the superior design considerations Microsoft has made with Surface. Two of the design features that were highlighted during the press conference set Surface apart from its competitors.

The moment I think of a tablet use-case, the first thing to strike out is anything that involves frequent keystrokes. I can’t picture myself typing out a whole blog post while tapping on a glass. It’s just not as comfortable as a keyboard, where my fingers can feel the buttons and instinctively carry on typing. Surface takes care of this issue – The Touch Cover is plain Awesome! A 3mm multi-touch keyboard doesn’t add as much weight, as value to the device. Moreover the usage of a 0.7mm flap behind the device (the stand), along with the touch cover changes the whole tablet experience providing the comfort of a laptop on a light weight tablet. These design consideration will surely create a Win! Win! situation for Microsoft. Though I am sure independent vendors will be shipping touch-cover like add-ons for iPad very soon – it meshes better/naturally with the Surface!

Surface will be available in the market running Window RT (the ARM based OS) and Windows 8 Professional (x86 – Intel’s 3rd Gen core i5 processor). So Surface is not just a family of light weight and comfortable tablets, but is also powered to high end configurations of a PC. This again – is game changing. Windows has close to 90% of the global PC market share, while Windows 7 alone has 49% of the global market share. Will all these preps in Microsoft’s arsenal Windows 8, along with soon to be announced Windows Phone 8 seems to be strong contender to the current competition.

Microsoft still hasn’t announced the prices for Surface – which will be a major factor affecting the sales. Fingers crossed!