OPINION: What’s Behind Microsoft’s Surface Launch

Andy Penfold

Often a company to get hype wrong, Microsoft's launch of its new Surface tablets seemed to strike the right chord with attendees. The event, held in Los Angeles this week, appears to have left people impressed and eager to learn more about the products. 

The Surface tablet comes in two configurations. The Surface RT will be the entry level, running the tablet-specific Windows RT OS, while the Surface 8 Pro will run Microsoft's Windows 8 OS. 

The devices boast full HD screens, a 'Touch Cover' with keyboard incorporated, and a built-in stand. 

Apple Model 

Much has been made of Steve Ballmer's Apple-esque assertion that Microsoft believes "that any intersection between human and machine can be made better when all aspects of the experience - hardware and software - are considered in working together", but Microsoft isn't entirely new to the idea. It has a pretty successful gaming division in the in-house Xbox brand, after all. 

However, the big news here is that this is the first time Microsoft has combined an in-house hardware build with Windows. 

This could revolutionise the Tablet market. Taking on Apple's iPad - when that product has a three-year head-start and a massive following - is a daunting task, but Microsoft has more than one eye on the enterprise market. 

The nature of the Surface's Hollywood launch placed the products on the consumer radar, but disrupting the iPad's dominance in that market could be a very long-term project. 

The Business

Business users looking for a viable tablet solution, though, will be hugely interested by the Surface models. The sleek keyboard and under-the-hood power are appealing, but the real draw comes back to Windows. 

However, this is where the launch has aroused interest without announcing a sea change. Business users want to know how the Surface will provide an integrated experience with a Windows working life - in the same way that the iPad delivers an integrated consumer experience across the whole desktop, iPhone, iPad, App Store, and mobile web ecosystem.

If the company can get this right, it could really drive the Tablet market into the enterprise space, and by bringing the manufacturing in house initially, the company could be attempting to set a benchmark for Dell, HP, et al to drive forward. 

Price could be a big factor in this - no mention has been made so far of how much the tablets will cost. Microsoft may struggle to launch at a comparable price to the iPad - and leave OEMs to drive the price down and popularise its mobile OS. 

However Microsoft plays it, the Surface devices represent an important development in the Tablet space - but with mobile, the ecosystem is king. When we know what infrastructure is behind the Surface, we'll have a better idea of what impact Microsoft's arrival is likely to have on the market.