In in a press event in Los Angeles on Monday, Microsoft unveiled its take on Windows 8/RT tablets called Surface. When it arrives this fall, it will be the company's latest stab at hardware manufacturing, which to date has included the Xbox, a line of PC peripherals and the ill-fated Zune.
Today’s announcement also signals that Microsoft isn’t too concerned about upsetting OEMs that are planning Windows tablets. In fact, the company paints the Surface as its "unique contribution" to ecosystem, with devices from other manufacturers sure to follow.
If Surface sounds familiar, it should. Surface was once the name of the company's touch-enabled, big screen systems for commercial settings like retail kiosks. Now the technology is called PixelSense.
With Windows 8 just a few months away, Microsoft is thinking on a smaller, tablet-sized scale for the Surface brand.
Two versions of the tablet were shown off at the event, Surface and Surface for Windows 8 Pro. Surface runs Windows RT for ARM processors while Surface for Windows 8 Pro will be powered by Intel processors. Both sport a magnesium enclosure, an integrated kickstand, front and rear webcams and a Gorilla Glass fronted 10.6-inch screen with a 16:9 ratio.
Surface for ARM is 9.3 millimeters or 0.36 inches thick -- just shy of the current iPad's 0.37 inches -- and weighs 676 grams or 1.49 pounds. Onboard storage options boil down to 16 GB and 32 GB, although the device does support microSD expansion and USB 2.0.
As previously reported, Windows RT tablets will ship with Office 15 apps. Microsoft expects to launch the tablet alongside the Windows 8 operating system at Microsoft Stores, at "competitive" prices.
The Intel-flavored Surface, which won't arrive at retail until roughly 90 days after the Windows 8 launch, is slightly thicker, at 13.5 millimeters or 0.53 inches. It's heavier too, tipping the scales at nearly 2 pounds. Both 64 GB and a 128 GB models are planned with microSDXC (Secure Digital Extended Capacity) expansion support and USB 3.0 connectivity.
One of the most surprising aspects of the device is its display cover. Similar to iPad's smart cover at first glance -- down to an Apple-like assortment of colors -- the 3-millimeter thick Touch Cover for Surface folds open to reveal a multi-touch keyboard with an integrated trackpad.
Touch Cover clips to the side of the device with a magnetic connector and closes shut like a book cover to protect the display. For users that want the feel of moving keys, a 5-mm Touch Cover with mechanical keys and trackpad will also be available.