Microsoft has decided that it will dive head-on into the tablet market for the first time, where it will compete directly with not only Apple’s iPad, but also potential allies in the industry. On Monday, the company unveiled its tablet model going by the name of Surface. It will utilize the company’s new Windows 8 operating system, and will be the first commercial PC designed and marketed as Microsoft’s own.
The tablet holds many of the same dynamics of current tablets, with a 10.6 high-definition touch screen, front and back cameras, while less than a centimeter in width. The cover for Surface brings new features to the table, including a full keyboard and built-in kickstand. The magnesium case also holds a pen that clicks into the tablet.
Microsoft’s Surface will launch with Windows RT, a version of Windows 8 designed for smartphones and tablets that runs on ARM microchips. Eventually, the Windows 8 version of Surface will use Intel chips for processing. Pricing details were not released, but Microsoft said that the Windows RT version of Surface will be available in the fall with 32 and 64 gigabyte models. The Windows 8 version is set to launch three months later with 64 and 128 gigabyte models, priced comparatively to current ultrabooks.
Surface will not be the only Windows tablet, and represents a very new business model for Microsoft. In the past, Windows software was licensed to PC manufacturers, providing a huge profit for the company, as there is little competition among operating systems. Windows is currently run on over 90 percent of the world’s computers, and 66 percent of Internet-enabled devices. Microsoft’s main competition has come from Apple, whose OS X and iOS devices have slowly been drawing customers away from PC devices. The iPad’s majority share of the tablet market likely forced Microsoft’s hand.
“Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen made a big bet—a bet on software—but it was always clear that we had to push hardware in ways that sometimes manufacturers hadn’t envisioned,” Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said during Monday’s announcement. “We believe that any intersection between human and machine can be made better when all aspects, hardware and software, are working together.”
This isn’t Microsoft’s first major venture into consumer hardware. The Zune MP3 player, intended as a competitor to the iPod, was discontinued last fall, before the brand was laid to rest entirely earlier this month. The company’s Xbox video game ventures had lost the company billions since 2001, but recently overtook Sony’s Playstation 3 and Nintendo’s Wii as the top console on the market. Still, the Xbox 360 has been listed with a failure rate of almost 54.2 percent, which went undisputed by Microsoft.
The Surface’s hardware will need to be impressive for it to match the iPad’s success, but Microsoft also runs the risk of cannibalizing Windows tablets released by other manufacturers. Only time will tell if the company’s new business model will pan out.