Microsoft: The Surface has a keyboard, kickstand, is fun, and convoluted

Microsoft has released the first Surface commercial (look up) and pricing information (look down). The commercial is interesting in that it's musical and fun, like an iPod ad, but also focuses on what Microsoft probably perceives to be differentiators against the iPad -- the keyboard, the kickstand, and dancing people in suits (i.e. business users using Office).

John Gruber of Daring Fireball is positive on it:

Surface is an iPad-size tablet with a magnetic keyboard cover and it’s fun. That’s a pretty good message.

Jim Dalrymple of The Loop not so much:

The Surface ad sucks balls

Early BlackBerry Playbook ads focused on differentiators as well, like smaller size and the ability to run Adobe Flash, as did early Android tablet ads, as well as Tegra2 processors, you know, for the wives. This is better than that. It does lack the power of Apple's original "technology is not enough" iPad 2 ad, and the magic of most of the series of "look what you can do with iPad" commercials that followed, however. It also splits Microsoft's focus, the same way RIM split the PlayBook's focus, between commercial and business users, even if they're dancing in suits.

That's not new for Microsoft, though. Unlike Apple who's recent success has been predicated on not mistaking their products for their business, Microsoft's past success has been all about Windows everywhere. That "no compromises" focus has been a cangue around their neck for years now, only a few interesting products like Xbox and Kinect escaping its gravity.

Which brings us to the convoluted part, and Surface pricing. Apple isn't innocent here, with 2 generations, 2 colors, 3 sizes, and Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi + cellular models in several carrier and region specific flavors. It starts at $399 (for now, wait for the mini), then goes up in $100 increments for more storage, with a $130 surcharge for cellular. That's a voluminous, but still a fairly simple product grid.

The Surface seems similar, on the surface (sorry), starting at $499 for more storage but lower resolution, but given it has two keyboards -- flat multitouch and less-flat clickety-clackety type -- and one comes with it but a different color is an additional charge, and the RT (what does that stand for?) version won't be the only one on the market, and it quickly makes my brain bleed slowly.

No compromises is the ultimate compromise -- it's surrendering authorial voice and dumping decisions onto users. Whether it's which keyboard to get, which operating system version to get, which mode to use it in, etc. etc. it's piling indecision on top of indecision, and it's making murky what should be crystal clear.

I've heard both great and terrible things about the Surface, other Windows 8 tablets, and Windows 8 in general. Some seem to love it and see limitless potential and others see it as iOS 6 Maps writ large across an entire operating system and product category. The truth, as usual, likely falls somewhere in between.

Next week the first look at the iPad mini will be followed almost immediately by the second look at the Surface, and the next great stage of the tablet wars, such as they are, will begin. And I don't think Microsoft is really ready. (Where's my Xslate with exclusive Halo 4 and Office Touch?)

The commercial and the pricing, like Windows 8 and the Surface themselves, are audacious yet hobbled, aspiring towards a post-Windows future yet stymied at every turn by the fears and complexities of a regime still shackled to the past.

I hope I'm wrong, I want the Surface to be great. I want Apple and the iPad to have as much competition in tablets as the iPhone has in handsets, but right now the Surface and Windows 8 look to me like the product of lesser angels, the heartbreaking hint of what Microsoft could, but can't do.

We'll find out more next week.

Source: WPCentral

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, ZEN and TECH, MacBreak Weekly. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter,, Google+.

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There are 39 comments. Add yours.

prlundberg says:

The thing is, that "no compromises" attitude is necessity. Businesses cannot overhaul their software infrastructure on a regular basis. If Microsoft did compromise to the extent that Apple does and make all their products simple and limited to one man's vision, businesses would not be able to function.

I feel Microsoft's glaring mistake here is not the product, it's making Windows 8 a closed ecosystem. I'm surprised that hasn't gotten much publicity yet, although it almost certainly will once people start buying W8 computers.

SteveW928 says:

If I'm understanding correctly, the RT isn't going to help that. It's just as proprietary as iOS, but starting at zero for apps. The non-RT version likely isn't going to compete with the iPad on price or capability in what really matters for tablets (like battery life).

This is M$'s attempt to break free from the past, while still catering to it. I don't think it's the right model. I think Apple picked the better path of separate OSs, integrated data. (Even though, I as much as anyone, wanted an OSX tablet... until reality set in.)

Also, while true that businesses can't just overhaul their software at the drop of a hat, they *should* have done a better job of picking and designing them in the past. If they didn't, it's going to eventually become a change or die situation. This is especially true given the proliferation of client-server and web based apps over the last decade or so. There is no good reason it should matter if a business picks W8, iOS, or Android if they have been awake anytime recently. (Yes, lots of reasons, just not good ones.)

S.Mulji says:

you're correct in stating that Windows RT is just as proprietary or locked-down as much as iOS and that non-RT(or Pro) version doesn't compete with iOS but more so with the MB Air (at least in terms of price and capability).

The future of MS is Modern UI (or the UI formerly known as Metro). There will be a time, few years down, when there will be no more classic desktop, but only Metro. But to get there MS has to transition its approximately 1 billion Windows users in that direction gradually. It's not smart business to pull the rug out underneath them. This is why the "hybrid" Windows 8 device exists. Not such because hybrids are the future but because they transition products until everything goes full Metro.

The marketplace will decide whether Apple or MS picked the better path but I for one would not underestimate MS.

SteveW928 says:

But, once you lose backward compatibility, Microsoft is just another player in the market (and one, I'd argue, that isn't really up to the challenge and is quite behind). I suppose, yes, it is the move they have to make. And true, certain segments of the marketplace might buy into it whether it is any good or not.

okli says:

You nailed it ... W ... also this ad is fkng cheesy BS... first... there can't be any click sound by opening this thing only by closing it !!!...ait.... second: the whole looks like an Ad for a kickstand and the smart-cover not the device it self... like: look U can do clicky-dy-clack sounds with this... so bunch of retards in suits and some Lolita schoolgirls can dance to it... third: magnetic attachments was cool 3 years ago when Apple first introduced it... so now its just a nasty ripoff...

prlundberg says:

True, I really don't understand what Microsoft is trying to do. Right now their goal seems to be a single interface for everything, and a few years down the road a single OS for everything. Which is fine, I think, because tablets are a heck of a lot more powerful than they were just a few years ago and are perfectly cabable of running a basic version of a full blown OS. Provided that OS is well done of course.

I just don't understand why they feel they need to go to a closed ecosystem. That virtually assures a 3rd Party, whether it be Android or some other new open OS, will eventually become the default majority player that Windows is today in the PC world.

As far as businesses go, what needs to be realized is that any decision made about technology, regardless of the thought and planning that goes into it, can be a gamble. You can't control where technology will go next, nor can you predict what vendor will be best for you in ten years, nor is one vendor ever able to provide everything you need. You need to invest in the most flexible and open systems you can to hedge your bets. With Microsoft moving to a proprietary ecosystem, where will businesses go? This could cause a big mess and proprietary free-for-all that will take a decade for the leaders to emerge from.

kingofkats says:

plmn, amen to your second paragraph, but I'm not sure it's a mistake -- just an outrage for now. If people reject Wndows RT because it's a closed system, I'd be surprised. So far, fear
trumps freedom. Just say, "it's to protect you from hackers" and users will concede anything.

SteveW928 says:

There is nothing wrong with a 'closed' system, and most systems are, at least to some extent. (Android claims to be, but it is only partially in practice.) Open systems (in the best sense) have inherent problems as well.

But, what we're talking about here isn't open/closed, but backward compatible with legacy apps. RT isn't really Windows in that regard, just in naming convention. Pro is all that matters if people want to run stuff from their existing apps (and, outside some geek circles, I think will be a fail). RT is Microsoft's future in tablets, for sure. I'm just saying that in that case, Microsoft is simply another player entering the game, quite late, with little other than name recognition until they prove themselves. AND, while this is similar to Apple entering the phone market (music player market, etc.), Microsoft doesn't have a reputation of success in shaking up an industry with innovation. So, while it's possible Microsoft will come along with the next great thing and revolutionize the industry, most of us who've been paying attention to these thing for decades would be rather shocked if that happens.

prlundberg says:

Right now, Win 7 apps are not compatible with RT. However, as I understand it anyway, all "Modern/Metro" apps will be compatible across all new versions of Windows. So the backwards compatibility will be there from this version forward, and old software will work on the "Pro" version.

I don't necessarily agree with what they are doing. But since the option for backwards compatibility will be there soon, I feel the real issue is the closed ecosystem. I do realize Android isn't as open as many people assume, but it is open in the most important way in that you can purchase your software from any source or even write your own with deep hooks into the OS for excellent integration (in theory).

urkel says:

"I hope I'm wrong, I want the Surface to be great. "

Im a big fan of yours Rene, but cmon. You want Surface to be great yet you make an article completely about prejudging it based on ads and then quote two of the Apple sides most biased fanboys as sources for anything? There's not a chance you'd be okay with someone acting this hypocritical to an Apple product so lets not pretend you feel your job is to squash Surface momentum just to please the mothership.

In no way do I want to go back to Windows but the hardware is too amazing to ignore and if reviews (by people who actually use it without a chip on their shoulder) may get me to buy one just so I can stare and dream of a day when a single Apple device will replace my Air and iPad.

S.Mulji says:

If you already have an iPad and an Air you probably don't need a Surface but for someone like me who has neither and is on the fence of what to buy, this device is seriously tempting. The only down side is the screen resolution but it has many other pluses that could possibly outweight that one negative.

SteveW928 says:

He (Rene) probably watched the commercial. How could anyone watch that and NOT be rather pessimistic?

The hardware is too amazing? I guess I'm missing something.

Rene Ritchie says:

Wait, Apple's "most biased fanboy" liked it, so what's your point exactly?

I do want the Surface to be great, I simply fear the way Microsoft is run these days, it can only happen by accident (like the Xbox), and could easily go the other way (like Zune).

Bias goes in both directions, I think you're reading what you want to read, not what I wrote.

SteveW928 says:

As I wrote in a post above, "Microsoft doesn't have a reputation of success in shaking up an industry with innovation. So, while it's possible Microsoft will come along with the next great thing and revolutionize the industry, most of us who've been paying attention to these thing for decades would be rather shocked if that happens."

That's not bias (i.e.: a skewed view of reality being unfairly imposed), but actually using the data at hand to form an opinion (which could turn out to be mistaken). You might say Rene is too pessimistic about Microsoft ability to change, but it's not being biased.

okli says:

if Rene would be the biggest fanboy he would write that RT tablets are DOA , that MrSoft by killing the PCs and starting producing its own hardware is sawing the branch on which it sits, and that magnetic attachments was cool 3 years ago when Apple introduced it... so now its just a nasty ripoff ... and that... will still be just a true-tellism and not a fan-boyism...DUDE

KaaVern says:

Honestly, the Windows 8 Pro Surface looks so far like all I ever wanted a tablet to be... a laptop. Not even joking. I've been running various Windows 8 previews on my laptop for almost a year now, and I must say I'm impressed. Even without a touch screen, you just click the "desktop" icon and you're running what's almost exactly a Windows 7 desktop, except quicker. Only complaint is the removal of the start menu. Not sure what Microsoft was thinking with that one...

S.Mulji says:

"Honestly, the Windows 8 Pro Surface looks so far like all I ever wanted a tablet to be... a laptop."

You mean a laplet, lol;

It is a very nice looking device though.

okli says:

"Honestly... the Pro Surface looks so far like all I wanted a PC to be... a laptop with a stylus" and Honestly... the RT Surface looks so far like all MrSotf wanted a laptop to be... an iPad ."
Only a hardcore windows nerd slaved in Redmond could be impressed with that... KakaVern... DUDE

SteveW928 says:

I initially thought that before the iPad came out. I wanted an OSX tablet. As much as that seems like a cool idea, it's actually a bad one. A desktop/laptop OS (mouse driven) just isn't in any way an optimal touch OS. Microsoft has been making this mistake for a long time now. What's that saying about trying the same thing (and failing) over and over, yet expecting different results? :)

S.Mulji says:

Here's an excellent read describing Windows 8. You may or may not agree with it but it 's a good read nonetheless.

SteveW928 says:

Yes, great article. Everyone here go read it now and let the reality sink in. Microsoft is at least smart enough to realize what is happening, so the approach seems to be to ween people off traditional Windows slowly.

Where I think I disagree, is that I don't think the desktop is ultimately going away. I certainly see challenges ahead when the majority are using more mobile technologies (development will diminish, prices will go up, etc.), but the mobile environment is not optimal for certain types of tasks, and I doubt ever will be.

In that regard, I think Apple has a bit better strategy in keeping them more ideologically separate and approaching it more as an integration of data and a cross-polination of features where applicable (I'm not sure they've gotten the mix down right, but that seems to be their approach). Microsoft seems to be confusing the two, probably mostly due to marketing. They want to hide the transition as much as possible and blend the two... but I think that is a mistake long-term.

I've not used Windows 8 Pro on such a device, but I can't see how it won't be a mess (M$ had tried similar before). It seems more a way to appease the geeks (who probably will put up with the mess) and try to convince folks that the Windows (legacy) sky isn't falling.

kingofkats says:

SteveW928, I agree the desktop isn't going away anytime soon — at least not in my office! I do SOME my email on the iPad, do SOME research using markup and commenting tools like PDF, and even write SOME copy on the iPad. I really like tablets. My business uses iPads and a Nexus 7, and I'll probably buy a bunch of iPad minis. They save time and make money. But when it's time to get serious, I go to my desk, turn on the 30 inch screen, grab my Logitech keyboard and my exquisitely tuned Microsoft touch mouse —and let my core I7 2600K processor and Nvidia GTX560 cut through my work like a hot knife through butter. I understand Windows 8 MAY wind up playing nice with this equipment and that the code is so efficient, my machine may even run faster. But I'll wait for others to yell themselves hoarse about the printer drivers (HATE installing old printers on new systems), lack of a start menu and such before putting it on my Main Machine. I don't necessarily agree that Apple has a better strategy. Like Microsoft, they seem to be making it up as they go along. The difference is, Steve Jobs had this vision that turned into the iPhone and iPad, and it was simpler to create a new OS from almost-scratch to support them. There's every sign that Apple intends to merge iOS and OSX, perhaps as early as 2014. So why shouldn't Microsoft leapfrog them? I give Steven Sinofsky ENORMOUS cred for very nearly pulling off what would've been a suicide mission for anyone else. Windows 8 speaks volumes about the enormous amount of code-writing talent and software vision working anonymously (and pretty much thanklessly) at Microsoft. Guys, if any of you are reading this thread, YOU ARE GENIUSES and Steve Sinofsky should be CEO of Microsoft. As to what will happen, I foresee dozens of media pundits piling on their criticisms from November 2012 through January 2013 , by which time the problems will be patched. But I also see ENOUGH new Windows 8 devices getting sold to keep Microsoft running close to plan for the next year. I have no idea whether they'll be RT or Windows 8, tablets or ultra books or hybrids. (I personally favor Windows 8 hybrids.) But at least one of these configurations — probably the Windows RT Tablet — will be a complete turkey. No apps, no interest, no sales. David Pogue will buy one, immediately regret it, get lost on the way to a lecture using its NAV app, and publish a scathing review, which will be emailed to all of us geeks by well-meaning aunts and mothers-in-law worldwide. Sometime around March 2013, Windows 8 will be declared a near-miss by some and a complete embarrassment by others, much like Vista. Meantime, the iPad 4 will appear —skinny, sexy, wicked fast —and it will vastly, ruinously outsell Windows RT tablets. Manufacturers will panic. Many devices—the least competitive ones —will then be dumped on the market at fire sale prices, nearly bankrupting their makers. The Entire Windows Ecosystem will be observed to be teetering on the brink of extinction.

Next a curious thing will happen. When the Turkey Tablet prices fall below $200, they will sell out immediately, recalling HP's WebOS fiasco. Yet, paradoxically, this will help to launch Windows 8 for real. I don't know who will go out of business, but I have a hunch Acer and Dell may be on the endangered list a year from now. Windows 8, however, will take root and blossom, as people who buy these bargain machines discover it doesn't inhale.

Microsoft will lick its wounds, stay in business, rename its first service release Windows 9, and THEN, miraculously, around October 2013, the dust will settle and things will fall into place. Darwinian forces will have eliminated all but the most murderously efficient Windows 8 devices — and whatever they turn out to be, they will finally flourish. But we'll probably be left with just three or four significant manufacturers. Microsoft, Lenovo, Samsung and maybe Asus. Truly, I think that's all the market can support going forward. Boutique desktop outfits like Velocity will, of course, continue to service special needs. HP will survive but whether it keeps making Windows machines, I don't know.
Anyway, that's how I see it.

kingofkats says:

Wow, Rene. Tour de force commentary with which I cannot even pick nits. I hope you're wrong but we both have no belief in fairy godmothers. Microsoft is dressed to the eights but late to ball and I've already married that cute kid sister AND invited the rest of her family to move in, Macs, Apple TVs and all. I do think It harsh to speak about "lesser angels," when Steven Sinofsky may the most brilliant software designer of our time, given Misison Impossible and very nearly bringing it off.

P.S. I'm keeping Windows 7 on my desktop, but who knows? Santa may put a Yoga in my stocking.

mech1164 says:

Ok that's one minute I won't ever get back. All that fluff and no substance to the Surface. I'll take a look at it next week but that's about it. Bad enough i'll be forced to get at least one machine with Win8 on it just to keep up to date with troubleshooting friends and family. But this steaming pile of excrement can't die fast enough.

S.Mulji says:

Don't write off the Surface without using it. Here's a link to The Verge. They were invited to a behind-the-scenes look of how Surface was made and give their initial impressions after a few minutes of use. Granted it's not a full-fledged a review, but a good first impression;

Here's a quote from the post;

"During the tour in Redmond, I was able to actually touch and use the Surface for the first time. In general, the experience is what you'd expect — the device is light and solid, smooth and fast, with impressive touch response and a gorgeous display."

Here's a quote regarding the Touch Cover;

"The Touch Cover was a pleasant surprise, though — Panay said it takes four or five days to really get used to typing on the flatter surface, but after a few minutes of figuring out where to put my hands I was typing at a pretty good clip. The trackpad and keyboard are both quite responsive, and use pressure sensors to detect the difference between active typing and just resting your hands on the keys."

SteveW928 says:

I think mech1164 was referring to the commercial, not Rene's article or the Surface. :)

xrt200 says:

"I've heard both great and terrible things about the Surface"

Really? You've heard terrible things from whom?

Considering no one outside of Microsoft has reportedly had any real hands on time, I find this hard to believe. And from everything I've read from the 20 or so reporters who were in Redmond earlier this week, no one is going to say "terrible" things about it anyway (unless you insist on quoting Jim Dalrymple, which is an odd choice for any Microsoft story).

I don't think the Surface pricing is all *that* convoluted now, so I don't see your point there. As you laid out, the iPad is a much worse offender now, and about to get worse. Right now there are 3 choices for the Surface hardware, and some accessories if you want them. How hard is that? I don't see how that helps the point you're trying to make.

Now, when the Surface Pro comes out, it's most likely going to be much more confusing, and probably a huge mess for consumers. I don't think it is right now though.

Anyway, my two cents. Thanks for the writing Rene.

S.Mulji says:

you make good points, the Surface pricing is pretty simple, no doubt. But so is the iPad's. For the iPad you choose;

1. Color
2. Storage size
3. Cellular or WiFi

The only reason the iPad seems convoluted is because there's different cellular models based on carrier and country but that's hidden from the average user.

okli says:

No Surface has Cellular... DUDE

okli says:

Just wandering ... how the bottom of the 5 pounds dancing gorilla looks like... from inside xrt200...DUDE : )

FlopTech says:

Re: "... aspiring towards a post-Windows future yet stymied at every turn by the fears and complexities of a regime still shackled to the past."

That sums up Microsoft's position perfectly. They're screwed whether or not Surface succeeds. If it's a hit, it will cannibalize legacy Windows + Office revenue because Windows RT and Office RT are priced lower. (No doubt because Apple has trained the world to expect free iOS updates and cheap iOS apps.)

On the other hand, if Surface fails, Apple will continue to dominate the post-PC era as corporate IT and consumers keep on buying iOS devices. It's a lose-lose scenario for Microsoft. Either way, their old model of expensive Windows and Office upgrades is threatened.

SteveW928 says:

Well, Microsoft still has Office. Most users (rather blindly, IMO) still hang onto it as some kind of must-have app suite. It's probably their best shot at staying dominate in some market. I don't think that's a good thing, but if they want to hang onto to something as long as possible, that's where I'd focus.

I'd agree Windows is history, other than the new phoenix of RT under the same branding. Sadly, I think Microsoft actually realizes this more than the majority of the tech industry. This is a way of moving into the new world, while saving face in the old. It probably their best shot at carving out a piece of the pie. In that regard, I wish them well. (They are only screwed, if they make the right moves, in the sense of not being the dominate platform.) I don't really want a world completely dominated by Apple, much more than I wanted a world dominated by Microsoft. That's never a healthy thing. I'm guessing that is Rene's point.

fightcrazy says:

This has bad ass hardware, love the entire design. I will buy it and want all the accessories. Rene will find something wrong, it's not made by Apple. I would bet this new tablet slash laptop along with the new Nokia 920 would make a great package.

Lt_Solorna says:

The Surface Pro comes with Windows 8 Pro - an actual version of Windows you would install on a desktop. That means that Software that can be installed on your desktop/laptop can be installed on it. I have an iPhone 4s with iOS 6 installed and a Mac desktop computer, I am hoping the Surface Pro does well because it is hopefully the next generation of portable computers. And yes, there will be limits to what it can do but this is hopefully only the first generation of it with more to come in the coming decade. I am not a fanboy either way but someone who prefers competition and innovation, and hates fanboyism.

SteveW928 says:

The problem is A) legacy apps will be a pain to use and underpowered on it (think netbook but worse), and B) if you overcome A with the hardware, you get a boat anchor with poor battery life. Newer technology will eventually resolve B, but remember that the desktop side of things never sits still. Pro is just a strategy to tide geeks over until they give up on their legacy stuff.

The long-term question is whether Microsoft is going to keep a distinction between mobile and desktop or not. It seems they are trying to blend the two, so that once the legacy code can be killed, one app will span both environments. I like that idea, I'm just not sure it will really work well on the non-moble side of things. Apple's strategy, seems to be to keep the distinction, but integrate the data and borrow things learned from either side where applicable. The second seems better to me, as I think the desktop and mobile UI requirements will always negatively impact one another if too closely combined.

Ipheuria says:

I liked the ad it was good to see a competitor not have to make obvious fun of Apple or rip off their style to make an ad. It was catchy and made me want to watch it again not for the hardware but just for the coolness of the ad. I think it will get them what they are looking for and that is word of mouth, buzz and attention. The hardware however is another story I will still maintain that Microsoft's problem is that they are full of money. So succeed or fail people still get paid, the company still moves on. I can only speak from what I know will be the experience where I work being that the office is 95% Windows based. People will undoubtedly buy the cheaper model expecting it to be like an iPad and be disappointed. Then others will buy the more expensive model which is touted to run all the software your Windows 7 computer runs. Except they will be expecting the same performance as their qaud core, 16GB PC. Microsoft doesn't distinguish the difference in the device and that leads to disappointment and frustration.

dloveprod says:

The surface looks more compelling than the iPad on the surface. With the 2 USB ports, micro hdmi and micro sd card slot. If it also has flash support, man. Some websites for school still use it and have no immediate plans to stop anytime soon. 2 gigs of ram out the door oh my.

siddo_d says:

Surface is amazing, I want one

DNRuffin says:

The iPad and the Surface target two different markets though. The Surface is a true tablet PC with a truly advanced full-blown OS whereas the iPad is a basic media consumption device that's also capable of taking pics/videos and web browsing with a mobile OS. I would personally choose the iPad because I'd rather have a true touchscreen laptop as opposed to the Surface, but the Surface would give you much more at the same price point as an iPad.