Though Microsoft has always relied on third parties to build and sell the hardware that runs its operating systems, Microsoft announced it will break with that tradition and launch its own Windows 8 tablets.
The company unveiled the line during a media event in Los Angeles on Monday afternoon. It will consist of two devices, both branded as the Microsoft Surface:
- The Surface for Windows RT, which will use an ARM processor and be available with 32 GB or 64 GB of storage, and
- The Surface for Windows 8 Pro, which will use an Intel processor, be available with 64 GB or 128 GB of storage, and add support for stylus input.
Both Windows 8 tablets will have a 10.6-inch display and a built-in kickstand. They will also include magnetically attachable covers that double as full keyboards with trackpads.
The biggest differences between the two versions are the operating systems and chipsets. Windows RT is the version of Windows 8 built for ARM-based devices, and those machines will only run applications built to run on the OS’s new Metro interface.
The Intel-based version will run the same Windows 8 Pro that will be used for desktop computers, so those tablets will also be able to run apps designed for earlier versions of Windows.
One question many analysts have asked since the Windows 8 tablets were unveiled: Will they be able to compete with Apple’s iPad?
Although Microsoft didn’t reveal much about the internal hardware or other specifications — for example, it’s unknown what, if any, mobile connection the devices will have — the Surface tablets are similar to the iPad in terms of size. The screens are slightly bigger than the iPad’s 9.6-inch display, and the RT version is slightly thinner than Apple’s device.
While unseating the iPad at the top of the tablet heap will be a big challenge, some are predicting the Windows devices may find a niche in the enterprise.
With the Intel version especially, the company appears to be targeting business users. Microsoft will offer companies and professionals a device that’s more powerful than the iPad and other competitors, and which provides an easier way to access the Windows-based applications they need for work.
And by talking up the kickstand and attachable keyboards, it seems Microsoft is promoting the Windows 8 tablets to be used for productivity, rather than passive content consumption.
Information on costs and availability hasn’t been released, though Microsoft officials said in a press release that prices will be competitive with a comparable ARM tablet or Intel Ultrabook-class PC. The RT is expected to ship around the same time Windows 8 is released (likely later this year), with the Intel model following three months later.