Five key takeaways from Microsoft's Surface event

Not to be confused with its table-top cousin, the new device isn't just aimed at iPad and Android tablets.

Microsoft managed to keep its latest new product well under wraps, but, as they say, the cat's out of the bag.

(Credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft hopes consumers will purr at the Surface, a new tablet family — not to be confused with its pricey, table-top computer — that will run on its upcoming Windows 8.

You can read some of the details about the product right here . In the meantime, here are five things you need to know about it.

1. Don't confuse this with the table thing

The Microsoft Surface as we've known it for the past five years is now called Microsoft PixelSense. That's the namesake technology that Microsoft debuted at last year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) alongside its second-generation 40-inch tabletop PC. Using an array of 2 million sensors that have been built in to the panel, the technology picks up visible or infrared light to pick up data and crunch it in the built-in Windows PC.

Of note, this isn't the first time that Microsoft's gone with one brand and used it for something else. Remember Zune ending up as a content channel on the Xbox 360?

2. This isn't just aimed at the iPad and Android tablets

If you were waiting for Microsoft to roll out an iPad competitor, and didn't quite understand where the company was going with Windows 8, this is the answer to that. It's a specialised, opinionated piece of hardware, designed to compete with an ever-growing crop of tablets running Apple's iOS and Google's Android.

What's interesting here is how Microsoft's angling it with a work flavour built on Windows 8 Pro, designed to take on ultrabooks. That can be seen in special keyboard accessory with tactile keys, and the idea that your tablet can work like a PC, complete with a full version of Windows.

3. This thing is high tech

Microsoft made it a point to go into detail about just how much technology went into making this device and its accessory line. From magnetic, hydrophobic, touch keyboards to a built-in stand that's been acoustically tuned like closing a luxury car, Microsoft is positioning this line as a premium device.

That premium idea is also based on materials. Surface is made out of something called VaporMG (pronounced as "Vapor Mag") casing. Microsoft promised this as thin, strong and maybe just made out of alien spaceships based on a cool promotional video. Panos Panay, Microsoft's general manager of the Surface, even spent a good portion of the press conference holding up a credit card to show how thin the metal was.

The key takeaway here: Microsoft is showing that it has industrial design chops, and this thing isn't a plastic rectangle.

4. You can't buy it yet

One of the key things people want to know is when you can buy a Surface device, and how much it will cost. Microsoft kept that as vague as possible, saying only:

"Suggested retail pricing will be announced closer to availability, and is expected to be competitive with a comparable ARM tablet or Intel ultrabook-class PC. OEMs will have cost and feature parity on Windows 8 and Windows RT."

Reading between the lines, this suggests that you could pick one of these up — at least, the Windows RT flavour — for about US$500, with the Pro version beyond the US$1000 mark.

5. This is just the start

Microsoft is positioning Surface as the beginning of a family. Instead of the giant, difficult-to-differentiate wall of computers that the company has demoed at CES the last couple of years, this is simple. There are just two ideas from the get go: a Windows RT version, and one running Windows 8 Pro. One's for basic consumer stuff, while the other's for business users and people who want an entire replacement for a high-end notebook.


About the author

Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.


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