Microsoft unveils new rival to iPad
Microsoft introduced its own line of tablet computers yesterday at a much-hyped press event in Los Angeles, marking a major strategic shift for the software giant as it struggles to compete with Apple and re-invent its aging Windows franchise.
The new tablet line, named Surface, includes a consumer device aimed directly at the Apple iPad, and another, larger machine designed to compete with lightweight laptops.
Both include a keyboard that doubles as a cover, and both will be powered by versions of the new Windows 8 operating system.
The move breaks with Microsoft's operating model of the past 37 years, which has relied on computer manufacturers to make and market machines running Windows.
It could throw the world's largest software company into direct competition with its closest hardware partners such as Samsung and Hewlett-Packard.
However, the success of Apple in recent years has underscored the benefits of an integrated approach to hardware and software, and Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer said that the company "didn't want to leave anything uncovered" as it rolled out Windows 8.
The new software is the biggest overhaul of Windows in years, and features a new touch-friendly interface dubbed "Metro". It is scheduled to be available for the Christmas shopping season.
The lighter, thinner version of the Surface tablet, built on an Nvidia chip designed by ARM Holdings, will be the first to market at the same time as the general release of Windows 8, and will feature Microsoft's popular Office suite of applications.
It is comparable to Apple's new iPad, heavier but slightly thinner. It has a 10.6 inch screen and comes in 32GB and 64GB memory sizes.
A second, heavier tablet aimed at the new generation of lightweight laptops called "ultrabooks", running on traditional Intel chips, will come in 64GB and 128GB models. That will be available about three months after the ARM version, Microsoft said.
The company gave no details on pricing, except that they would be competitive with comparable ARM tablets and Intel-powered Ultrabooks. They will be on sale online and in Microsoft's new stores in the United States. Microsoft has opened 20 new stores, and five more are coming soon.
Microsoft shares edged up 19 cents to $30.03 today before the bell. They closed at $29.84 on the Nasdaq last night.
Industry watchers were generally impressed by the devices' specifications, but doubted they were a sure-fire hit.
One analysts said the Surface was no threat to the iPad because of the lack of enthusiasm among developers to create applications that run on the new Windows operating system. “Though pricing details are unclear ... Microsoft will need to significantly undercut the iPad to be competitive," Jefferies analyst Peter Misek said. "The most important factor in the success of a tablet is its ecosystem. Based on our discussions with developers, we find the lack of enthusiasm concerning."
He said he expects Windows 8 tablets to struggle to compete with the iPad, which offers over 225,000 apps, and to a lesser extent with Google Inc's Android-based tablets, such as the Galaxy Tab.