Published: June 18, 2012
Joe Klamar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
At an event here, the company showed off the device, which is about the same weight and thickness as aniPad, with a 10.6-inch screen. The tablet has a built-in “kickstand” that will allow users to prop it up for watching movies, and a detachable cover that will serve double duty as a keyboard.
The Surface tablet will run a variation of Windows 8, a forthcoming version of Microsoft’s flagship operating system. Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive, said the product was part of a long-running effort by Microsoft to create hardware, like computer mice, that show off innovations in its software.
“We want to give Windows 8 its own companion hardware innovations,” Mr. Ballmer said.
Microsoft did not immediately release pricing and availability information.
Microsoft’s decision to create its own tablet is a huge bet that the company needs to departfrom its regular way of doing business to get a grip on a threat to its dominance in computing.
While it has made a few hardware products over the years, including the Xbox video game console, Zune music player and computer keyboards, Microsoft is still thought of largely as a software company. In the computer business, it has for decades left the work of creating the machines that run the Windows operating system to Hewlett-Packard, Dell and others.
But the response to Apple’s iPad has considerably raised consumers’ expectations of how well hardware and software work together. That has put pressure on Microsoft to create a tighter marriage of hardware and software if it is to compete seriously with Apple’s product.
As it prepares to release a new version of its Windows operating system designed for touch-screen devices in the coming months, Microsoft can ill-afford a flop. The iPad has eaten into sales of low-end Windows laptops already, and there are growing signs that Apple’s tablet is becoming increasingly attractive to business customers, a lucrative market Microsoft has dominated for years.
Creating hardware, though, is not Microsoft’s main competency. The Zune bombed andhas been discontinued. Several years ago Microsoft had to take a charge of more than $1 billion to cover the cost of fixing defective Xboxes after making mistakes in the design of the system.
On Monday, Microsoft seemed to borrow from Apple in the way it introduced the product. The company invited the news media to the event with only a few days’ notice and maintained an unusual air of secrecy around its details, withholding even its exact location until Monday morning.
If that alone wasn’t enough to pique the interest of the tech industry, the company took the risky step of more explicitly building up expectations for the event by promising invitees a “major Microsoft announcement,” and telling them they “will not want to miss it.”
In part, the secrecy worked, sending the blogosphere into a whirlwind of speculation about what the company had planned.