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Microsoft surprises with slick Surface Tablet, but Intel version delayed

by David Needle

June 18 2012

While the rumors flying that Microsoft would show off a tablet today proved to be true, the company still had a few surprises up its sleeve.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and other company execs took the stage at a media event in Hollywood to show off a new line of Windows Surface Tablets. 

While the technology shown looked slick, it's all a preview of hardware that won't be available until later this fall. Microsoft is promising two versions. Surface for Windows 8 Pro will be for Intel-based Surface devices, the other version will be powered by an Nvidia ARM-based processor. No pricing has been announced. 

Beyond the tech specs, Microsoft made the surprise admission that the Intel version of the new Surface devices that can run Windows legacy software won't be available until next year, with the ARM version out first.

With an integrated kickstand and 10.56-inch widescreen display, the 1.5 pound Surface comes in a magnesium metal case with a finish the company compares to a luxury watch. But beyond the slick “surface” appeal, its Microsoft’s Windows 8 software that’s supposed to be the main attraction. 

In addition to the touchscreen display, there are two snap-on keyboard options. 

Microsoft is touting Surface as kind of an everything device, good for both media consumption and traditional business computing chores using the keyboard. 

"What Microsoft is saying is that Surface is a real Swiss Army knife in terms of what it can do," said Creative Strategies analyst Ben Bajarin. "It's got touch and pen input, a keyboard, and addresses a whole bunch of different segments from consumer to business at the same time. Is that a good or bad strategy? We don't know yet, but that's the tack they are taking."

The Surface's 3mm Touch Cover represents “a step forward in human-computer interface,” Microsoft said in a release. It uses a unique pressure-sensitive technology the company says senses keystrokes as gestures, enabling you to touch type significantly faster than with an on-screen keyboard. The Touch Cover clicks into Surface via a built-in magnetic connector, forming “a natural spine” like you find on a book, and works as a protective cover. 

Pricing wasn’t announced. Microsoft said Surface for Windows RT will release with the general availability of Windows 8, expected to be later in October, while the Windows 8 Pro model will be available about 90 days later. 

Also, Surface won't be competing directly with its hardware partner's Windows 8 devices, at least not at retail. Microsoft said Surface will be sold at Microsoft's own retail and online stores.

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