Rather than complaining, PC makers ought to take note of what Microsoft has produced. It has one tablet—a 9 mm thick, 1.5 pounder—that will run on low-power ARM chips and arrive around October. The black device has beautiful, beveled edges; its shell is made of what Microsoft calls vapor-deposited magnesium, or VaporMg. (Brushed aluminum is so last year, Apple.) It also has a built-in kickstand. Best of all, the device comes with a cover that locks firmly in place, unlike Apple’s flimsy iPad protector, and which functions as a proper keyboard. Both the kickstand and cover-cum-keyboard seem such obvious ideas now that we’ve seen them, yet the great army of PC makers failed to think up anything so clever over the past two years.Later, a slightly bigger Surface tablet will arrive to run on an Intel (INTC) chip, with a stylus and an even-sturdier keyboard/cover. Workers will be able to run all their Windows 8 software and previous Windows applications on this device, while the thinner one will support a more limited set of software—it uses a chip architecture more common to smartphones than PCs.
Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft’s Windows division, did much of the oohing and ahhing over the Surface devices, which will be sold by Microsoft at its retail and online stores. Perhaps sensing the importance of the moment, Sinofsky’s voice shook and his hands trembled at times to the point that he could not finish demonstrating the tablets’ functions. Still, he managed to demo enough of the product and its industrial design to generate a few screams of ecstasy from the audience. (Whether these were overjoyed Microsoft employees or rapturous press was not clear.)
It was Panos Panay, general manager of Microsoft’s Surface products, who really did the Steve Jobs impression. He went on and on about the engineering marvels—200 custom parts, no less—that it took to make the Surface. When it goes up, the kickstand makes a sound as crisp as the way a luxury car door closes, he said. “And when you need it, it’s there.” Like Superman, I suppose.