Microsoft Surface May Revolutionize Mobile Computing (or Not)

If the pre-launch hype is any indicator, Microsoft’s Surface will set a new standard for Windows tablets, even if the company is cryptic about the platform’s capabilities. “From touch to type, office to living room, from your screen to the big screen, you can see more, share more, and do more with Surface,” states the product’s official site. “Create, collaborate, and get stuff done with Office. Explore your world with fast, fluid Windows 8 apps. Discover new music, movies, and games in the Windows Store.”

If you want more specifics than that, you will either have to wait, or rely on rumors — and rumors are abounding, including a persistent notion that this was an unauthorized marketing faux pas that has resulted in the product being canceled, and jobs being lost.

The Surface tablet represents an indictment of the entire PC and device industry, which has stood by for a couple of years trying to mimic Apple with a parade of hapless, copycat products.

Covering Surface’s Hollywood announcement party for Bloomberg Businessweek, Ashlee Vance pointed to a problem area for the new tablet — it is a computer that has all of its software and hardware manufactured by Microsoft, which serves a blow to OEMs.

“In that moment [when Surface was announced],” Vance wrote, “Microsoft became not just a competitor to Apple, but also a rival to such longtime PC manufacturing partners as Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and Acer.”

Vance explains that as the release of Windows 8 looms, Microsoft is so desperate to see a hardware company do something to counter Apple’s runaway tablet Juggernaut that it decided to take action in-house.

“The Surface tablet represents an indictment of the entire PC and device industry, which has stood by for a couple of years trying to mimic Apple with a parade of hapless, copycat products,” Vance notes, adding “The Surface may be more a way to goad PC manufacturers than a sign of Microsoft’s long-term commitment to making hardware.”

Regardless of the longevity of the project (remember Zune?), it is a wake-up call for a sluggish sector of the computing market that is seemingly willing to acquiesce to Apple.

If the tablet user model is so heavily intertwined with Windows 8 that existing device types were unsuitable to the task, then what challenges will await adult developers?

Only time will tell, with a “this year” timeframe to watch.

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