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Microsoft launches iPad challenger

In what might seem like the digital version of slamming the stable door after the horse has bolted, Microsoft attempted to claim a slice of the tablet PC market with the launch of its new Surface hardware.

The new tablets were launched with the announcement that they were part of a whole new range of Microsoft devices, making use of the new Windows 8 operating system. It’s certainly a daunting task launching into a market defined and dominated by rival Apple’s iPad.

The devices have been developed in parallel with the new operating system. "We want to give Windows 8 its own companion hardware innovations," the company’s CEO Steve Ballmer said. Windows 8 will attempt to reclaim some of the ground lost in the mobile computing field to Apple and to Google’s Android.

Those invited to the launch in Los Angeles were impressed by the design of the Surface samples on show. The 9.3mm thick device has a magnesium case, a 10.6-inch HD widescreen display, and a kickstand. It weighs less than a kilo, with its detachable keyboard and trackpad attached magnetically to the tablet.

Apple's experiences show that the initial hardware is only the starting point. The success of a new device relies on a smooth operating system and a wealth of apps becoming available.

A lot will depends on the price. Although the Surface initially seems geared towards business users, its success will rely on broader consumer enthusiasm. Microsoft have estimated that initial US prices will be around $699, which converts to about £460.

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