Right now Microsoft's Surface tablet is a promise, not a product

19th Jun 2012 | 09:47

Right now Microsoft's Surface tablet is a promise, not a product

Microsoft's Surface presentation followed the Apple template - until it got to the bit about price and availability.

The lights are low, the candles burning, the champagne on ice and the perfect soundtrack playing softly in the background.

This is the moment, the one you've been waiting for for so long, the moment when you connect at the deepest, most spiritual level. The object of your desire leans close.

"Jesus! Can you smell that? No more beans for me!"

Microsoft's Surface presentation was a bit like that.

Deja vu

Let's rewind. Until the end, Microsoft's Surface presentation was almost perfect, possibly because it followed Apple's tried and tested template. There was the CEO address that stayed on just the right side of bullshit, the executives showing off specific features, the lovingly photographed shots of things that no sensible person really cares about - magnesium construction! Perimeter ventilation! Oh yeah! - and the obligatory promotional video.

Until the end, the video was the only bit that really departed from the Apple model, the wub-wub-wub of dubstep instead of Apple's more classical or poppy soundtrack choices and no footage of the product actually doing anything (half a second of the Metro interface doesn't count).

The bit Microsoft really nicked from Apple, though, was the most important bit: it had a really impressive bit of technology to show off. The limited possibilities of tablet design may have made the tablet itself a bit "meh", but the ultra-thin cover/keyboard/trackpad is brilliant.

Microsoft had us in the palm of its hand. We'd sighed at the smooth silhouette, gawped at the Gorilla Glass screen and cooed over the keyboard cover. And then Microsoft didn't deliver.

Promises, promises

Maybe Microsoft doesn't watch all of Apple's keynotes and product reveals, because a presentation that stuck to the template forgot the single most important bit: the end. Apple doesn't build you up and then leave you hanging: if it's shipping today, Apple says it's shipping today; if it's shipping in July, Apple says it's shipping in July; if it's £300 or £400 or £4,000 it tells you that too.

With Surface, Microsoft promised to talk about pricing and availability, and then did nothing of the sort. It's on sale in mumblemumble and the price starts at ahemahemahem.

The Windows RT Surface will be "priced competitively with a comparable ARM tablet". Which one? A no-name Chinese Android cheapie, or the top-end iPad with 4G? The Windows Pro one will be priced competitively with direct rivals. Which ones? Windows 8 ones? Android ones? Apple ones?

For me at least, Microsoft squandered the feel-good factor the entire presentation had been designed to generate. I really like the look of the Surface, and I think Microsoft deserves kudos for doing something vastly different that just making a me-too tablet with a different OS.

But withholding price and availability details means it's yet another bit of jam tomorrow, one more example of the "no, we don't have a tablet just yet but when we do it's going to be the bestest tablet ever and it'll totally kill Apple and stuff!" mentality that's plagued the tech industry since the iPad.

Surface could be a work of art, but as Steve Jobs said, "real artists ship". Until Surface does, it's a promise, not a product.

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