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Microsoft Surface: its premium quality/price vs. even iPad3

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Preliminary reading: Core post: Giving up the total OEM reliance strategy: the Microsoft Surface tablet [June 19, 2012]

IAm Panos Panay, GM of Microsoft Surface, AMAA – Ask Me or My Team Almost Anything [reddit, Oct 16, 2012]:

    • Why 599 (with touch keypad)? Don’t you think thats too high considering where Microsoft is entering the tablet space? I think you will slash the price come holiday season. Can you shed some light on the pricing decision.

When you start to see it includes touch cover, clear type display with better contrast, twice as much storage, along with Office included, you have a pretty cool deal. I think you will find the value is extraordinary once you start using the product. When you compare it to last generation or smaller devices, you can quickly see the value you are getting with Surface.

See Panos Panay’s excellent Microsoft Surface talk on the press launch in New-York in the beginning of the Microsoft Surface: First media reflections after the New-York press launch [this same blog, Oct 26, 2012]

A summarized media opinion published after today’s general launch:
Microsoft Surface RT ..!!! just excite..!!!! [APPLEWORLDPRO, Oct 26, 2012]


1. Unique TouchCover and TypeCover

The Making of Touch Cover for Surface [surface YouTube channnel, Oct 23, 2012]

Learn about how the Touch Cover keyboard for Microsoft Surface was made. http://www.microsoft.com/Surface http://www.facebook.com/Surface http://twitter.com/surface/
    • Quick question regarding the cover. If you flip the cover back, say to rest the tablet flat on a surface or to hold it, is there a mechanism that disables the keyboard so that it’s not randomly typing? (This would be when the cover is flipped to the back of the device)

Hey this is Stevie, yes absolutely. Both TouchCover and TypeCover have sensors that understand orientation relative to Surface… in fact the Type and Touch Covers talk to Surface to figure out their relative position no matter the orientation of gravity of the device (pretty neat!). There are 3 positions modes: Closed (keys and mouse are off), Open to 180 degrees (keyboard and mousepad on), beyond 180 degrees to the back (keys and mouse off). That way you can flip back the covers and feel secure you are not pressing keys by mistake.

I am Yi-Min and I am on the User Research team. I can type about 86 wpm on the Touch Cover and I am typing on a Pink Touch Cover!

    • What about the type cover? Do you type much faster? I’m wondering if I should get the type cover to take notes at school or if I can learn fast enough on the touch cover

Hi this is Stevie. It depends on how you type. I have been using both for a while, and love them both. I love the sleekness of Touch Cover. Touch Cover has a very special digitizer that we invented.. it senses the impact force of your key presses. We designed super-fast electronics and smart algorithm in the keyboard so that Touch Cover can profile your key press down to a 1ms (1000 times a second). Using that information Touch Cover can infer if the user meant to press the key or not.. It is a smart key. So even though there is no key travel, the user can rest their hands on top of the keyboard and find home position without accidentally triggering keys.. pretty cool! The first time I typed on a full working version of Touch Cover, I typed just as fast as I do on a normal keyboard. I am confident you will be able to type significantly faster on Touch Cover than an onscreen keyboard. And with a little practice you will even do better (maybe even faster!) For folks who really love and really need keys that have travel, then Type Cover is one of the best keyboards I have ever used (desktop or other). It has a super awesome snappy key mechanism that feels great (has a strong hysteresis curve). Honestly both are great… try them both, actually get them both.

  • From here:
    • What do you think will surprise people most when they get to start using or seeing the Surface?
    • What feature are you most proud of and why?
    • What do you feel sets Surface apart most from the competition?
    • How would you convince someone to get it instead of the iPad?

I think the seamless transitions from state to state will be one of the best parts of the device!! As you open the cover, close the cover, flip it back, move into ‘get it done mode’ it will be an awesome experience. You will find yourself being productive when you need to and you can read,watch movies, and surf when you want to….

I also feel like the kickstand opening and closing will make you smile 🙂

Microsoft Surface Type Cover-hands on..!!!!! [APPLEWORLDPRO, Oct 26, 2012]


2. Unique kickstand

    • Does the kickstand arrangement work for someone who wants to type with Surface on their lap? To me it looks like it’s only stable on a table top.
    • I want to get a Surface for the wife, but she’d be typing Facebook updates while lounging on the couch. Would that work?

hey, I’ve been using my Surface for a couple of month now. It works on your lap in multiple ways. Typing on the lap works fine, Surface is great for typing while on your couch. There are so many ways it folds and adjusts to your typing needs. You will be pleasantly surprised. 🙂

Yes, she can certainly type Facebook updates from the couch while using Surface

    • How did you determine the angle that the kickstand allows Surface to lean to?

We wanted the screen to be normal to the face. Voila, you then have a 22 degree angle.

Seriously we did a ton of studies around lighting, reflection, ergonomics, table height, etc…. and then made sure it looked perfect and felt perfectly balanced.

    • Any chance you are working on a docking station for the Surface RT? Perhaps one that will work with the cover on?

The Kickstand and Touch/Type Cover is your docking station :-). We are pretty pumped about the experience you get by kicking out the kickstand and then being able to use the USB and HD out connections to do what is needed. We specifically thought of this scenario and optimized for it. It is a pretty cool experience.

The Surface Movement Commercial [surface YouTube channel, Oct 24, 2012]

The Microsoft Surface Movement Commercial. 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.

3. Superior industrial design

      • I wanted to ask where your philosophy for design language comes from.

To me, it’s a refined industrial look. It’s like Motorola products if they weren’t cheesy or 80’s inspired, or apple products with a dose of testosterone and a dash of fighter jet inspiration.

The fact that you make it functional with the lip on the non RT version is just a further testament to the strength of the design.

We saw this in the Zune HD and I absolutely loved it. I almostbought one on that alone.

I absolutely hope you guys carry this through to the Xbox next/720/Durango. It would be awesome to see a console with a black metal exterior.

Hi there, ralf here, creative director of Surface. Designing the surface was an effort to create a great stage for the software. We wanted to make sure that the hardware was a physical extension of our software. The language we found came together by choosing the right materials and revealing the essence of out an idea. Make it comfortable to hold, light and strong.

      • Can you possibly expand on this? It kind of sounds like PR fluff that any company would say about their tablet design. The fact that you more faithfully execute it is beside the point.

What drives the black matte look (for the black)? The sharp angles? Why do you work with metal instead of plastic?
When you look at other pieces of design, what are your main inspirations for the surface?

Hey, here a bit more context. We started at looking at the software and thought about how to extend it into a physical product. We tried to stay away from any classic design language stuff, we didn’t want to have a bunch of styling in the way, we wanted to build a bridge between you and your digital things. We developed the idea that later turned into the keyboard covers and kickstand. Most of the time we spent on revealing the essence of this idea: How can we make it comfortable to hold? How do we fit our connectors, and so on.. Step by step we found the design. The language behind it is a point of view to make a very useful product. I don’t believe in defining a design language in shape. A design language should be a consistent approach to execute the vision you have.
Using magnesium allowed us to make our product thin, light and strong. The color we chose lets the physical product fade into the background and pronounces the screen as the main act.

… a stage for your software

    • Can you share some of the thought-process that lead to Microsoft building the Surface? It feels like a big departure from the company’s tendency to stay out of PC device hardware.

We have evolved the words, but the principle has stayed the same. We are focused on being a Stage for Windows . It is good to keep in mind that we have been in the Hardware business for sometime now, and with the combination of our history along with our very clear target of making Windows 8 great, it came together very clearly!! We really did start from a blank piece of paper and built the experience from the ground up knowing that we wanted to get it perfect as we designed the experence of Surface along side the experience of Windows 8.

    • How did you calculate the 8hr battery life estimate? What were the test conditions?
    • Why is there no NFC integration when WP8 is pushing it heavily?
    • What was the toughest challenge you faced when designing the Surface?

Pavan, HW lead: We conducted testing across a variety of core scenarios such as local and streaming video playback (watching movies!), audio playback, wireless web browsing and productivity scenarios such as using Office and mail. We tested using different Wi-Fi networks with pre-production hardware and software. Hence the battery life numbers started early in the program as a model with calculations and then get verified with actual device HW and SW.

For the product design experience we were aiming for with Surface, the Mg metal enclosure, including the back case, was critical. This made good antenna design for NFC a trade-off in our development process.

The making of Microsoft Surface [surface YouTube channel, Oct 16, 2012]

Get a more in-depth view of the making of Microsoft Surface.

4. ClearType Display Technology

    • Do you think ~$700 is too much for a tablet that does not currently own a share of the market?
    • I noticed that the Surface has a resolution of 1366×768 vs the iPad3 2048×1536. Do you think this will affect users considering the Surface vs the iPad ?
    • What can us (your fans) realistically do to make Surface the number one tablet out there?
    • Will Microsoft release more WinRT compatible applications other than the ones already mentioned in the release specs? What about other software vendors such as Adobe and Corel ?

Hey this is Stevie [Steven Bathiche]. Screen resolution is one component of perceived detail. The true measure of resolvability of a screen called Modulation Transfer Function (MTF), not Pixels. MTF is a combination of both contrast and resolution. There are over a dozen subsystems that effect this MTF number… Most folks just focus on one number out of dozens that effect perceived detail. Without good contrast resolution decreases. Check out contrast sensitivity of the human eye graph (http://www.telescope-optics.net/images/eye_contrast.PNG) and if you want more see the links below. Basically, as resolution/DPI increases the eye has becomes less sensitive. So as a result, the amount of light in a room and the reflections off the screen have a huge effect on the contrast of the display. In fact, a small amount of reflection can greatly reduce contrast and thus the perceived resolution of the display. With the ClearType Display technology we took a 3 pronged approach to maximize that perceived resolution and optimize for battery life, weight, and thickness. First prong, Microsoft has the best pixel rendering technology in the industry (cleartype 1.0 and 2.0) .. these are exclusive and unique to Windows, it smooths text regardless of pixel count. Second, we designed a custom 10.6” high-contrast wide-angle screen LCD screen. Lastly we optically bonded the screen with the thinnest optical stack anywhere on the market… something which is more commonly done on phones we are doing on Surface.

While this is not official, our current Cleartype measurements on the amount of light reflected off the screen is around 5.5%-6.2%, the new IPad has a measurement of 9.9% mirror reflections (see the displaymate link:http://www.displaymate.com/iPad_ShootOut_1.htm). Doing a side by side with the new iPad in a consistently lit room, we have had many people see more detail on Surface RT than on the Ipad with more resolution.

Some more links to share if you want to know more… (http://www.normankoren.com/Tutorials/MTF.html)… Also This is a great book to read if you really want to get into it: http://www.amazon.com/Contrast-Sensitivity-Effects-Quality-Monograph/dp/0819434965 or more here http://alexandria.tue.nl/extra2/9901043.pdf

EDIT: Hello, this is StevieB again. This is a great discussion. I wanted to elaborate some more. I hope folks understand that I am not saying that one resolution is better than the other. Nor that one display is better than the other. More so that the number of pixels is not the only metric which guarantees detail and image quality. It depends on many factors, some factors for which Surface optimizes for. So in some cases ClearType will look better and in other cases (darker environments) the iPad retina will look better. Further, in a number of cases the differences will be negligible.

Think of it this way. When digital cameras started riding the megapixel curve, some cameras had/have better image quality than cameras with more pixels. How can that be? We all intuitively understand that if a camera lens is poor the resultant image will be poor (low MTF) no matter how many pixels sits behind the lens. The combination of a good lens and a good image sensor results in a good high quality MTF image. That’s the same in a display where the optics are partly in your eye and partly on the display. If the display reflects a lot of room light off the screen it will reduce the contrast of the image, and the resultant image will be harder to see and the information will harder to make out. The contrast sensitivity chart of the eye tells us this. A display system is just like a camera but it runs in reverse (Reciprocity Law of light).

One of the more significant things affecting image quality of interactive displays is the addition of stuff in front of the display to enable capacitive touch. Currently most consumer touch system have a cover glass, and layers of transparent conductors between the cover glass and the display. Anything placed between the eye and the display will effect image quality. Engineering down those effects is one of the innovations we strived for in the ClearType display for Surface.

Because the whole optical stack is fused in the ClearType Display, there is only one significant optical boundary. This is the front surface where the index of refraction changes from 1 in air to about 1.5 in glass—btw this also happens to bring your finger closer to the image on the screen (think how a straw looks under water). So Surface reflects less ambient light, this increases contrast in any lit environment over devices that reflect more room light. Previously, I mentioned contrast and resolution are related. Decreased contrast will obscure high resolution content. They are inseparable, neither one is more or less important than the other. If you have high contrast but low resolution, the MTF (and image quality) is lower. If you have high resolution but low contrast, your MTF (and image quality) will also be lower.

Let me ask you this question. When you look up in the sky how many stars do you see? …. Well it depends on where you are. If you are out in the country there is not much light pollution, and the night sky lights up with stars. If you are in the city, there is a lot of light pollution so you may not see many. The stars are still there, it is the same sky, but the contrast is low, so as a consequence you do not see many stars. No matter how many “pixels” the sky has, you are not going to see anymore stars. On Surface, light pollution is low and as a result you will see more detail over any other device with lesser contrast. In a lit room just hold up a Surface, leave the display off, and hold up another tablet next to it and notice which one has the darker screen. This is your black point, your screen cannot go darker than in this situation.

My goal is to get information out there so that you reach a conclusion based on science. Most people don’t know this, but this is well understood in the displays technical community. Hope this helps!

Microsoft Surface RT vs iPad 3 [SlashGear YouTube channel, Oct 23, 2012]

SlashGear reviews the Surface RT and compares it with the iPad 3

5. USB support

    • First of all, I’m super excited about the way Microsoft is heading with the new Surface… What kind of devices I can or can’t use with the USB-Port. Can I connect a printer? A regular keyboard? Can I connect a cell-phone to charge it?

BrettO here – Thanks for the excitement! We certainly feel it. Lots of questions so let me do my best. USB support – Numerous reports of 100’s of millions existing USB devices supported. Printers, Keyboards, Cameras – yes. Can I charge a phone – yes.

Pavan: The full size USB 2.0 port on Surface supports hundreds of millions of devices that are out there… We chose USB 2.0 based on capability of the ARM SoCs during our development timeframe.

    • Will Surface be able to import images from a digital camera or card reader via its USB port? Or is that for signed devices only?

BrettO here – Absolutely, uSD and USB 2.0. Most cameras will show up as mass storage device via USB.

Microsoft Surface + AirTurn AT-104 USB wireless page turner pedal [Hugh Sung YouTube channel, Oct 26, 2012]

Just received the Microsoft Surface RT Tablet a few minutes ago. This is a test showing how the AirTurn AT-104 uses the Surface’s USB port to connect wirelessly for hands free page turns and presentations. This demo is using PowerPoint on the Surface. Surface comes with an entire Office suite that works beautifully with the AirTurn AT-104.

6. The overall value proposition

    • I have an iPad 2 and a Galaxy S2.
    • Can you tell me something that’ll make me want to shift to your platform? I just can’t find a reason. What feature does the Surface have that may not seem like much but makes it amazing to use?

I am not sure what you do on your other devices and can not comment on it… however, I know that on Surface you can get a ton of stuff done. Given, we have a full operating system in Windows, we have the full suite of Office available, and the seamless transitioning in and out of different user states with touch cover… the ability to use it all day, use a USB port when needed to connect millions of devices, ultimately you have a full PC at your disposal…. you find yourself accomplishing a ton. Does this help?

Microsoft Surface RT Hands-on: At Boston Store [booredatwork YouTube channel, Oct 26, 2012]

Windows 8 is finally out and available for order and the Microsoft Surface is finally in stores, today we ventured to our local Microsoft Store at the Prudential in Boston to check out the new Microsoft Surface RT first hand. luckily for us we got a solid demo of the device by Store manager Ty Hapworth. Who was gracious enough to give us a solid hands on of the device. Which I must say at first glance is one great piece of hardware. The Microsoft Surface RT is a Windows 8 RT tablet that does more than your traditional tablet, sporting a 10.6 ClearType HD display with a Tegra 3 quad-core processor. All housed in a VaporMg casing at less than 1.5 pounds, with a watch-like finish that’s incredibly smooth, and durable. You have got an integrated Kickstand provides uncompromised support and flexibility. Flip out the Kickstand for hands-free entertainment. Whether you’re watching a movie, or shooting video, Surface stands on its own. The surface comes in 32GB or 64GB options but can be supplemented with a microSDXC card slot lets you add up to 64 GB of extra storage. Full-size USB port and Bluetooth 4.0, Mini-HDMI and Dual 2×2 MIMO antennas provide reliable internet connectivity. You have also got two Front and rear-facing 720p HD video cameras, which allow to reacord directly at 22 degree angle even with the kick stand on. Finally you have got the Touch cover, and integrated keyboard and trackpad can be found in this versatile cover. When folded back, Touch Cover automatically disables keystrokes for a full touchscreen experience; when closed, it turns off your display. Give Surface your personal touch with a color that matches your style. The Microsoft Surface Rt starts @ $499 and looks like a fun product to have. Stay tuned for our full review. Till then enjoy our Hands on from the Boston Microsoft Store

Highly suggested Understanding the Microsoft Surface (a sort of Review) [Hal’s (Im)Perfect Vision blog, Oct 28, 2012] with the following excerpts to wet your appetite:

… The Surface is a great tablet. It is amazingly well-built and well thought out. As a pure piece of engineering it stands as an equal to the best Apple or anyone else has to offer. When you add Windows RT to the mix you get something that is, in the context of use as a “pure” tablet, a strong competitor to the iPad. There are definite differences, some strongly in the iPad’s favor (e.g., number of applications currently available), and some in Surface’s favor. In most cases the significance of those differences comes down to personal preference. …
… an important point I think is missed in most reviews. Everyone wants to compare the thickness and weight of devices as they come from the factory. They don’t do comparisons of thickness and weight in terms of how they are actually used by customers! … while the Surface is competitive in raw weight and size it may be outstanding in real world usage configuration. …
… The UI is inviting. The live tiles are awesome. … Six months from now everyone will think that swiping in from the edge of the screen is a completely intuitive way to bring up menus.
Windows RT, and thus the Surface, currently has a relatively small library of applications available. But it is growing fast. Twice last week I tweeted or blogged [the blog case: Living with a Windows “RT” Tablet [Oct 22, 2012] is worth to read as well] about how I missed some application that I’d been using on the iPad. Within a couple of days, once within hours, the missing app appeared in the Windows Store! … Don’t let the size of the Metro app library keep you from getting a Surface if you otherwise find it a compelling offering. …
Now we’re going to get to the core of the matter. What really makes the Surface difference. In your hands it is, at worst, yet another tablet. Prop it up on a table or other flat surface and something magical happens. The weaknesses of typing on a virtual keyboard or positioning on a capacitive touch screen fade away and you get all the benefits of a real keyboard and pointing device. Sure that shows up in simple ways, like being able to easily and accurately type in a password. For real magic though take a look back at that first graphic I posted. While walking around with the Surface in hand it would land in the same place on the Consumption/Creation scale with the iPad. But put it down, even on your lap, and it takes a giant leap in Creation capability.
… if the keyboard is just a “nice to have” feature for entering text while you are sitting down, or you can’t stand virtual keyboards, or you like having it on the odd chance you’ll need to write a long email or make a Powerpoint slide, then the Touch Cover is for you, However if you know you are going to be using the Surface as a notebook substitute much of the time, then you may just want to pay the price (both in thickness and a little more money) for the Type Cover.
The magic of the Surface is that you can use it all day purely as a tablet without paying a penalty for its ability to do Content Creation. That magic is enabled by Windows RT, but it is really brought to life by the Surface hardware. For any given user the choice of a Surface, another Windows RT or Windows 8 device, or indeed an iPad (or Android tablet) is going to come down to a lot of personal preferences. Sweeping attempts to position one or another as best don’t actually mean much. Where Surface, and Microsoft’s overall approach with Windows RT and Windows 8, shines is when you have a need to do Content Creation. Whether that is replacing some (or all) of your current use for a notebook or desktop computer, or just a desire to be more productive than is possible with a virtual keyboard, it is the place where the Surface shines.


  1. […] ← ASUS: We are the real transformers, not Microsoft Microsoft Surface: its premium quality/price vs. even iPad3 → […]

  2. […] also read my previous posts about the Surface:- Microsoft Surface: its premium quality/price vs. even iPad3 [Oct 26, 2012]- Microsoft Surface: First media reflections after the New-York press launch [Oct 26, […]

  3. […] information on this blog:- Microsoft Surface: its premium quality/price vs. even iPad3 [Oct 26, 2012]- Microsoft Surface: First media reflections after the New-York press launch [Oct 26, […]

  4. […] tablet [June 19 – July 30, 2012]- ASUS: We are the real transformers, not Microsoft [Oct 17, 2012]- Microsoft Surface: its premium quality/price vs. even iPad3 [Oct 26, 2012]- BUILD 2012: Notes on Day 1 and 2 Keynotes [Oct 31, 2012]- Acer Iconia W510: Windows […]

  5. […] Surface with some questions about the performance and smoothness of the experience [Nov 12, 2012]- Microsoft Surface: its premium quality/price vs. even iPad3 [Oct 26, 2012]- Microsoft Surface: First media reflections after the New-York press launch [Oct 26, […]

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