Microsoft unveils Surface tablets, powered by Windows 8
One tablet with NVIDIA chips, another with Intel, and a really smart cover.
The Earth-shattering Microsoft announcement we’ve been waiting for is finally here. As several pre-event rumors suggested, Microsoft is indeed building its own tablet.
Make that two tablets. One Windows RT tablet runs an NVIDIA Tegra 3 ARM processor, and the other Windows 8 Pro tablet runs Intel’s Ivy Bridge Core i5 chips. One thing that looks really cool are new magnetic covers that are quite reminiscent of Apple’s “Smart Cover” for the iPad. But they’re a lot smarter—Microsoft’s covers actually include a multitouch trackpad and a keyboard. There are two, as we explain in this story: a Touch Cover with virtual keys and a Type Cover with a tactile keyboard and touchpad.
Typing on the cover is twice as efficient as typing on glass, according to Microsoft. There’s also a stylus.
10.6-inch devices running Windows 8, the “Surface” tablets borrow their name from Microsoft’s table-sized computer that has been an impressive yet niche product for the past few years. (The original Surface has been renamed to PixelSense in a possible attempt to avoid confusion.) In announcing the new tablets, CEO Steve Ballmer stressed that Microsoft has been a hardware company for decades, producing mice, keyboards, webcams, and of course the Xbox, among other products.
While Microsoft typically lets hardware partners build Windows-powered PCs and tablets, Surface hardware is built by Microsoft. “Things work better when hardware and software are considered together,” Ballmer said. In what is perhaps a nod toward Apple’s so-called “Retina Display” marketing term for high-definition screens, Microsoft said the displays are so good that your eye won’t be able to distinguish individual pixels. The exact resolution is unconfirmed, but we do know the tablets feature Gorilla Glass.
“Much like Windows 1.0 needed the mouse, we wanted to give Windows 8 its own companion hardware innovation,” Ballmer said.
The Intel tablet weighs 903 grams and is 13.5mm thick, while the NVIDIA/Windows RT model weighs 676 grams and is 9.3mm thick. They each have a 10.6-inch display. Office Home & Student 2013 RT is listed for the Windows RT tablet, as well as microSD, USB 2.0, and Micro HD Video. Office isn’t listed on the Intel tablet, but x86 Windows 8 devices will run all standard Windows applications. Ports on the Intel tablet include microSDXC, USB 3.0, and Mini DisplayPort.
The newly unveiled Surface site doesn’t say which model is shown in those pictures. In fact, Microsoft’s site says these “images are design renderings and not photographs,” even though Microsoft did show off actual hardware prototypes at its announcement. In any case, the Windows RT version will be available in 32GB and 64GB flavors, and the Windows 8 Pro device will be available with 64GB or 128GB of storage. Each have front- and rear-facing cameras, and 2×2 MIMO WiFi antennas.
Surface tablets have 16:9 aspect ratio, a built-in kickstand, and edges that are angled at 22 degrees, “a natural position for the PC at rest or in active use,” Microsoft says. The casing uses “VaporMg” technology, “a combination of material selection and process to mold metal and deposit particles that creates a finish akin to a luxury watch.” These are supposedly the first PCs with a vapor-deposited (PVD) magnesium case, which makes for a device that is thin, light, rigid, and strong.
Microsoft claims it’s a tablet that is as great as a PC and a PC that is as great as a tablet. As for availability, the Windows 8 RT tablet will be ready around the time of Windows 8 general availability, a few months from now. The Windows 8 Pro unit will ship a few months after the Windows RT version. They’ll be sold in US-based Microsoft retail stores and online. Microsoft said suggested retail pricing will be competitive to a “comparable ARM tablet or Intel Ultrabook-class PC,” but we don’t know the exact prices yet.
We all knew opening one’s hotel room door with a smartphone was just the beginning, didn’t we? As the years have turned (and LodgeNet has inexplicably remained), a smattering of companies have seen theopportunity to connect savvy hotel guests to the properties they frequent. Y!kes is the latest to tune in, and its solution undoubtedly has the potential to change the way smartphone users interact with lodging venues. Designed as a hardware + software platform, the proximity-aware access system offers hotels the ability to tightly and specifically grant or deny access to one’s phone. As an example, a hotel and guest both utilizing the system could see an elevator automatically choose one’s floor upon entry, a door automatically unlock when a patron walks within range, a parking deck automatically have its gate raised, and a VIP lounge door automatically open if the credentials are programmed in.
Going a step further, one could envision this system having the ability to alert a hotel when a guest lands at the nearest airport, thereby triggering a series of events that places fresh Perrier bottles on the desk, blue mood lighting in the bathroom, a thermostat adjustment to 74 degrees and whatever else that person has specified in their profile. Insane? Sure, but not at all outside of the realm of feasibility. Once a venue has installed the system, guests need only have the associated app — available for Android, BlackBerry OS, Windows Phone and iOS — running in the background on their device. If all goes as planned, he or she won’t even have to drop by the check-in counter, and when the stay is over, they’ll be able to bypass the check-out line as well.
If you’re curious about app availability, we’re told that the iOS build will hit the App Store “this week,” while the other three platforms will see launches “within 30 days.” We asked the company if it was ready to announce any partnerships with hotel chains, and received the following reply: “As for integration, Y!kes is currently engaged in deep discussions with the top hotel chains and will have information pertaining to specific contracts in the near future.” Needless to say, the jetsetters in the crowd will be keeping an ear to the ground for more.
Iwata on Wii U’s Relative Hardware Power
Can Wii U keep up with the hardware power of Xbox 360 and PS3?
In a recent analyst Q&A session, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata responded to questions about Wii U’s hardware, specifically how it fares from a power standpoint compared to systems like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Iwata responded by reminding the audience that the Wii U’s hardware is still relatively new. As such, it’s only natural that developers haven’t yet realized its full potential as they have with consoles they’ve been working with for more than half a decade.
“While existing platforms have engines that development teams have tuned and optimized for six to seven years after their respective launches, the Wii U is a new platform that has slightly different architecture and, since development teams have only just begun development on software for it, they are only at the halfway point to utilizing its full potential,” Iwata said.
Not to say Wii U isn’t up to snuff with the other platforms. Iwata pointed out that certain multi-platform games that have already been shown already look comparable to their counterparts on other systems. “If you look at the game Assassin’s Creed III, which was recently announced or shown, you can’t see much difference when you compare it with games for other companies’ systems,” he said.
Iwata also emphasized that significant costs are being devoted to the Wii U’s GamePad controller, and to devote as much time and money to Wii U’s processing power would have resulted in an extremely pricey system. “In other words, we think that the way that the various console manufacturers are allocating their budgets to the hardware is different from the way that we allocate our budget to the hardware,” he said. “Ultimately, we’re looking to maintain a price point for the Wii U that is reasonable in comparison to the value to be offered.”
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