Microsoft, perennial rival of Mac masterminds Apple Inc, have this week announced that they will be expanding into a niche in which they have so far been dominated by other companies – the lucrative tablet industry.
It has been speculated for a long time that Microsoft would soon be diversifying into the tablet market. As early as 2008, there was talk of a hushed-up Microsoft project known only as ‘Courier’. It later emerged that Courier was to be a dual-screen tablet PC, capable of reading digital input using touch-screen technology, as well as a stylus. The dual-screen feature was something that would have set it well apart from its competitors – the Apple iPad, the BlackBerry PlayBook, the Motorola Xoom, and so on – as well as giving the device a wider range of uses for business users. One screen could be used for research, while the other was being used to make notes, put together a report or design a Powerpoint presentation.
Unfortunately in 2010, news broke that the Courier project had been scrapped – just a few weeks after Microsoft’s main rival, Apple Inc, released the first incarnation of their iPad device. Many questioned the wisdom of this decision, as it meant that Microsoft would be starting the battle for supremacy over the blossoming tablet market on the back foot. It’s harder to follow in your competition’s footsteps than it is to blaze the trail, when it comes to a new industry.
Microsoft sparked rumours in June 2010 that the Courier project was not quite as dead as had been reported – the company filed a patent for a ‘dual-screen device’. Many industry experts expected the announcement to come, sometime towards the end of 2010, that the Courier would soon be going into production and would be made available to consumers in early 2011. But the announcement was never made.
Now, two years after the debut of the iPad, Microsoft have finally announced that they will be setting foot in the tablet arena. The Microsoft Surface range, announced at a press event in Los Angeles on Monday June 18th 2012, will include many of the features incorporated into its Courier predecessor. Although technically not a dual-screen device, Surface tablets will be sold with state-of-the-art magnetised magnesium cases, which fold out to create flat, touch-sensitive keyboards, and the devices are supposed to be on par with other top-end tablet devices.
Criticism still runs rampant over Microsoft’s decision to wait this long before entering the tablet market, however. Their absence from the tablet niche has allowed heavyweight rivals to get a substantial ‘foot in the door’ – in March this year, Apple released the third incarnation of their critically-acclaimed iPad. The Surface tablets will certainly need to deliver a high standard of user experience and useability if Microsoft hope to dent Apple’s considerable lead in market share.
Little information is available concerning the Surface range’s release date, although estimates suggest that Surface devices may be hitting shelves around October 2012. We’ll keep you updated when more information becomes available – but for now, watch this space.