Why Microsoft is making its own tablet

The Microsoft Surface tablet launch has been full of the "Windows reimagined" phrasing that Microsoft has been using of Windows 8 all along. "We've reimagined Windows from the chipset to the user experience, to power a new generation of PCs that enable new capabilities and new scenarios."

Now that new generation of PCs includes tablets with the Microsoft name on, it also reimagines Microsoft's relationship with PC OEMs.

There wasn't even a hint of the frustration at the inability of PC makers to come up with designs as exciting and headline-grabbing as Apple's products as Microsoft introduced what Steve Ballmer called a new piece of the Windows family, "another bit of excitement," and only the subtlest of reminders of how good Microsoft has been for the OEMs.

"Windows has been the most successful general purpose software every created, "Ballmer phrased it, "spurring on an ecosystem of unrivalled success." An ecosystem that has, of course, embraced Android and even Chrome OS, that put out underpowered netbooks with compromised user experience and that prefers the $15 bounty for putting extra software onto new PCs to delighting users with the kind of joined up experience that Apple excels in.

Recently Microsoft has been pushing the Signature experience where you pay $99 and get a clean copy of Windows that runs faster and gets better battery life than an OEM copy of Windows with extra software installed.

Software driving hardware

Not only does Surface deliver hardware innovations that the OEMs can't turn around and put on their Android tablets; it also take advantage of the hardware experts at Microsoft and their 3,200 hardware patents and lets Microsoft deliver the PC it thinks Windows 8 will run best on, not a PC maker's interpretation of that.

From the early days of Microsoft, Ballmer pointed out had "it was always clear that our unique vision of what software could do would require us to push hardware, sometimes in ways that even the makers of the hardware themselves yet to envision. That's the nature of the dynamic between software and hardware pushing each other and pulling each other forward."

This is Microsoft pushing, pulling and kicking the PC manufacturers forward and emphasising the things it things really matter in a PC tablet. Not just finger touch, but pen input; smooth, digital ink that feels like you're writing on paper and a place on the side to clip the pen into place magnetically.

Not just a keyboard you can use as a cover, but a multitouch keyboard that knows when you're just putting your hands on the keys to get them in the right place and when you're actually typing.

And a keyboard that turns itself off as soon as you fold it back out of the way and stops any accidental typing at all. Some of this comes from Microsoft Research and Microsoft hardware and all of it makes Windows 8 look as good as it possibly can. Something Microsoft is determined to do.


Mary (Twitter, Google+, website) started her career at Future Publishing, saw the AOL meltdown first hand the first time around when she ran the AOL UK computing channel, and she's been a freelance tech writer for over a decade. She's used every version of Windows and Office released, and every smartphone too, but she's still looking for the perfect tablet. Yes, she really does have USB earrings.