Microsoft absolutely had to jump into the tablet space, but Steve Ballmer & Co. don’t seem to understand what that space is. Before I explain, you should know that the Surface is a beautifully-engineered and manufactured gadget. While I haven’t had a hands-on with it yet, I know good engineering when I see it, and reports from the event last night were almost universal in their praise for the construction quality. But that aside, the Surface is one odd duck.
Scroll back up and look at how Microsoft has introduced its tablet: With a keyboard. They aren’t saying, “We’ve built a great tablet,” they’re saying, “We’ve built a tablet with a great keyboard.” It’s tablet that’s trying really hard to be a laptop when it grows up.
Let’s look at the very next feature Microsoft wants to make you aware of.
Look! It’s a tablet with a keyboard and a kickstand, so you can use it just like a laptop! The next shot down (at right) shows the kickstand in action yet again. Alongside, the caption reads “Hands off entertainment.” Despite the lack of a hyphen, I’m sure Microsoft doesn’t mean the kickstand will cut off your hands, entertainingly. What they’re saying is: This is the tablet you don’t touch. That’s no exaggeration, either. The marketing says: It comes with a cover, that cover is a keyboard, and the kickstand keeps it out of your hands.
And they mean it. The case of the Surface is made of a “a precision crafted VaporMg,” which is a lovely bit of precision-milled magnesium. But the edges are at odd angles, in perfect contrast to the iPad’s seamless curves. Those angles say “corners,” and corners do not say “touch me.” There are even screws visible on the back. No consumer is ever going to open this up to make repairs or install upgrades — because they can’t. And yet, there they are: Screws. Those aren’t just any screws, either. You’re looking at those weird, star-shaped screws that civilians like you and me can’t undo. Unscrewable screws are yet another way of signaling: Don’t touch.
But a tablet is all about touch.