Microsoft Enters Tablet Arena With New 'Surface' Devices

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That move, however, carries risks, noted Michael Cusumano, professor of management and engineering systems at MIT's Sloan School of Management. Launching its own tablet could dangerously pit Microsoft against its own OEM partners, which have already invested heavily in hardware for Windows RT.

"Personally, I don't think it's a good idea because it creates a conflict with [Microsoft's] partners," Cusumano told CRN. "It's a big risk for Microsoft."

He also pointed to the software giant's mixed track record in developing its own hardware. While the Xbox game controller has been a success, its homegrown Zune MP3 player never gained the traction it needed to compete seriously against Apple's iPod and quickly fizzled out.

That said, Cusumano added, Microsoft could be taking a cue from Apple, which employs a more be-all, do-all model by producing both its hardware and software platforms in-house. "Microsoft may have realized they were out-innovated by Apple," Cusumano said. "But Apple made sure the whole is greater than the sum of its parts."

Microsoft seemed to bear out that view: In its press materials for the tablets, Microsoft said the new products were "conceived, designed and engineered entirely by Microsoft employees," making it clear that this was a Microsoft project from beginning to end.

Other factors that will determine whether the surface tablets succeed or fail will include the number of third-party applications Microsoft can attract to Windows RT and the Surface tablets' price tags.

Microsoft said it would disclose suggested retail pricing at a date closer to the products' availability. But the company said pricing would be "competitive with a comparable ARM tablet or Intel Ultrabook-class PC." Microsoft also said "OEMs will have cost and feature parity on Windows 8 and Windows RT."

The Surface tablets sport a 10.6-inch touch display, a built-in keyboard and a built-in "kickstand." The casing is manufactured using a process Microsoft calls "Vapor-Mag." Surface for Windows RT weighs 676 grams while Surface for Windows 8 Pro weighs 903 grams.

A video and photo gallery showing the details of the Surface tablets is available here.

Kristin Bent contributed to this story.

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