Alright, I know, we haven't heard much about it in terms of price and we have yet to use one, but I am pretty confident that what Microsoft has shown us, is that there is innovation to be done in both the hardware and software space, and perhaps for the first time, shown a real big advantage for Windows 8 over two separate systems by merging the two usage styles in seamless hardware design. We have seen tablets that are build with detachable keyboards, good ones too, we have seen these convertible tablets before. But lets set out why Microsoft Surface is different to these (mostly Android) solutions:
It runs Windows 8/RT. It is a full PC operating system that is well optimised for touch, Windows 8 on a desktop/regular laptop is questionable in how they are forcing the Metro user interface on to you, but as a touch OS - I have a lot of confidence. But it also has that traditional desktop interface too, poor on a tablet, right? Yes, however, this insanely thin and well integrated cover also includes a trackpad and keyboard for you to jump into that 'real desktop' interface.
It is Windows, It has the largest development base in the world, and applications developed for Metro on a desktop, or a laptop, will also work on Microsoft surface, it is the same operating system! Across both Intel and ARM versions (Metro apps, this is). Ecosystem wise, it will probably have quite a leg up on Android even after the head start is has had.
This seems to be the full realisation of what is 'convertible' computing, it has great capability for both use situations. We will have to wait to use it before anyone can provide final judgement, but the potential is there for this to be pretty huge. It has the potential to move tablets from a primarily content consumption device, to something that is more than capable, and great for both. Something the iPad, and the current Android tablets are simply not.
That being said, I want to take a look at this more broadly, are we seeing a new Microsoft? At the start of Microsoft's Surface event they were talking about how hardware and software need to work together to ensure these devices are more versatile and capable of the things we want them to be capable of. Microsoft were enthusiastic about something I have not seen them enthusastic about before, design, hardware design. They talked about the materials, their build processes, what they had to do to meet their requirements for what they wanted this product to be, it was what we know Apple to be.
Microsoft have a lot of talented people, and perhaps lost their way for a couple of years while they reorganised for this new world of computing in which other companies were leading the way. They are refocusing and have been showing their strength, no one can execute on such large software and infrastructure projects as Microsoft can, others may have the financial resources to tool themselves up to do so one day, but at the moment, Microsoft seem to be unique in how they are set up as a company, the resources they have on hand, and a clear focus on a vision they have for the future of them in this 'new world' of computing.
It is a very different Microsoft we are seeing, and it is an exciting one.