Today, Microsoft announced pricing and availability for the Windows RT version of the Microsoft Surface ($499 for 32GB, not including the “Touch Cover,” available for preorder today, shipping 10/26). This product is intended to be a pure consumer play; Microsoft also plans to launch a Windows 8 version of the Surface, aimed at enterprises, for which it has not yet announced pricing. Yesterday, I spent the day with the Surface team led by Steven Sinofsky and Panos Panay, and I learned many things: Sinofsky is from Florida, for example, and when he stands on a Surface that’s attached to skateboard wheels, it doesn’t break. I learned about the importance of optically bonded displays, saw nifty 3D printers making plastic models, and heard about the many trips to China required to perfect the Surface manufacturing process. I was told many examples of the Surface team’s attention to detail, down to the sound design of the kickstand closure.
I did not hear, however, the answers to the most pertinent questions asked by our clients, many of whom are product strategists in Microsoft’s partner ecosystem (OEMs, ISVs, and potential app developers like media companies, banks, and retailers). Will Surface expand distribution beyond Microsoft’s stores and website? If Microsoft believes it’s making the “best hardware for Windows,” as Sinofsky told us, how does it expect its OEM partners to respond? No comment on both fronts.