I’m so disappointed. Microsoft yesterday announced its purported iPad killer, a tablet with a 10.6-inch diagonal screen called Surface. I’m not disappointed by the tablet itself—I haven’t seen more than a picture of it yet, so I can’t really say if its amazing or not. What’s got me down is the name: Surface.
This isn’t a new product name for Microsoft. Microsoft introduced the “Microsoft Surface” five years ago. That time, the Surface was a 30-inch—and later 40-inch--diagonal tabletop computer intended for businesses, with a multitouch display that could recognize bar-coded objects placed upon it. By 2009, you could find Surface computers in the occasional bar, bank, or retailer; I even spotted them occasionally in corporate lobbies or lounges. In 2011, Microsoft updated the Surface, making it thinner, lighter, and incorporating Corning’s Gorilla Glass, a chemically strengthened material used in iPhones and other mobile devices.
The Microsoft Surface wasn’t cheap—the original price was $15,000, coming down to $7600 last year—but there have been rumors that a consumer version was in the works, and any day now, it seemed, we’d be
covering our homes with surface computers. At least that’s the vision Microsoft execs—first Bill Gates, later Steve Balmer—presented year after year in the company’s keynote at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (see video, below).
So I’ve been waiting for a consumer Surface, thinking it was going to be really really cool. I thought it would turn my kitchen counter into a space-age command center, allowing me to spin pictures and push recipes around and, oh, maybe design a building or two while dinner is in the oven. Sure, I may be squinting at a little computer screen now, but in a couple of years, in my Microsoft-seeded fantasies, I knew I’d have a gigantic Surface to play with.
The reimagined consumer Surface, introduced yesterday, does have a few things in common with the tabletop Surface. It’ll run Windows, of course, and it has a multitouch screen. And the display surface will be Gorilla Glass.
But even if it’s a great little pad computer, I sure wouldn’t call 10.6 inches of display a Surface.
Photo top left: Surface circa 2012
Photo center right: Surface circa 2008
Video below: Bill Gates introducing the Surface, 2008
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Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.