Skip to main content

Weekend Roundup: Microsoft announces Windows 8 Surface tablets and Windows Phone 8 Apollo mobile OS.

There's no getting away from the fact that this week has been dominated by Microsoft, with two major announcements within a couple of days of each other.

Scratching the surface

In the early hours of Tuesday morning Microsoft took the wraps off its new Windows-based Surface tablets, and I found myself far more impressed than I'd expected to be.

It's easy to say that Microsoft is too late to the game when it comes to tablets (ignoring the fact that it tried to push the Tablet PC concept onto the market back in 2001), but that's a very simplistic view. Although it's fashionable to dislike the Redmond giant, Microsoft is, in reality, an incredibly innovative company, run by some very smart people.

There's no denying that any entry into the tablet market will struggle against the might of the iPad and the open source ubiquity of Android, but that doesn't mean that Microsoft can't carve a clear niche for itself.

The most interesting part of the announcement earlier this week, was Microsoft's clear differentiation between the consumer and business markets, with the Windows RT, ARM based model looking every inch the poor relation to the Windows 8, Intel equipped tablet.

I can see a lot of consumer tech enthusiasts opting for the so-called business option, not just because of the Intel platform and full Windows 8 OS, but also for the USB 3.0, SDXC and DisplayPort functionality. Okay, it will be noticeably heavier than the ARM based, Windows RT device, but I'd be willing to live with that.

But it wasn't just the specs and details that made Microsoft's Surface tablet announcement interesting, it was the fact that the hardware itself looked truly exciting.

Microsoft's Surface technology is nothing new, and the company has been showing off its large, multi-touch tables and screens for years. If you're a fan of police procedural dramas, you've probably seen Surface in action almost every week. This week though, we saw Surface implemented into a great looking, handheld tablet device - one that looked like it could hold its own against any competing hardware on the market, iPad included.

The Surface tablet looks slim, well finished, and extremely versatile thanks to its integrated kick-stand and Type Cover. The latter is a screen protector that doubles as a fold down keyboard - yes, the iPad has many, similar, third party accessories, but that doesn't make the Type Cover look any less cool.

It's also worth remembering that Microsoft is just one of many manufacturers developing a Windows 8 tablet, but if this week's brief glimpse of Surface is anything to go by, the hotly contested tablet market shows no signs of slowing.

Out with the old

As if the Surface announcement wasn't enough, Microsoft hit us with a double whammy this week by officially unveiling the next version of its mobile phone operating system, Windows Phone 8 Apollo.

One of the most significant aspects of the Windows Phone 8 announcement was that it won't run on existing Windows Phone 7.5 devices. This will come as a major blow to anyone who's recently invested in a Nokia Lumia 800 or an HTC Titan - after all, being able to upgrade to a major new OS release is one of the best things about a smartphone.

Microsoft has softened the blow by rolling out Windows Phone 7.8 though, which will bring much of the Windows Phone 8 functionality to existing handset owners, but without the radical change in kernel.

But it's that change in the underlying kernel that makes Windows Phone 8 so interesting, and a potential building block for Microsoft. It's no surprise that the Surface and Windows Phone 8 announcements occurred within a couple of days of each other. Microsoft is building a cross platform ecosystem that will offer users who buy into it, a near seamless experience across a variety of devices.

The unmistakable Windows 8 look, feel and experience will be found on your PC, notebook, tablet, mobile phone and even Xbox, which makes the platform a pretty compelling offering. There will no doubt be a deep level of interactivity between those devices, meaning that anyone who chooses to go Windows 8 across hardware can reap the benefits.

It's not as if Microsoft is alone in its thinking. Apple has already created a viable, cross platform environment, with the forthcoming Mountain Lion Mac OS, becoming even more tightly integrated with iOS - just the ability to send iMessages from your Mac to someone's iPhone will be incredibly useful.

All that said, the fact still remains that Windows Phone, even in its version 8 guise, will have something of a mountain to climb. Despite the fact that Windows Phone 7.5 is a very good mobile OS, the levels of adoption can only be described as poor, and many would call that description a euphemism.

What Windows Phone 8 needs is some killer hardware to get consumers excited come upgrade time. But even with great hardware, there needs to be a significant increase in app support too, after all, no one wants to buy a phone that can't run the latest "must have" app.

Hot property

Moving away from Microsoft, there was some other interesting news in the mobile phone arena this week, but not really good news. It was confirmed that Samsung had launched an official investigation into claims that a Galaxy S3 had overheated and, to all intents and purposes, exploded!

The owner in question claimed that his S3 had burned from the inside out, resulting in a large portion of the case melting, while also damaging his car. The pictures certainly show some major damage to the handset, but it's always hard to tell exactly what happened in instances like this.

I can't say that I've noticed the Galaxy S3 running excessively hot in the time I've spent with it, unlike the HTC One X, which can become literally too hot to handle at times.

I doubt very much that this single incident will derail the Galaxy S3 juggernaut, but if any similar stories start to hit the web, it just might.

Riyad has been entrenched in technology publishing for more years than he cares to remember, having staffed and edited some of the largest and most successful IT magazines in the UK. In 2003 he joined forces with Hugh Chappell to create They built TR into the UK’s market leading technology publication before selling the title to IPC Media / Time Warner in 2007. As Editorial Director at Net Communities, Riyad will be helping to develop the publishing portfolio, making IT Pro Portal the best publication it can be.