Microsoft unveiled the tablet Surface in Los Angeles last night, but it wasn't the first time the technology made an appearance. The original Surface, a 30-inch computer tablet-like display, debuted at the Sheraton in Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Seattle in 2008. The intuitive user interface highlighted the ability to move and interact with content without a mouse or a keyboard on a tablet-like screen.
But that wasn't the first time. Parts of the Surface interface and the Windows 8 operating system (OS) to improve advertising and search surfaced two years prior. In 2006, Ray Ozzie -- one of Microsoft's three chief technical officers at the time -- demonstrated a prototype that used touch to move content on one and between several flat screens. The prototype highlighted at the Emerging Technologies Conference in San Diego, Calif. showed the ability to share content between devices and screens, as well as interact with touch. Now think of the ability to transfer content from the Xbox TV screen to the tablet and back with a swipe.
Marketers can expect Microsoft to get creative with Windows 8, Microsoft Maps, and local search apps. Not only from an artistic and creative side, but also though voice search. Surface, supported by Windows 8, will likely become the first of many portable PC-type machines that Microsoft releases. The company is working with several agencies -- AKQA, Big Spaceship, Razorfish, Team Detroit, UM and Y&R -- on potential future brand ads in Windows 8 apps.
It isn't the first time that Microsoft tried its hand at hardware to diversify incoming revenue. Aside from the successful Xbox entertainment console and introduction of NuAds, Microsoft had its own music player -- the Zune -- which it shuttered, along with a line of phones. The Zune and phones got favorable reviews, but couldn't hold their own.
When it comes to smartphones, Microsoft-based devices lost market share in March 2012, when they represented about 3.9% of the market, according to comScore. The research firm estimates that 24.9% of all U.S. smartphone owners also owned a tablet, up 308% from the previous year.
Ronan de Renesse, principal analyst at Analysys Mason in the United Kingdom, calls Microsoft Surface "a showcase for Windows 8 and Windows RT." He believes Microsoft cannot sustain an aggressive device strategy while licensing Windows on tablets. "The big question is, if Surface becomes as successful as the iPad, will Microsoft choose to stop licensing Windows on tablets?," he asks.
Not a chance, I say.