Microsoft Surface – UMPC Done Right?

Posted on 19 June 2012, Last updated on 21 August 2014 by

In 2007 Microsoft introduced 7 inch tablets based on low power CPUs and Windows with touch capability and an overlay user interface called the Origami Experience. The Origami UMPCs drove a huge amount of attention at launch but within 4 years all traces of the devices were gone from the market.

Yesterday Microsoft introduced 10 inch tablets based on low power CPUs and Windows with touch capability and an overlay user interface called Metro. The Surface has already driven a huge amount of attention, but will it last?


What’s the difference and should we be more excited this time round?

Yesterday Microsoft launched the Surface tablet. It’s a 10 inch tablet built in two version to offer either a consumer/student Windows 8 RT experience or a full-blown ultrabook-quality Windows 8 experience, a bit like the ASUS Tablet 600 and ASUS Tablet 810 do.

Here’s the teaser video.

The ARM-based version, the Microsoft Surface Windows RT, will be based on Tegra 3 and a 31Wh battery that, in my opinion, will be good for 15 hours of use, 10 hours of hard work or 25 hours of offline reading or typing. It will come with the Microsoft Office for Windows RT package.

The X86 version, the Microsoft Surface Windows 8 Pro, will use a Core i5 CPU with Windows 8 Pro and offer an Ultrabook-like performance. With a 42Wh battery it will weigh about the same as the Samsung XE700 which also has a similar sized battery. It runs for about 4hrs under full use and can be used for about 6-8hrs of offline reading or writing. With Windows 8 and Ivy Bridge I expect this to increase to about 5hrs and 10hrs respectively for online working and offline semi-idle modes.

Both versions of the Microsoft Surface will offer the Metro user interface.

So what’s the difference between the consumer failure, the UMPC, and the Surface?

Firstly, Windows 8 is not only built to accept touch in the traditional tablet PC sense but it integrates ‘consumer touch’ for the first time. That is, using finger-based touch on an integrated user interface built for the job. There’s also an applications channel too and this could be the one thing that the success of the surface rests on because traditional Windows applications just aren’t geared towards touch and the built-in Metro apps aren’t going to keep many people interested for long.


We’re also seeing, for the first time, Windows on ARM architectures which bring a new category of low-power platforms to the table. While they aren’t geared towards traditional Windows multitasking apps, they could offer impressive battery life on products that are well integrated, as Microsoft clearly thinks Surface Windows RT is.

The market has changed in the last 5 years too. The iPad has brought touch and social mobile computing to the masses. People understand what a tablet is now. 5 years ago, it wasn’t easy to find convincing usage cases.

Clearly the RT version isn’t going to be the best productivity solution when it launches but it could mature through the development of Metro applications very quickly and become a better solution than the ‘all singing’ Wintel version for many people. For those that want the full dynamic range of computing scenarios though, it looks like you’ve got an option in the Pro version, as long as the price, with the included docking keyboard, is right.

Don’t expect Surface to be the only option in the market when Windows 8 launches though. ASUS has already announced similar solutions and there are many more to come but Surface could be the product that sets the bar and shows OEMs exactly what’s needed.

Surface has a great chance of success as a product in certain segments but it’s impact on a total mobile computing solution could be larger. It’s an ultra mobile PC that spans consumer to productive usage and that what’ the ultra mobile PC was for many people.  The Surface Pro is going to be desktop capable and potentially, the only PC you need. If Intel and MS get together to tightly control power usage in the Metro environment, as we’re expecting to happen with Haswell in 2013, then maybe UMPCportal will live again!

What are your thoughts on Microsoft’s Surface?

23 Comments For This Post

  1. Mike Cane says:

    I posted this:

    After a night’s sleep, I still want the Pro version. I don’t see the market for the RT version, although I suppose it depends on what apps it gets.

    The other thing that’s changed is capacitive vs resistive screens. That makes a huge difference in the experience. And the Surface tablets are far thinner than the UMPCs of yore.

  2. Sumocat says:

    Ha! I totally forgot that’s what our first glimpse of Origami was. Oh well. Third time’s the charm, right?

  3. Ben_Voigt says:

    Somehow I have my problems viewing an 10″ device as an ultra-mobile solution.

    A 10″ tablet is too large to type on while you hold it in your hands.
    When I place it on any kind of surface to type on it, it requires the same space as any other 10″ netbook/subnotebook/ultrabook.
    When I fold out the stand and use any of the keyboard covers I actually require even more space than when using the clamshell designs.

    The only circumstances where I would prefer this device over a 10″ clamshell would be airplane seat-type environments where the screen angle of the clamshell device might be limited.

    That said, I still would prefer any of the Surface devices over an iPad or any Android OS tablet simply because I could just plug in an USB key and transfer all data on it without any compability issues. I expect even full Office compability.

    But I’m still not conviced on the form factor itself.
    As an entertainment device, rock on! But as a device to actually get stuff done on, I don’t know.
    The part where I can see getting stuff done on the Surface is when it simulates being a netbook/ultrabook with the extra stand. And at that point why would I take the simulation?

  4. digi_owl says:

    From Android experience, it depends on the amount of typing. Quick notes and such are easy to do with one hand, but longer articles becomes a issue.

    As for the USB key thing, works on Toshiba Thrive (discontinued apparently) and various Acer models (no idea why they dropped it on the A510 and why the A200 has it but not the cameras, while the A700 got the cameras but not the USB) outside of the FS stuff (damn software patents!).

    Btw, note that the Pro inherits the active stylus from the TabletPC run. And from what i can tell, digital contract signing and such is catching on (Adobe even included such features in the free Acrobat Reader for Android recently).

    I wonder how quickly a company can roll out digital warehouse and sales documents in a metro style design…

  5. James says:

    Well, remember the WinRT/8 onscreen keyboard has a split layout option that’s ideal for thumb typing. So you won’t be limited to just one hand typing on the go.

    They’re also pushing voice dictation, which hopefully may actually be usable.

    The nice thing about the digital pen though is the fact the screen is so thin that you don’t notice the gap between the pen tip and the actual screen image.

  6. Ben_Voigt says:

    A split OSK is great.

    But I fear my original reply has been unclear.

    I do see a place for tablet PCs. Hospitals, digital offices, etc., but in none of these places would I dream to use an UMPC instead. And with UMPC I mean a device like an Umid BZ, or a Sony Vaio P, or even a 7″ Samsung Galaxy Tab (as long as it fits the needs on the software side).

    In my eyes an UMPC has to be usable in confined spaces. And it has to be pocketable.

    These devices are called “ultra-mobile”. When I have to carry it in one hand, or bring a bag with me to carry it around, what makes it more mobile than any other mobile PC like a netbook/notebook/ultrabook?
    OK, given a split OSK I can type while walking. But to be honest, I’m no fan of typing while walking regardless of device size. I tend to run into things. ;)

  7. James says:

    @Ben_Voigt – I agree that this doesn’t exactly qualify as a UMPC but what makes it more mobile than a netbook/notebook/ultrabook is that it can actually be used while being mobile. Contrary to the inclusion of the kickstand and the optional Smart Cover keyboard, it’s still primarily a tablet and tablets can be used while holding them.

    While netbooks/notebooks/ultrabooks have to be set down to be used properly. Sure you could probably still use a netbook one handed but it’s not really convenient or intended usage.

    For the Surface, all you have to do is either take off the cover or fold it behind the device and you can use it as a tablet. The Pro version even adds the benefit of a digitizer pen for additional usefulness for mobile usage.

    After all, you can’t exactly use a mouse while walking and a touch pad can be inaccurate and clumsy to use on the go.

    Though I wouldn’t mind if they’d make an actual UMPC version but unfortunately that’s unlikely to happen any time soon. Especially since they wouldn’t want to overlap Windows RT with Windows Phone 8 so soon. So this is probably the closest we’ll see for awhile.

    Hopefully when Intel Atoms reach 14nm they’ll start considering making UMPC’s again.

  8. Tim says:

    From me on a laptop I just do a little report writting and web surfing while away on business. So the RT may be of use. Although I can do all I need on my £350 laptop with ~12″ I already have. And that

    For productive work I use the a desktop with 2 monitors.

    For relaxation I use an Android tablet so as long as I can use my favorite apps like Pulse, Dogcatcher and Twit TV I happy as larry.

    I do though think that they have done a fine job and would recommend them to relative.

  9. oryoki says:

    While there are too many unknowns (price, ship date, battery life, etc) to firmly endorse the Surface tablets at this point, it certainly looks like 2013 will be a battle royale between iOS, Android and Windows 8 for the hearts and wallets of tablet buyers.

    I must say that articles like this that analyze and predict, rather than simply report specs and prices, is what makes UMPC worth visiting. Thanks.

  10. paul says:

    For productivity, I’d rather just get one of the ultraportable notebooks with long battery life over any tablet.

    As for consumer use which usually prioritizes entertainment then the Surface seems like it would fit that kind of usage. The bad thing is that the likely cheaper Android and iOS devices will also fit that kind of scenario.

  11. HildyJ says:

    PCWorld’s reporting that the RT Surface will be out in the fall, at Windows 8’s launch, and the Pro Surface will ship three months later. Maybe I’ll be able to preorder it as a christmas present to myself.

    I do wish they had a smaller model. My HP Slate 500 is about 1.5 pounds with a 9.7″ screen and I find it a bit too big. Admittedly, I was spoiled by my OQO 02 and its 5″ form factor that fit in a pocket (although it did require a heavy duty belt since it weighed a pound). Still, shrinking the screen down to 7″ would reduce its weight and improve its mobility, even it it wouldn’t get it down to pocketable size.

  12. luis says:

    At this size I’d just opt for an 11.6″ notebook. As said by another commenter, in notebook mode it may end up having a larger footprint too. Also, I don’t see a way to adjust the angle.

    It’s probably too heavy and unwieldly for use while standing. I even see many iPad users hunched over when using their iPads while standing. They started out straight but after not even a minute their back gradually became more and more bent.

    I still don’t see tablets providing enough productivity to warrant a purchase if I already have a portable notebook and smartphone.

  13. jose says:

    I’ll only put up with a touch UI on small devices (ie. <= 5" screens). At 10.6" and a wide screen aspect ratio, I'd rather get an 11.6" ultraportable or ultrabook.

  14. ssagg says:

    A shame that Microsoft isn’t going to offer a 7″ or 8″ versión

  15. Chippy says:

    I can see the possibility for Metro-only versions at 7″ at a later date if the first round of devices are successful. I don’t see it being a full Windows 8 device though.

  16. James says:

    Maybe but when Intel gets the ATOM to 14nm in 2014 and all the product categories are more developed then they may push sub 10″ models again.

    After all, every now and then I still see some company experimenting with smaller form factors and there’s still demand if the price and performance issues can be addressed.

    Example of a recent 8.9″ Convertible Windows 8 product demo…

  17. Kirill says:

    It’s great! I want it :) Good price and compact size.
    I hate all those 10+ inches screen devices…

  18. Lucien says:

    Maybe Viliv could revive their planned 7″ slate as Windows 8 device? Not sure what’s going on with Viliv nowadays.

    I still see a market for 7″ just look at Kindle Fire and few Android devices. Not too interested in RT and rather have full version.
    Not sure why we’d see RT only? Price and market demand not there?

    I’d gladly replace my aging Viliv S5 for 7″ full windows version.

  19. James says:

    Uh, Viliv apparently closed shop last year. So pretty much all the old UMPC companies are gone now and we’ll have to wait and see if any new companies, or one of the big ones, start pushing UMPC products again but it seems at least some are willing to still dabble.

    It’s just easier for them to consider a ARM solution right now and that’s where Windows RT comes in, but hopefully they’ll reconsider when the next gen ATOMs come out next year with the 22nm Silvermont update or the year after that with the 14nm Airmont.

  20. Gadgety says:

    In tablet land this is the way more attractive than Apple’s or the Android offering. Pocketability is still just out of range so hoping for smaller versions by other suppliers.

  21. Sarig says:

    I was quite excited about Win RT in the beginning, but it seems it will be so locked down, that I quickly lost access. Apparently browsers will have to be UI overlays of the IE core – just like with Safari on iPad.

    And only MS programs will run in the desktop ui, the rest will have to be metro.

    But even so, interesting development!

    Good to see some life in this site still :)

  22. Houdini says:

    JUst saw the Lenovo hybrid tablet and ultrabook. New hardware. The windows 8 tablet has a keyboard dock like the Asus transformer. It docks with a connector and has the thinkad stick and glass touchpad, dual touch screen. The ultrabook looks very nice too. i5 and i7, very thin and light, 4-5 hours battery.

  23. Vakeros says:

    This has the chance to be the master as you have one set of apps for use on phone, tablet or PC. Same way to interface and use. Only problem being the resolution restrictions put on Win Phone 8.
    So close, but not quite there yet!

    When Samsung bring out a Windows Phone 8 Note – with S-Pen. This could be the 5.5″ screen or 7.7″ or 10.1″. You can then have your UMPC.

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