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Microsoft Surface: Can it become a viable iPad alternative?

Microsoft announced Monday that it was launching a tablet called the Surface, a device it hopes will undercut the iPad’s domination of the market. Columnist Joshua Topolsky outlines three things Microsoft needs to do to make this gadget compete successfully with Apple’s:

The first is that Microsoft needs to evangelize this product to developers and persuade them that there’s an opportunity to make money on its platform. There is simply no way to get new users to buy without a stacked app catalogue, and Microsoft has a huge uphill battle to fight against two entrenched players.

Second, the price has to be right. If the lower-end Surface costs more than $500, it will be a really difficult sell for Microsoft. Price really does matter in a world where an iPad 2 is $399 and the Kindle Fire just half that.

Finally, Microsoft needs to deliver on its hardware promises. It’s easy to say you made an awesome product, but it’s a lot harder to actually make that product. Every company says they make great stuff, but few actually do.

And in case you’re keeping count, Microsoft has never made a tablet before. With guys such as Bathiche leading the charge, I believe the company is capable of great things, but it has to execute.

Remember, this is the company that produced the failed Kin line of phones and killed off another attempt at a tablet, the promising Courier project. Hardware is not simple for any company, and making the Surface truly great will not be a cakewalk.

One thing seems certain. With the Surface, Microsoft just started writing its next chapter. And for the first time in a while, I’m excited to see where the story goes.

Though many of the details about the Surface’s functionality were unveiled at Monday’s press event, Hayley Tsukayama reports that some key questions remain unanswered:

Price: For one, we don’t know the all-important question of how much this tablet will cost. With two versions of the tablet unveiled, it seems like Microsoft could be going after the laptop replacement market and the high-end of the tablet market. The company wouldn’t give pricing details, saying only that it “is expected to be competitive with a comparable ARM tablet or Intel Ultrabook-class PC.”

Release date: Also unclear? When, exactly, you’ll be able to be get your hands on this device. Windows 8/RT is expected in the fall, and we’re definitely not going to see these devices before the operating system itself launches. That’s a long time to keep up the buzz, Microsoft.

Cecilia Kang weighs whether or not Microsoft can make this tablet a into must-buy:

Several years behind its Silicon Valley rivals, Microsoft is betting it can play catch-up on tablets and smartphones by leveraging its dominance in the workplace and its success in the living room.

Just imagine Microsoft offering its Office software exclusively on the Surface while providing access to Xbox games and videos. It could be the right mix of professional and personal elements — a combination that Apple and Google haven’t been able to achieve fully. Then add the other online assets Microsoft has amassed over the years: the videoconferencing service Skype, the professional social network Yammer and the search engine Bing.

The potential is great, analysts say. That is, if the notoriously bureaucratic tech giant doesn’t end up repeating its past mistakes.

“Microsoft has had all the pieces for a consumer strategy for years, and they’ve totally and utterly failed time and time again,” said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Gartner research. Standout failures include Microsoft’s Zune music player and the Kin smartphone, which were panned by critics and fed the reputation of a company that was out of touch with consumers.

“The trick is if they can tie it all together into a compelling story and get consumers to buy into a whole ecosystem of devices and apps, which is what Apple has done so well and Google has done well, too,” Gartenberg said.

More technology news:

Microsoft Surface vs. Apple’s iPad

First impressions of Microsoft’s Surface

Microsoft unveils Surface tablets



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