Microsoft Surface tablet: 5 questions

Microsoft's Surface tablet looked good at its introduction, but questions about pricing, arrival and connectivity remain unanswered

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When Will It Arrive?

The Windows RT version of Surface is due to come out during the general release of Windows 8, which is expected in the fall, around October. The Surface Pro is scheduled for release about three months later, meaning in early 2013. Microsoft did not offer any specifics beyond these general time lines.

Will Microsoft Ever Give Up on the Digital Pen?

Microsoft couldn't resist giving a nod to its legacy tablets (convertible notebooks) by including digital pen functionality with the Surface Pro. But haven't consumers already spoken and said, "Thanks, but no thanks" to digital pen input technology by adopting the finger-driven iPad in droves?

What About 3G/4G Connectivity?

Microsoft didn't say whether the new Surface devices would include mobile data. Perhaps the company didn't want to discuss that issue while it works on developing carrier partnerships for its new tablets. Wi-Fi only devices are great, but many people--especially those looking at the Surface Pro for work--will want the option of a higher-priced device that comes with 3G/4G connectivity.

Will the Surface Fulfill the Promise of Apple's iPad?

When technology critics speculate about the future of the iPad, many wonder if it could one day replace the home PC for many users. In some ways it has already done that for users who just want a computer that can do casual Web browsing, e-mail, social networking, and video streaming. There are also some professionals using the iPad instead of a laptop at work, including programmers, journalists, and small business owners.

But while the iPad is becoming a popular choice for the road, many people are still holding on to their laptops. That could change with Surface and similar devices since they offer a familiarity the iPad doesn't necessarily have.

This is especially true with the Surface Pro: It's a full Windows PC that is still a relatively sleek tablet with a slim travel keyboard designed with touch typists in mind. That means you can take all the programs you use right now and stick them on something the size of a tablet. Even the entry-level version of Surface running Windows RT offers the more familiar desktop interface (albeit with limited functionality) for people who want a basic desktop.

Something Missing

Based on what Microsoft has said, however, the one thing Surface may be missing is the consumer-friendly entry-level price point of $500. That appears to be the magic number for people to buy iPads, and tablets that have been initially priced above that have failed to gain much traction: i.e., RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook and the HTC Jetstream.

Perhaps Microsoft will still meet the $500 price with the 32GB version as does the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime TF201, but we won't know for sure until Windows RT Surface tablets hit store shelves.

Microsoft is off to a good start with Surface, but we'll have to wait a few months yet to find out if the company's promises will meet consumer expectations.

Connect with Ian Paul (@ianpaul) on Twitter and Google+, and with Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

This story, "Microsoft Surface tablet: 5 questions" was originally published by PCWorld.

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