For Windows 8 to thrive, Microsoft must make sure consumers have viable Windows 8 tablets. While prominent PC makers like Hewlett-Packard target business users with their Windows 8 tablets, Microsoft apparently sees the need to jump-start the consumer market with an eye-catching flagship device. Ultimately, Microsoft will have company; I expect competitors to emerge closer to Windows 8's launch.
As Apple's success with its iPad has shown, tablets are a different beast than laptops and desktops. Apple has prevailed in part because it controls the design and functionality of both the hardware and the mobile OS software; the two elements work smoothly with one another and integrate seamlessly into the company's software ecosystem.
Google--after witnessing a mishmash of uneven Android tablet releases from its hardware partners--ultimately reached the same conclusion. In July the company, in partnership with Asus, released its own branded Android tablet, the Nexus 7.
With Surface, Microsoft joins the other operating system makers with a tablet offering of its own. Microsoft's proposition, however, is different from its competitors'. Surface is backed by the full power of the company's Windows operating system, along with the robust drivers, peripheral compatibility, and inherent software interoperability that Windows is known for. That you can buy a Metro app in Microsoft's Windows Store and use it on up to five devices--tablet, laptop, or desktop--is a personal computing Shangri-la that neither iOS nor Android can offer.
Surface could propel the PC into the post-PC era. Add in its own content stores for users to acquire movies and music, and Microsoft has a solid recipe for competing head-to-head against Apple--and against Amazon and Google, too.
Editor's note: Tomorrow, look for "How Surface Stacks Up"--a detailed comparison of the two Surface models against rival products.