BUSINESS

Microsoft Surface Canada Release Date: October 26 Will See Apple's Newest Product In Stores

10/25/2012 01:21 EDT | Updated 12/25/2012 05:12 EST
TORONTO - Rob Bieber is a bit of a consumer anomaly. Like many plugged-in Canadians, he's looking to buy a tablet in the near future. But unlike most, he has no interest in an iPad.

You won't find him lining up outside an Apple store on Nov. 2 for the release of the new iPad mini or the revamped larger iPad.

If all goes according to plan, he'll already have his new tablet by then, a Surface, made by Microsoft.

On Friday, the first version of the Surface officially goes on sale, marking Microsoft's determined leap into the increasingly crowded tablet market, which has thus far been dominated by Apple.

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Like Google, which makes its Android software platform available to a number of hardware manufacturers, Microsoft's mobile operating system will also be used by other companies, including Dell and Asus.

In Bieber's case, he's taking a chance on the Surface hoping it'll complement his other Microsoft products, a Windows PC and a Windows smartphone.

"It's a leap of faith, to be sure, but it's going to be — I think, given a little bit of time — a very, very successful platform," says the Winnipeg resident.

"Microsoft has fairly deep pockets and you would think what they will bring to the table (will be good) considering they're one of the preeminent powerhouses."

Microsoft is marketing the Surface as a tablet that can "do more." It comes loaded with the Microsoft Office suite of programs and TV ads are pushing an optional protective case that doubles as a keyboard, making the tablet resemble a notebook computer. Snap in the keyboard when you need to type and pull it away when you just need to use the touchscreen. The tablet also has a flip-out kickstand on the back that keeps it propped up on a table.

The first Surface will run a streamlined version of Windows nicknamed RT, while a follow-up expected early next year will come installed with a more powerful version that can run applications that work on Windows-based PCs.

Computer programmer Geoff Armstrong of Spruce Grove, Alta., is also ready to commit to a Surface and hopes Microsoft — particularly with its second higher-end version of the tablet — is able to do something different than Apple has.

"I see tablets as a very immature platform in general," Armstrong says.

"With the Android tablets the main sales pitch seems to be, 'Hey, it's like an iPad but cheaper,' but I think there's so much room for improvement with tablets.

"I'm happy there's experimentation going on, that there's new ideas that are really trying to advance the state of the art."

Microsoft will sway some consumers away from buying an iPad but may have hurt its chances by not pricing the Surface more aggressively, says Kevin Restivo, senior mobility analyst with IDC Canada.

The low-end 32-gigabyte WiFi-only Surface goes for $519, or $619 with a keyboard case. An iPad with similar specifications goes for $599, but the cheapest 16-gigabyte version is $499.

"I hoped (Surface pricing) would be lower and I say that because ... there's really little to differentiate it right now," says Restivo, noting that while the Office applications are a strong selling feature, there won't be a significant number of other apps available at launch.

"Just having Office may not be the argument that's going to woo consumers given the price point is about the same as the iPad.

"It's going to be incumbent upon Microsoft to prove that this is a fundamentally better experience despite the lesser number of applications out of the gate. What Microsoft really needs to prove is that once you dig into it you're going to benefit from it in some other way."

Bieber says he too was disappointed by Microsoft's pricing, although it hasn't turned him off from buying a Surface.

"There were rumours floating around that it'd be anywhere from $200 to $600 for the entry level and obviously everyone was hoping for $200 — but I thought that was a little unrealistic," he says.

"I was thinking for them to introduce folks to it I was expecting it to be about $399, for an entry-level unit.

"It'd be a little more palatable for consumers on the whole."