Breaking the Surface: How Microsoft Set Out to Build the World’s Best Tablet
At an exclusive press event in Redmond, Washington, Microsoft has given a handful of journalists an insider’s view on how the Surface tablet was conceived, designed, tested, and manufactured. If you had any lingering doubts about the seriousness of Microsoft’s entry into the PC hardware market, they will be banished in the next three hundred words.
According to Steven Sinofsky, work on the Surface tablet began way back in the summer of 2009, as Microsoft began to shift its focus from Windows 7 to Windows 8 — and before the release of the first iPad in spring 2010, incidentally. Microsoft already knew at that point that Windows 8 would be more touch-friendly than Windows 7, and to show the world (and its OEMs) that touch is a viable input method, it decided to make a showcase tablet. I’m not entirely sure that I buy the veracity of this story, but we’ll give Sinofsky the benefit of the doubt.
What followed was a lot of prototyping — hundreds of potential designs that iterated through varying dimensions and screen sizes. 10.1 inches was deemed too cramped for Windows 8′s split-screen mode, while 11.1 inches was apparently too unwieldy. After much testing, 10.6 inches at 16:9 was picked as the Goldilocks size — big enough for split-screen and a generously proportioned keyboard, but not too large for a hand-held device. Because 10.6 inches is a “non-standard” size, Microsoft claims that it had to make the display itself — though again, I find it hard to believe that Microsoft has actually invested billions of dollars in an LCD production line. It may have invested in one of Asia’s screen makers, though, such as Sharp or LG.