STEVE JOBS, Apple’s legendary former boss, who died in October, loved to rile Microsoft by claiming that computing was moving into a post-PC world. Apple’s archrival, whose fortunes are founded on the personal computer, used to retort that the death of the PC is greatly exaggerated. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that the industry’s centre of gravity is shifting ever more rapidly towards mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers, where Apple rules the roost with its iPhones and iPads.
Hence Microsoft’s sudden keenness to gain a foothold in the new arena of computing. On June 18th the company unveiled a new device, dubbed Surface, which it hopes will prove a formidable competitor to the wildly popular iPad. The tablet, which is likely to come to market later this year, will run Windows 8, the forthcoming version of its popular operating system. And it will boast novel features, such as an integrated kickstand that props it upright and a detachable magnetic cover that doubles as a keyboard.
Microsoft thinks that the new tablet, which will also come with the firm’s Office suite of productivity tools, is bound to appeal to peripatetic business folk who want a tablet that can double as a PC wherever they are. But there are several unknowns that will determine the speed at which Surface ends up surfacing in homes and offices. Microsoft has yet to reveal exactly how much its new tablets will cost, though it has hinted that prices will be in line with those of the iPad and other tablets. More important, it needs to convince consumers that there will be plenty of apps available for the new device (the iPad now boasts more than 200,000 apps, according to Apple).
Some observers are wondering whether producing its own tablet is a smart strategic move for Microsoft: it will end up competing with other hardware manufacturers that have been developing tablets to run Windows 8. But there is method in this madness: by developing a tablet that really makes the most of Windows 8, Microsoft pushes device makers to do the same. Google, another software powerhouse, bought Motorola Mobility last year partly so that it could use the firms’ phones and tablets to show off Android, its mobile operating system, to best effect. Both companies will be hoping their gambits will enable them to erode Apple’s lead in a market that Mr Jobs brought to life.