June 18, 2012 at 6:29 PM ET
From the mouse to Xbox, the best experience has been when software, hardware and peripherals work together, said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer when he took the stage Monday in Hollywood, Calif. for a mystery announcement. He quickly introduced the Surface tablet. Not Xbox Surface, just Microsoft Surface. It is not a giant table, but rather a tablet meant, in many ways, to compete with the iPad.
But the Surface won't just be on the Nvidia ARM processor, like the iPad. There will also be a Surface that runs on Intel-based processors, to run a full-blown version of Windows 8 Pro.
The ARM-based Surface tabs will come in 32GB and 64GB configs, and will ship around the time of Windows availability. They will be priced to compete with other ARM tablets (presumably, in line with iPads.) The Intel-powered Windows 8 Pro Surface tablets will come 3 months later, in 64GB and 128GB configs, priced to compete with ultrabooks.
The Surface has a 10.6-inch screen, thickness of 9.3mm, "just wide enough for a full-size USB," says Windows chief Steven Sinofsky, who joined Ballmer to show off the goods.
The tablet is tough, with a Gorilla Glass 2.0 screen. Like iPads, it has a magnetically connected case, but this "Touch Cover" actually has a full multi-touch keyboard, too. It's 1.8 lbs., and has a kickstand that pulls out when you want to watch a movie. It also has dual-antenna Wi-Fi.
There's also a pen interface. The Intel version of the Surface has DisplayPort, so that it can power a higher-rez monitor. It has a native resolution of 1080p. (Note: It is not clear at this time what the screen resolution of the ARM version is.)
The Touch Cover may be quite a cool tool: It's like a rubber keypad, and it knows when you're not using it because of a built-in accelerometer, and it shuts off and doesn't drain the battery. The technology behind the covers is pretty snazzy -- it tracks your finger movements, using logic to determine if you're typing or just resting your hands.
There are actually a second cover, as well. The Type Cover has a slightly raised keyboard for more traditional clickety clack.
Here's a shot of the insides of the thing:
I've traveled all the way to Milk Studios in Hollywood, Calif. for a mystery announcement made by Microsoft. Will it be a tablet? Will it be an Xbox? Will it be an Xbox tablet? Only Steve Ballmer knows ... at least for the next few minutes.
Place your bets, follow me for live updates on Twitter at @wjrothman, and we'll keep updating and discussing as the news rolls in.
(Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal, but that doesn't grant us privileged information about Microsoft products and services, nor does it influence our opinion of them.)