June 22, 2012 at 11:48 AM ET
Sources cited by TheNextWeb say that the base price for a Surface tablet will be $599 — and the Intel-powered "Pro" version will start at $999. Meanwhile, Bloomberg is reporting that the initial models will be Wi-Fi-only, rather than connecting to a wireless 3G or 4G network.
I reached out to Microsoft, but the company was unable to confirm either of the rumors. However, it's worth looking at why both are relatively likely.
(Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal, but that doesn't give us privileged information about Microsoft products and services, nor does it influence our opinion of them.)
First, the pricing. At the Surface unveiling, Microsoft announced that the tablets would be "priced competitively" with current tablet offerings, and that the ARM-based Surface, meant to compete with the iPad, would ship in 32GB and 64GB versions. Well, a 32GB Wi-Fi-only iPad costs, yes, $599. So that's definitely in line.
But Microsoft said "competitive," and if Microsoft really wants to compete with Apple, it probably has to undercut the iPad. So while the $599 is more than likely, it would be nice to see Microsoft enter the market aggressively, rather than launch high, then drop the price if (when?) sales are slow. Amazon didn't price its Kindle Fire high then drop it, it went on the cheap. Meanwhile, RIM priced its PlayBook very high, then dropped and dropped and dropped the price. Which company is holding its head high now?
As for a $999 Pro version, that's a bit more of a puzzlement. All Microsoft has said was that the pricing would be in line with current ultrabooks, but quick survey of current ultrabook pricing suggests a starting point of $699 or so. Admittedly, that's without a 64GB solid state drive, let alone 128GB, which the high-end Surface Pro will have, but these ultrabooks do have larger screens. So while $999 may not be a bad price for what Microsoft is offering, it seems a little high to compete with ultrabooks in general.
The Wi-Fi-only issue is far easier to wrap your head around. At the Surface event, Microsoft showed off only hardware that ran on Wi-Fi networks -- they said absolutely nothing about cellular 3G/4G networking. They also announced that they'd have the basic Surface tablet out when Windows 8 launches, and the Pro version out about three months later. By showing off Wi-Fi-only hardware and talking about its availability, they've all but formally confirmed that there won't be a cellular product "initially," which is all Bloomberg is saying.
So there you have it. If you're in the market for a Surface tablet, don't expect a 3G/4G version at launch, and do expect to pay around $599 for the entry-level unit. And if the price happens to be lower, that's money in your pocket.