The full-blown Windows 8 version of Microsoft's new tablet -- Surface Pro -- goes on sale in January with a starting price of $899 ... and that doesn't include the distinctive snap-on cover/keyboard that will be pretty much essential for anyone wanting to use the machine for traditional Windows applications.
The $899 buys a 64GB version of the device, while $999 pays for a 128GB model, according to a blog at Microsoft's TechNet.
FIRST LOOK: Surface RT
The keyboard, if it follows the price of the keyboard for the Windows RT version of Surface, costs an extra $119 for the Touch cover and $129 for the Type cover, which has mechanical keys.
Because it can run any application that runs on a Windows 7 machine, this is a possible corporate laptop. This is the major difference between the Surface Pro and Surface RT.
Surface RT runs only Windows 8-optimized Windows Store applications. It comes with a pared-down version of Microsoft Office; Surface Pro does not.
While it looks similar to the Surface RT with distinctive keyboard/covers and integrated kickstand to prop up the screen, there are major differences.
Surface RT runs on ARM processors and Surface Pro uses an Intel Core i5 processor. Screen resolution on Surface RT is 1366 x 768 vs. 1920 x 1080 on Surface Pro.
Surface Pro has a USB 3 port vs. a USB 2.0 port on the Surface RT. Surface Pro supports a stylus; Surface RT does not.
The dimensions of the Surface Pro in inches are 10.81 x 6.81 x 0.53 compared to Surface RT's 10.81 x 6.77 x 0.37. Surface Pro also weighs more at 2 pounds vs. less than 1.5 pounds for Surface RT.
Windows 8 has grabbed significantly less of the overall Windows computing market in the U.S. during its first four weeks than Windows 7 did in its initial phase, according to market research firm The NPD Group, and sales of tablets is "almost nonexistent."
So far Windows 8 has nailed down 58% of the Windows device sales compared to the 83% achieved by Windows 7 in its first four weeks, NPD says in a press release.
Windows 8 tablet sales are even more dismal, accounting for less than 1% of the Windows 8 sales, according to NPD. That means they account for a miniscule share of the larger, overall Windows device market. That doesn't include sales of Microsoft's Surface tablets, which are sold only in Microsoft stores and for which Microsoft has given no sales figures.
It's not conclusive, but this picture of Windows 8's performance contrasts with the impression Microsoft is making, boasting this week that 40 million license for the operating system were sold since Oct. 26.
While generally discounting comparisons with other OS launches, the CMO/CFO of Microsoft's Windows and Windows Live division, Tami Reller, says the success to date of Windows 8 is comparable to that its predecessor. "The 40 million is roughly in line with Windows 7," Reller says in an interview at the Credit Suisse tech conference this week.
The Windows 8 numbers are part of a bigger picture of lower U.S. Windows PC sales generally, according to NPD. Fewer Windows devices have sold in the U.S. since Windows 8 launched last month than were sold during the same period last year, the group says.
Since the Oct. 26 kickoff, sales of Windows devices in the U.S. is off 21% from the figures racked up during the same weeks of 2011, dampening hopes that the new operating system would jump-start the flagging PC market, the group says.
While the results so far aren't encouraging, it's premature to dump all the responsibility on Windows 8, says Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at NPD, in a press release. "After just four weeks on the market, it's still early to place blame on Windows 8 for the ongoing weakness in the PC market," Baker says.
The numbers are bleak across different PC form factors with notebook sales down 24% and desktops down 9%, NPD says, but Baker holds out hope. "We still have the whole holiday selling season ahead of us, but clearly Windows 8 did not prove to be the impetus for a sales turnaround some had hoped for."
Part of the problem is slow back-to-school sales that left retailers with higher inventories of Windows 7 devices than anticipated, drawing off potential Windows 8 sales.
Looking just at Windows 8 sales, touchscreen devices with the operating system are doing pretty well, NPD says. "The strong performance of Windows 8 notebooks with touchscreens, where Windows 8 truly shines, offers some reason for optimism," Baker says. "These products accounted for 6 percent of Windows 8 notebook sales at an average price of $867 helping to re-establish a premium segment to the Windows consumer notebook market."
Microsoft seeks iOS developers
In an effort to further recruit for an army of Windows 8 developers, Microsoft is holding a training session for iOS developers on how to write Windows 8 applications.
Scheduled for Dec. 13 and 14 in Mountain View, Calif., the training will be taught by former iOS developers who are now building Windows 8 applications.
Microsoft executives repeat and repeat that having desirable apps in the Windows Store inventory is essential to the success of Windows 8. This outreach to iOS developers may be an attempt to draw in people who have proven development ability or it may be a try at luring in developers who may have successful iOS apps they might want to recode for Windows 8.
Either way it can't hurt to cast a wide net.
Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @Tim_Greene.
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