Microsoft’s Surface tablet to launch as Wi-Fi-only device, claims report

Microsoft Surface Tablet display screen apple ipad killerMicrosoft made a big splash this week with the launch of its two Surface tablets. The presentation, which took place in Los Angeles on Monday, was a very slick and rather cool affair, with funky music, a dazzling light show and several snazzily-dressed tech guys showing off the new tablets. Steve Ballmer was there too.


It didn’t go totally smoothly though. There was one heart-stopping moment where Microsoft Windows president Steve Sinofsky found himself staring at a frozen Surface screen. “I can browse smoothly,” he told the audience as he realised that he wasn’t able to browse at all.

Just before he was about to politely ask the ground if it would like to open up and swallow him, he remembered there was a spare device at the back of the presentation area. You can bet the sound technician made darn sure he turned off Sinofsky’s clip-on mic the moment he left the stage.

Though the Surface was, on the whole, well received by tech pundits, the lack of specifics was one cause of concern. Everyone wanted to know the price, but Sinofsky could only say “it’ll be priced like comparable tablets.” Even a specific release date wasn’t forthcoming.

Wi-Fi only?

And now Bloomberg has served to thicken the fog of confusion with a report suggesting the two versions of the Surface will be launched as Wi-Fi-only models. In other words, you won’t be able to hook up to a mobile phone network when a Wi-Fi network is unavailable.

Quoting “two people familiar with the matter” as its source, the report claims that Microsoft will launch the Surface with a Wi-Fi short-range connection only. It’s assumed the computer giant will offer its tablet with mobile wireless connectivity at a later date.

With the more expensive Windows 8 Pro version of the Surface aimed at business users, this may be a problem. Such users will doubtless want the ability to use the device anywhere and not have to rely on the existence of a Wi-Fi network.

Speaking to Bloomberg about the rumor, Creative Strategies analyst Ben Bajarin said that Wi-Fi-only tablets make up the vast chunk of the market at the present time and suggested Microsoft’s decision to go with such a model may be to keep costs down. However, it would cause problems for the Redmond-based company if it was planning to market it as a tablet that can be used anywhere and in any way, he said.

However, Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi didn’t think it would be an issue, explaining that most people are happy to use their tablet only in the home, partly to avoid concerns about the cost of monthly data plans.

The Surface’s main rival, Apple’s iPad, came with 3G connectivity when it launched in 2010, while the new iPad, released in March, can connect to faster 4G networks. Wi-Fi-only models are available too.

If Bloomberg’s report turns out to be on the money, do you think Microsoft has slipped up starting out with a Wi-Fi-only device, or is that simply what the vast majority of consumers are happy with anyway?