Shortly after announcing pricing for its upcoming Surface tablet, the Microsoft device's engineering team took to Reddit today to hold a virtual Q&A with the site's users.
It was an unusual marketing move by Microsoft, but sending some of its top technical people to interact with the Reddit community offered a rare opportunity for free publicity in a forum where the company could make its pitch to a crowd of technically savvy users. Led by Panos Panay, the general manager of the Surface team at Microsoft, the team answered posted questions for two hours, in what Reddit users know as an Ask Me Anything, or AMA, session.
Some of the questions followed a predictable course, with users posting questions about the tablet's starting $499 price (32GB with no keyboard), or the decision to charge $100 to $130 for the Touch Cover keyboard. Others sought to get a clearer idea of what they could expect and why some features weren't included. Though there were no answers for questions about the Windows software, the team talked about battery-life testing; why they chose Wi-Fi but not 3G or 4G connectivity; and why the design didn't include near field communication technology.
During the AMA, Ralf Groene, the Surface's creative director, wrote that the team focused on making a tablet that would be "a stage for your software."
We didn't want to have a bunch of styling in the way, we wanted to build a bridge between you and your digital things. We developed the idea that later turned into the keyboard covers and kickstand. Most of the time we spent on revealing the essence of this idea: How can we make it comfortable to hold? How do we fit our connectors, and so on. Step by step we found the design. The language behind it is a point of view to make a very useful product. I don't believe in defining a design language in shape. A design language should be a consistent approach to execute the vision you have. Using magnesium allowed us to make our product thin, light, and strong. The color we chose lets the physical product fade into the background and pronounces the screen as the main act.
Several Redditors asked about the detachable keypad, which comes in "Touch" and "Type" (as you can in the photo above) and also acts as the tablet's cover. The Touch is similar to a virtual keyboard, it has no tactile response, but also was designed to know when your hands are just resting on the keypad so that you are not accidentally typing. The Type is more like a traditional keyboard.
The design also called for the NFC to be sacrificed, the team wrote. The magnesium metal closure for the tablet did not fit a good NFC antenna design. As for the lack of 3G and 4G connectivity, the team said tablet sales-data shows that only one-third of tablets offer the mobile broadband connection and only half of those tablets have activated connections, so the team opted to focus on Wi-Fi instead.
Check out the rest of the answers here.