It was an unexpected start to my day.  Normally, while getting beautified for TV, my mornings are filled with the latest round up of celebrity gossip and goings-on-about-town with the women who perform daily hair and makeup miracles to transform me for TV-readiness. But this morning, when I showed up to the third-floor greenroom here at FOX Business headquarters, the first item on the agenda was a peppering of questions about Microsoft (MSFT).  Yes, Microsoft and its new tablet.  Not Alec Baldwin’s latest shenanigans or the cover of today’s NY Post.

“So what is it”

“When will it come out?”

“Should I wait to buy a tablet until it comes out?”

I always take my role as technology product reviewer with this group seriously; after all, I could end up with bright blue eye shadow on national TV if I give the wrong advice.  But in my many years here, never can I recall Microsoft being the center of my morning coffee talk. 

After seeing tech blogs and newspapers published this morning, Microsoft was the center of watercooler talk across this entire country.  Just when we thought Apple (AAPL), Facebook (FB) and Google (GOOG) were to always dominate the agenda, Microsoft showed us that it still has a trick up its sleeves.

The company released two new tablets called the “Surface” at an event held at Milk Studios in Los Angeles. The press was not given much notice and exact location details were not unleashed until hours before the event.  My greenroom audience loved hearing about the suspense and secrecy of the whole shebang.

Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, took a page out of Apple’s playbook with his presentation – simple, big and wowing images with rotating speakers. Touting the company’s accomplishments first, before getting to the big news, Microsoft was sounding very Apple-like.  And the products he unveiled showed that the company was becoming slightly Apple-like, as well: Unveiling two new tablets that were integrated seamlessly with its software backbone of Windows RT and Windows 8. 

Finally enough wow factor in a new Microsoft product to capture the attention of the FOX hair and makeup department! The Surface duo is extremely thin, fast and eye-catching.  The features are flashy, with appeal to workhorses who want a slick computing machine, wrapped in a Windows interface and a lure to Windows PC users.  At first glance, this could become a viable threat to the iPad on specs alone.

  Surface Surface Pro Apple iPad*
OS Windows RT Windows 8 iOS
Battery 31.5 watts/hour 42 watts/hour 42.5 watts/hour
Processor Nvidia ARM Intel Core i5 Apple A5X
Storage 32/64GB 64/128GB 16/32/64GB
Weight 1.49lbs 1.99lbs 1.44lbs
Thickness 9.3mm 13.5mm 9.4mm
Display 10.6 inches 10.6 inches 9.7 inches
Other features Keyboard Keyboard  
  Kickstand Kickstand  
  Pen input Pen input  

*The newest wi-fi iPad on the market

The touch cover keyboard quickly became the highlight of my product review to my early-morning audience.  A tablet cover that can be folded over to turn into a touch-sensitive keyboard for the feel and effect of a real keyboard.  This, in my experience, has been the biggest hesitance toward tablet adoption: needing a keyboard.  The kickstand is another big talking point because these catchy little enhancements are what's needed to bring in the late adopters.  Microsoft created the ultimate selling point to already loyal Windows PC fans in genius fashion.

But specs and features alone don’t get consumers to buy tablets because there is still so much we don’t know. 

A few key questions: 

What is the selling price?  We’re told it is competitive with comparable devices but $499 is the entry point for the iPad and becomes the number to beat in the market place.

What is the release date?  The sell-date was left just a nebulous as the release event location details.  We have the vague timeframe of the fall.  But to have the most impact, these devices need to be on the store shelves ahead of the holiday shopping season

What is the battery life?  Obviously, this makes a difference for heavy users, travelers and it's a basic statistic used in comparison shopping

What IT and productivity tools will this include? 

What entertainment features will this include from apps to streaming content?

These will be the deal-breaking or deal-making details that will define this as largely a business or consumer product. From this, we’ll know who Microsoft is taking head on…Apple, Google or smaller players in the market.  Remember Research In Motion's (RIMM) BlackBerry Playbook?

If you asked me a year ago if I would be talking about a Microsoft tablet in my unofficial morning meeting, I probably would have laughed.  Today, Microsoft proved me wrong.  But the real test for Microsoft is becoming a recurring topic in this beauty boardroom.  If you can get this audience talking about your products, you’re on the right track. 

Shibani Joshi joined FOX Business Network (FBN) in September 2007 as a reporter. Joshi brings experience in investment banking, strategy and business development, as she began her career as an investment banking analyst at Morgan Stanley (MS).  She worked on merger, acquisition and corporate finance deals in the real estate sector for MS.