After stripping us of our mobile phones and anything else that can take pictures, a Microsoft employee who does not stop smiling directs us into a blank, white rectangle of a room, where Panos Panay, the general manager of Microsoft Surface, explains that we’re the very first journalists to ever set foot into Store Zero, the model for every Microsoft Store on the planet. We’re there because Microsoft Stores happen to be the only physical locations on earth that you’ll be able to buy a Surface tablet, which is perhaps the most important product Microsoft’s created since the Xbox.
It’s around 6PM and it’s not the first time we’ve been told today — which started when we walked into an auditorium and found Willy Wonka chocolate bars stuffed with golden tickets that read SURFACE in block lettering waiting for us, though my ticket was strangely missing — that what we’re seeing is highly exclusive. That basically no one outside of Microsoft has laid eyes on the things we’ve been staring at, touched the pieces of plastic and metal that we’ve gotten to hold, or breathed the chemical-scented air in the rooms we’ve been led through. Microsoft’s spent the last six hours pulling back the curtain on Surface, revealing how the tablet was designed, how it’s built, the new technologies Microsoft invented for it, and why they think a $500 Windows 8 tablet can be sold to normal people.