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Microsoft Surface Tablets: 7 Things To Expect

Sep 20, 2013 (05:09 AM EDT)

Read the Original Article at http://www.informationweek.com/news/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=240161556


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Microsoft is expected to announce new Surface tablets Monday at an event in New York City. The company will have a lot to prove.

The first Surface tablets have been notorious flops. Whereas iOS and Android have sent tablet shipments soaring beyond those of PCs, Microsoft's slates have led to a $900 million write-down and concerns that retiring CEO Steve Ballmer's "One Microsoft" strategy is too consumer-focused. But as its recent acquisition of Nokia attests, Microsoft appears undeterred.

Can its new products succeed where their predecessors failed? Here are seven things we know about Microsoft's upcoming Surface tablets.

1. Microsoft plans to release at least three Surface tablets in coming months.

Microsoft's Surface lineup currently includes two models: The $799 Surface Pro, which runs the full version of Windows 8 and supports both desktop software and Modern UI titles; and the $349 Surface RT, which includes a version of Microsoft Office but is otherwise confined to tablet apps. According to various reports, Microsoft plans to replace these options with three new tablets.

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The devices will include refreshed versions of the Surface RT and Surface Pro as well as an 8-inch Windows RT tablet. The updated Surface Pro will reportedly be called Surface Pro 2 but the new Surface RT will simply go by Surface 2 -- a sign that Microsoft recognizes how much the Windows RT nomenclature has confused and repelled consumers. The smaller tablet's name isn't yet known, though some are calling it the "Surface Mini."

2. Only the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 are expected Monday.

Rumors indicate that only two tablets will debut Monday -- the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2. Neither is likely go on sale until at least October, though, when Windows 8.1 becomes available. Apple is expected to announce new iPads in October, which might be the reason Microsoft wants to get the word out early about its new offerings.

3. The "Surface Mini" could debut later this year, part of an expanding lineup of Windows devices.

The 8-inch Surface tablet has been rumored for months, with some pegging the device as an early 2014 product and others suggesting an earlier release -- perhaps soon after Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1 come out, just in time for the holidays. The device is expected to be competitive in certain regards: it will use a cutting-edge Qualcomm processor, for example, according to a Bloomberg report. Rumors also indicate Microsoft is developing a smartwatch that will debut sometime next year, and that Nokia, which is now part of Microsoft's device business, will soon launch a Windows RT tablet called Sirius. Eleven months ago, Microsoft's devices included only the Surface RT and the Xbox. In just a few months, the lineup will likely be much bigger.

4. The Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 will resemble their predecessors, but with nicer components and a redesigned kickstand.

Microsoft's new tablets will reportedly have the same weight and dimensions as the old ones, which is a little odd; the original form factors didn't inspire much of a following, and most manufacturers have utilized newer, more energy-efficient processors to make their devices thinner and lighter. Nevertheless, both Surface follow-ups should offer meaningful improvements.

The Surface 2 is expected to use Nvidia's Tegra 4 processor, which is much faster than the aging Tegra 3 in the current, relatively sluggish model. The new edition will also feature a 10.6-inch 1920 x 1080-pixel screen, a big improvement from today's 1366 x 768-pixel display, and all the perks of Windows RT 8.1, including newly implemented access to Microsoft Outlook. It will also include a two-step kickstand that provides more viewing flexibility than the current one-position version. The Surface 2 might also offer buyers a choice of black or white chassis.

The Surface Pro 2 is expected to use Intel's i5 Haswell processor, which should boost the Surface's dismal four-hour battery life to a more palatable seven hours. It reportedly will also have 8 GB of RAM, double what's in the current model. With Windows 8.1, the device's tablet and desktop modes, which were a somewhat awkward union in the first model, should co-exist more harmoniously. Like the Surface 2, the Surface Pro 2 is also expected to have a two-step kickstand.




5. Microsoft is also planning new Surface accessories.

In addition to new devices, Microsoft is also developing new Surface accessories. One will likely be the Power Cover, an attachable keyboard with an internal battery to boost the tablet's battery life. A Surface dock is also anticipated, and rumors suggest additional Surface tie-ins are planned for later in 2014.

6. Price is still an unknown.

Microsoft has already slashed prices on both the Surface Pro and Surface RT, so the cost of the next-gen versions will be closely watched. Microsoft could always surprise everyone with aggressive pricing, but it's just as likely that the new models will be at least as expensive as the current ones.

Nokia's Sirius tablet will reportedly launch at $499, for example, so it's unlikely the Surface 2, whose rumored specs are similar to those of Sirius, will cost much less. The current model's $349 base price probably represents the absolute minimum for the new device. The Surface Pro 2, meanwhile, will need to be at least several hundred dollars more. Assuming that Microsoft continues to sell keyboards separately, neither device is looking particularly affordable.

Then again, Microsoft seems confident that Windows RT 8.1's improvements, such as support for Outlook, will suit the needs of many mobile enterprise workers. If the company's right, perhaps the Surface 2 won't need bargain-basement prices.

But whenever it's released, Microsoft's Surface Mini will almost certainly enter at a low cost; the consumer market for small tablets is too competitive to accommodate anything else. A new iPad Mini with Retina display is expected later this fall, for example. It will entitle users to a free download of Apple's iWork productivity suite, which somewhat mitigates the advantage of Windows RT's Office compatibility and further emphasizes that the iOS ecosystem is more robust than the Modern UI's. The Surface Mini will also face cheap-but-powerful Android tablets. Options such as the $199 Google Nexus 7 are already very affordable, and some Android slates will soon cost less than $100, safely in many consumers' impulse-buy territory.

All that said, Microsoft has initiated a program that allows people to trade in old iOS, Android and BlackBerry devices for up to $350 toward a new Surface or Windows Phone.

7. Microsoft will open the Surface line to more channel partners and tout the devices' use for businesses.

Microsoft has developed its Surface sales network methodically; currently, the company relies on itself, a few big box consumer retailers and a handful of commercial partners. The approach has caused some in Microsoft's channel to feel left out, but that will likely change on Monday.

The company hasn't actually confirmed that any new devices are coming at the New York event; the invitation Microsoft sent to journalists references the Surface line's channel expansion and the devices' value as laptop-tablet hybrids -- but not any new devices. New tablets are still expected, but the invitation suggests Microsoft will talk more about its core business customers than about its newfound interest in consumers. This emphasis could explain why the Surface Mini is unlikely to debut; such a device would be consumer-centric, and would be better served by a different event in the future.