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9/19/2013
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Microsoft Surface Tablets: 7 Things To Expect

Microsoft will debut new Surface tablets at an event Monday in New York City. Will these tablets succeed where past models have failed?

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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.

[ Will leadership changes save Microsoft's skin? See Microsoft's Journey May Leave Too Many Behind. ]

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.

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Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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9/20/2013 | 7:45:22 PM
re: Microsoft Surface Tablets: 7 Things To Expect
Indeed, Apple doesn't seem to be arguing. Though the execution is wildly different than Microsoft's, Apple seems intent on collapsing iOS and OS X to some degree, at least based on some of the documentation the company released for developers regarding 64-bit apps. Microsoft's one OS vision isn't intrinsically bad-- it's the way and extent to which it gets applied that should be critiqued. Google seems to be headed in the same way too. In the multi-screen world, I think everyone is going to have "one OS" elements, to varying (and often large) extents.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
9/20/2013 | 7:40:47 PM
re: Microsoft Surface Tablets: 7 Things To Expect
Good point. The Surface Pro has been measured against mass market expectations-- but I really think Microsoft intends it as a niche product, and as an OEM motivator, as you said. I still think Microsoft hoped to sell more of them, but the context isn't irrelevant.

For Surface RT, though, I think the "niche product" excuse is much less applicable.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
9/20/2013 | 6:08:21 PM
re: Microsoft Surface Tablets: 7 Things To Expect
Yeah, we'll see what it looks like. My problem with the Surface hasn't just been the viewing angle caused by the kickstand, but also that both keyboards are too flimsy for one to use Surface in all the ways a small laptop can be used. Maye the Power Cover will help with that, as well as with battery life. The Haswell upgrade alone should ensure that the Surface Pro sells better... but there will be comparable Windows tablets that cost less, and a load of more attractive laptops in the same price category. Still seems like a niche product to me.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
9/20/2013 | 3:52:24 PM
re: Microsoft Surface Tablets: 7 Things To Expect
I can't tell if it's schadenfreude, interest in non-Apple tablets, or interest in the "one OS" vision that is driving high interest in the MS tablets among our readers now. I doubt the one OS hunger theory. Tell me what you think.
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