Thinking About New Surface Devices

Posted on September 19, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft Surface with 57 Comments

Thinking About New Surface Devices

Microsoft normally updates its Surface lineup in October. What’s happening this year and beyond?

To try and figure it out, we need to do a bit of homework. So I’ll tell you what I do know, plus what some reliable rumors suggest. And then I’ll hazard some guesses.

As you probably remember, Microsoft has already launched two major new Surface products this year, the Surface Laptop and the new Surface Pro. The former is a new product category for Microsoft, though it is, of course, the old portable PC product category of all. The latter is the successor to the original Surface Pro tablet and the latest in a line of well-respected and widely imitated products.

There are a number of interesting things about these two devices that I believe inform what Microsoft will do going forward.

First, Microsoft is now branding each of its portable PCs—Surface Pro, Surface Laptop, and Surface Book—as “laptops,” even though the Surface Pro form factor, in particular, is very much not a laptop. But whatever: Microsoft sees its portable Surface devices as laptops. So the Surface lineup is comprised of laptops and then a few non-portable devices like Surface Studio and Surface Hub.

Second, despite being released in 2017, each of these devices retains the technologically dated and USB 3-based Surface Connect underpinnings that date back to Surface Pro 3, which was released in 2014. This means that they are either the last of a generation or that Microsoft will inexplicably continue to ignore future-proof technologies like USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 and release one or more devices—perhaps a Surface Book 2—to wrap up this generation before moving on.

My sources suggest that this generation is ending, thankfully. Surface Laptop was not a new product per se, but rather a rejected design from the past that was released to help plug the gap between the old and coming generations, a safe bet that would help erase lingering bad feelings from the reliability issues that dogged Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book. (Sadly for Microsoft, Consumer Reports’ usage data finally caught up with them in a bit of bad timing.) One source referred to Surface Laptop as an “inventory flush.”

That said, it is perhaps ironic that Surface Laptop has been so well-received. Here is a simple, non-innovative laptop, a device that the rest of the industry has been selling for years. And Microsoft—which has championed 2-in-1s like Surface Pro as the future of the PC—has a hit on its hands. Interesting. As I noted in the past, I expect Surface Laptop to be the volume seller for Surface going forward. And that will impact future releases as well.

So. It’s nearly October. And Microsoft has to release something, right? After all, Surface head honcho Panos Panay has been confirmed for a Microsoft (but non-Surface) event in London. Some announcement is guaranteed.

But Mary Jo Foley’s sources say that this announcement will be minor, and that makes sense to me. She says that Microsoft will just announce the LTE-based versions of Surface Pro that Microsoft had previously promised.

I have heard absolutely nothing about a Surface Book 2. And depending on your needs and wants, this overly-expensive product is either woefully overdue or was made obsolete by Surface Laptop.

I see many possible futures, none of which I expect in 2017. Two stand out. First, Surface Book 2 will be nearly identical to the original but include new quad-core Intel parts and perhaps a new GPU option for improved, workstation-like performance. Or it will lose the detachable screen, which has been a reliability nightmare for current users. I’m leaning towards the first of these since it wouldn’t require a redesign.

What I have heard about are “Andromeda,” that “not Windows Mobile but some kind of new mobile-ish device (not device family), and new a Surface Hub generation, which I’m told is not expected until 2019.

Mary Jo’s sources have slightly different information: “the company’s second-generation Surface Hub also is sounding (from sources) like an early 2018 thing.” As for Andromeda, she doesn’t expect to hear about it this fall. Neither do I.

But there is one dark horse possibility.

You may recall that Microsoft recently reiterated that it was on-track to deliver the first devices running Windows 10 on ARM by the end of 2017. We know that various PC makers will ship laptops based on this platform, but Microsoft has never been identified as doing so. Surely, it will do so.

So the questions are obvious: What form(s) will the Microsoft devices take? And when will they arrive?

I believe—based purely on conjecture, not sources—that Microsoft will ship at least one Surface-branded ARM-based device. That this device will be a laptop, like all of their other portable PCs. And that it will not be a new device, but rather an existing form factor. I will further guess that this change will coincide with a move, across Surface, to a more modern architecture.

For example, we know that Microsoft will one day offer the new Surface Pro with a choice of Windows 10 Pro or Windows 10 S. Therefore, it’s not a stretch to wonder about a Surface Pro lineup that is based on ARM instead of Intel. That Microsoft could sell both versions. Or perhaps it will be Surface Laptop. Or both.

The value proposition for ARM, when you think about it, lines up nicely with that of Windows 10 S: They’re forward-leaning, they’re not necessarily the best choices for compatibility, and they offer excellent connectivity and battery life. So some combination of Windows 10 S and ARM hardware—though not exclusive—does make sense.

If I were a betting man, and I’m not, I think I’d put my money on the following:

  • Surface Pro with LTE in October
  • Surface Pro and/or Laptop on ARM announced in December (WinHEC), released in early 2018
  • Surface Book 2 announced in early 2018
  • Surface Studio standalone display in 2018
  • Surface Studio 2 in 2018
  • Surface Hub 2 (code-named Aruba) in early 2019
  • Surface Laptop 2 in 2019
  • Surface Andromeda in 2019

To be clear, a lot of that is pure guesswork. But that’s what I’m thinking right now. We’ll see what really happens, starting in mid-October.

 

Join the discussion!

BECOME A THURROTT MEMBER:

Don't have a login but want to join the conversation? Become a Thurrott Premium or Basic User to participate

Register
Comments (60)

60 responses to “Thinking About New Surface Devices”

  1. Avatar

    woelfel

    Interesting that Surface Andromeda is not until 2019...the same year that it seems HoloLens v2 will be coming out...wonder if there's a connection between the two.

  2. Avatar

    edboyhan

    I have no idea (or sources) what MS might do. I'll just list what I'd like (from a purely idiosyncratic viewpoint)

    • some kind of device (don't care about form factor -- could be tablet, laptop, whatever) with LTE which in addition to always connected data, can make phone calls
    • A Surface Book 2 (the screen on my SB1 has developed colored streaks)
    • A new Surface Dock -- the one I have is unreliable -- keeps dropping USB connections
    • A Surface Studio with more current innards -- no radical additions
    • And Alexa everywhere (:grin)
    • Avatar

      derylmccarty

      In reply to edboyhan:

      Haven't got the color streaks, then again I use an external AOC screen for most of the time, but you are the first person to suggest that my problems with the Surface dock are not unique. I had to buy a whole separate system last year using a USB 3 "hub-ette" and direct MDP screen and BT KB and mouse. Then about 9 months ago drivers or some such included in Insider Previews changed and now am back to SD. But, I do put up with a KB and mouse pause of 15-20 seconds or so once or twice a day and since 281 an external screen pause of 10 seconds or so. Ah, well, the benefits of the bleeding edge.


  3. Avatar

    Michael Miller

    I would love to see a Surface 3 type device with ARM this year. I have my doubts that such a device will happen however. MS Surface devices are aimed at the top end. Not sure what we will get from the likes a HP, Asus, Lenovo on this front and when. IPAD Pro may be the choice in the 10-11" size right now, rather than wait for developments on ARM for W10.

  4. Avatar

    mmcpher

    Well at least you won't have to re-write "Too Soon, Microsoft, Too Soon" if the above projected schedule turns out to be accurate. Which is generally good if it means reliability increases, but this kind of incrementalism is neither forward-looking or inspiring. Doesn't look like there's much hope for momentum or any obvious upgrade inducer. I still use my Surface Pro and Surface Pro 3. The original SP feels outdated but the SP3 remains a viable workhorse. Given the likely price-points ahead, nothing on the list of projected releases has me thinking upgrade. The most interesting to me are the Studio releases.


    This list is sensible but unless the Andromeda is a virtual flying unicorn, there is more consolidation than leadership in the list. Microsoft has had a good run with the Surface line, good press, good ideas and good products. Timing and execution counts but is Surface settling or running out of steam? I don't know if I would expend Panos if that's all there's going to be in London. Maybe Microsoft is too preoccupied with book tours.

  5. Avatar

    Mark from CO

    Paul:


    If Andromeda is what other pundits speculate it might be, Apple and Google will already have arrived with something similar by 2019. Glacier speed vs warp speed, one of the reasons Microsoft just can't get the consumer market.


    Mark from CO

  6. Avatar

    RobertJasiek

    We have the void of Surface Phone, the missing Surface Mini and the new placeholder Surface Andromeda. It can be anything.

    I want it to be the union of iPad form factor, ebook reader outdoor-friendliness and Windows 10 Pro 64b functionality: a matte 4:3 display for consumption and productivity.

    I fear it will become another superfluous type of device with augmented reality, foldable (read: easily broken) display, too small to be useful for anything, with phone capability but too large to be a phone, Windows 10 S on ARM hence DOA.

  7. Avatar

    wright_is

    Living in Germany, I find the Surface Laptop name amusing. In German, Laptop is generally used to denote a portable device with no battery and Notebook one with a battery.

    My manager gets quite worked up when the users ask for a new laptop, he goes to great pains to explain the difference to them. :-D

  8. Avatar

    will

    This schedule sounds like a good possibility. Separately I have heard that the Surface Book will be updated with support for a new Dock, thinking TB3, and the Surface Pro would be updated to support this as well. So I would see the following: In early 2018 we will see a new Surface Book and Surface Pro with TB3 support as well as quad processors for both. A new dock will arrive along side a Studio stand alone display and the display could drive and power both the SB and SP. All of this would arrive with the Redstone 4 release, or very close to it - just a guess ;)

    The part that is a wrench in this is inventory with the Surface Book getting low or out of stock in some models. Maybe they will have a fire sale at Ignite?

  9. Avatar

    zself

    After reading Paul's post about how bad iOS 11 interface is across devices, and that Android is no better, I'm reminded of how much I really want, and don't see in the market, a good 8" Windows 10 tablet. Something close to the size of iPad Mini.

    • Avatar

      bleeman

      In reply to zself:

      Add me to the list as well. I'm still hanging on to my Dell Venue 8 Pro. It does a good job but it does struggle with Windows 10 on it versus the Windows 8 it shipped with. I love the form factor the textured "rubberized" back that makes it easy to hold. I use the 2nd generation stylus with it for taking notes in OneNote. If I had been smart and purchased the 64GB vs 32GB model, and if it had come with the LTE option that was originally rumored it would be perfect. Still in all, it does the job for now until something better comes along.

    • Avatar

      shameermulji

      In reply to zself:

      "After reading Paul's post about how bad iOS 11 interface is across devices"


      Don't agree. It isn't any different than Windows actually. A $299 Windows 10 device won't have the same performance or be able to utilize all the features of Windows 10 as a $1,999 Windows 10 device. If you don't want or need all the whiz-bang features, you buy the cheaper device. If you, buy the premium device.

    • Avatar

      Simard57

      In reply to zself:

      I am with you in I would like a decent 8" Windows 10 tablet that has good battery life, is light and doesn't break the bank


      I have a NuVision which was cheap, has poor battery life and is light (2 out of 3 but I weigh the battery life higher than the others).


      I am looking at some of these http://en.chuwi.com/tablet.html which are hybrid with both Android and Windows 10. I think Andrew Zarian reviewed one of these on What the Tech favorably. I wish they had Core M instead of an Atom.



  10. Avatar

    Chris_Kez

    Correction: "lineup is comprised of" should be "lineup comprises"

  11. Avatar

    skane2600

    There's no such thing as "future proof" tech unless the sun goes nova shortly after the latest technology is introduced. Besides, it's going to be years before the advantages of USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 are fully realized and widely adopted by users.

  12. Avatar

    skane2600

    IMO, the fate of Windows or MS in general is not going to be determined by their Surface products. But I understand that Windows fans who can afford premium products will still be interested in them.

  13. Avatar

    lvthunder

    I would like them to announce a Surface Studio with just SSD's and maybe newer chips like they did with Surface Book.

  14. Avatar

    mikiem

    Purely FWIW, I agree on the laptop... I don't think it had a prominent place in Microsoft's strategy, provided quite a surprise, because the laptop market is one place Microsoft is hardly competitive, & would suspect that there are those at Microsoft who are a bit leery betting on lightning striking twice.


    Upping the horsepower on some Surface devices makes sense too, as does ARM on others. Out of fairness to Intel, I don't see the benefits of ARM being all that much performance-wise, but perhaps more a matter of future development, availability, & support. There are constantly new ARM chips being released with better & better specs, with design work coming from several companies, & with the pace of development increasing if anything. Contrast that with Intel's SOC products, where you can't but wonder when support will cease from Intel &/or Windows 10.


    There's also the idea that for a company like Qualcomm, ARM running Windows expands their market at a time when they're facing increasing competition with cell phones & tablets. That makes them a more motivated, & perhaps more agreeable partner. Intel walked away from mobile, at least for now, determining it wasn't in their best interest -- not much potential for a great partnership there.


    For Microsoft, anything that gets them on more hardware is a good thing. I can't help but wonder if, based on the success or failure of ARM-based Surface devices, they don't liberalize ARM requirements for 10. That could open up the floodgates for cheap hardware out of China. Yes, different market, with a different type of consumer than they may be more used to, but perhaps also a market more forgiving of their Store & what it has to offer?

    • Avatar

      mjw149

      In reply to mikiem:


      ARM requirements are specific for support reasons no doubt.


      At a guess, I'd say that Quallcomm doesn't honor their support commitment to MS for 'reasons' and MS ends up with another, worse, vendor. But only temporarily worse. Even cheap crap nowadays has plenty of power, look at amazon and chromebooks.

  15. Avatar

    brduffy

    I don't find anything particularly compelling about any of MS's hardware offerings. I like Windows 10 on an HP Laptop or on a self built desktop machine. I have no use for Windows on any other form factor. I think their product sales pretty much confirm that attitude. My first smart phone was a Nokia running Windows mobile. I just recently switched over to Android on that. Good news for MS is that there does not seem to be much serious competition on the desktop/laptop front other than the mac os which is really not even close in terms of usage.

  16. Avatar

    rope_photo

    • Surface Studio standalone display in 2018

    This makes me very happy.

  17. Avatar

    brettscoast

    Your'e pretty close to the money there, i don't anticipate there being a surface book 2 until early next year as this is probably long overdue already but if there going to release a second iteration its got to be right and fix some of the flaws with the original. Arm devices running windows 10 is exciting and we await with baited breath on that front.

  18. Avatar

    Geoff

    I'd like to see a Surface running ARM. Perhaps a Surface 3 sized device, or smaller.


    I also think Microsoft needs to make a reference design for the industry of a USB-C Surface Dock. A one-cable, do-it-all dock for any USB-C device. Phones, tablets, laptops, continuum, everything. Power, video, storage, USB-A peripherals. Any vendor's product. One dock for anything.

    Of course, they'd also have to release a surface device that uses USB-C at the same time.

  19. Avatar

    JustMe

    I do not believe a Surface Book 2 to be made obsolete by the Surface Laptop for one reason: discrete graphics. Is the SB overpriced? Yes, Absolutely. Could they do some work on the detachable arrangement? Without a doubt. The SB is, however, the one portable piece of kit in the Surface lineup available with discrete graphics. That reason alone, I think, should spare it from the chopping block.

    • Avatar

      mjw149

      In reply to JustMe:

      Discrete graphics is a niche thing, but probably fits their customer base. The detachable screen design is probably more trouble than its worth, an evolutionary dead end. So I'd say Surface Laptop 2 with DG options will probably end up the answer, possibly with a two sizes to give them a 'pro' and non-pro.

  20. Avatar

    sjabaker

    Personally I'm just really hoping that on the ARM-based device front they'll do a 9" tablet with the latest Surface Pro pen & screen tech... then I can finally replace my Moleskine notebook. (Tried with the SP3, but I found it just a bit too big for that role)

  21. Avatar

    Elindalyne

    I would love an ARM based successor to the Surface 3. It won't ever happen but a girl can dream.

    • Avatar

      Chris_Kez

      In reply to Elindalyne:

      I'd love it too. Seems like a sensible way to launch Surface on ARM. A smaller screen would mean better battery life and more portability, both in line with the idea of an always-connected device. Performance expectations might also be a bit lower (and more forgiving) than they would be for a new full-size Surface Pro. Microsoft will also have had plenty of lead time to work with the Snapdragon 835 that would power a Surface 3 replacement. Thrown in the latest screen and pen tech along with the latest version of Windows or Windows S and they would have a credible device.

      That said, I think it would be too much of a direct competitor with the 10.5" iPad Pro and I feel like Microsoft doesn't want to go there. The Snapdragon 835 is less powerful than Apple's A10X chip; the Surface screen would be very, very good I'm sure- but wouldn't have True Tone or 120hz/variable refresh; it might have stereo speakers but iPad Pro now has quad stereo speakers; battery life would likely be lower; traditional Windows software (a Surface strength) is somewhat muted on a smaller device, while modern Windows apps pale in comparison to the offerings on iOS; pen performance might be a tie; price would probably be a wash as well.

      OMG, I think I've almost talked myself into buying an iPad Pro.

      • Avatar

        shameermulji

        In reply to Chris_Kez:


        "That said, I think it would be too much of a direct competitor with the 10.5" iPad Pro and I feel like Microsoft doesn't want to go there."


        i actually think that that's what MS needs: A lower-cost, locked down, easy-to-use device. The one thing that Windows S has going for it is that seamlessly transitions between Touch / Pen UI and KB / Mouse UI.

        • Avatar

          Chris_Kez

          In reply to shameermulji:

          I'm with you. I think it would have been a better way to showcase Windows S than the Surface Laptop. And I want an upgrade for my Surface 3. It would still be wicked expensive like all other Surface products and I honestly don't think it would compare favorably to the new 10.5" iPad Pro. Microsoft would prefer consumers compare the iPad Pro to the new Surface Pro. There's still plenty of us who want a smaller Surface though.

    • Avatar

      shameermulji

      In reply to Elindalyne:


      I actually think there will be => an ARM-based Surface running Windows S

  22. Avatar

    navarac

    "Surface Studio standalone display". Now THAT I'd be interested in together with a gaming spec machine!

  23. Avatar

    glenn8878

    Andromeda has to be a mini-tablet mobile device. An attempt to thread the needle. Avoid doing a smartphone while still selling Windows. While I love my iPhone 7 Plus, it could be 2 inches wider with OLED. Sadly, Microsoft has no credibility selling any new form factor mobile devices. They cut and run, and they WILL. UWP is not ready yet. They will fail to have the necessary hardware to take advantage of their technologies. It will fall short.

    • Avatar

      woelfel

      In reply to glenn8878:

      They also had no credibility selling tablets/laptops/desktops and here we are.

    • Avatar

      MikeGalos

      In reply to glenn8878:

      "Hmm. Microsoft has no credibility selling any new form factor mobile device"

      You mean besides

      Surface Pro

      Surface Book

      Surface Studio

      Surface Hub

      (OK, the latter two aren't mobile but the point should be made b the first two)

      • Avatar

        glenn8878

        In reply to MikeGalos:

        The first two are not mobile either. Laptops are not mobile. They are portable computers, which is different.

        • Avatar

          skane2600

          In reply to glenn8878:

          Well, if you define "mobile" as consumption devices not well suited to productivity work, I'd agree that pure laptops don't fit the definition. However laptops are the optimal mobile device for general computing.

          • Avatar

            glenn8878

            In reply to skane2600:

            No, I define mobile as walking around with it. You walk around with phones and tablets while using a touchscreen for input. You can't type on a laptop keyboard while walking around. You have to find a place and sit down.

            • Avatar

              skane2600

              In reply to glenn8878:

              OK, that's another way to look at it. Using that definition, Continuum isn't a mobile feature or capability, it's really a stationary strategy. Less portable than a laptop.

              • Avatar

                glenn8878

                In reply to skane2600:

                Continuum was a bridge to allow people to continue to use a tablet for consumption while having flexibility to use it as a laptop. That's why Surface Pro existed and why Windows Mobile was sold for this technology. It is a differentiator from iPhones and Android. Sadly, since Windows Phones crashed and burned, this market was DOA. The HP Elite x3 was advertised as Continuum compatible. It doesn't help that there's still no apps and Microsoft failed to have Office running full versions as an app. So just forget the mobile and buy a laptop.

                • Avatar

                  skane2600

                  In reply to glenn8878:

                  It would be more appropriate to say "having flexibility to use it as a limited desktop when docked". A laptop doesn't require a separate display, a separate keyboard or a docking device and can be used "on the go".

                • Avatar

                  glenn8878

                  In reply to skane2600:

                  That may be one way to look at it, but a tablet is also laptop with a keyboard, thus Surface Pro, which is sold as a convertible tablet/laptop. Tablets aren't limited desktops, whatever that means. The CPUs are mobile. Intel discontinued the Atom line for mobile so you can't even buy Windows tablets today. Most tablets use ARM chips. Surface Pro are largely populated with laptop CPUs that offers some power savings like the m3, but not what you expect from mobile. A laptop can be used as a desktop as many Enterprises use them by attaching a docking station with a large monitor. "On the go" is not mobile as I already told you. It's a portable computer.

                • Avatar

                  skane2600

                  In reply to glenn8878:

                  We were talking about Continuum that allows limited Windows desktop capability on a Windows phone when tethered. If you understand it you know it doesn't support the full native Windows capability. That's why it's appropriate to call it limited. Since it requires a separate keyboard, display and hub it requires even more peripherals than even a desktop. So Continuum isn't laptop-like in any way. Whether one considers "on the go" capability as mobile or portable is irrelevant. Laptops are integrated devices that allow you to do general computing in just about any environment. The only situation where a smartphone or tablet is more "mobile" is when you aren't sitting down or have no surface to rest the laptop on.

                • Avatar

                  glenn8878

                  In reply to skane2600:

                  Okay, I see, that's a waste of bandwidth. I never intended to talk about Continuum.

                • Avatar

                  skane2600

                  In reply to glenn8878:

                  And yet you did. I was just advising you about one of the conclusions your "mobile" definition lead to.

                • Avatar

                  glenn8878

                  In reply to skane2600:

                  Nope, Not when it's DOA.

        • Avatar

          MikeGalos

          In reply to glenn8878:

          Really? So tablets aren't mobile and laptops aren't mobile?

          Gravity must be really high on your planet.

    • Avatar

      mikiem

      In reply to glenn8878:

      Just FWIW, I think the general idea, however many years out, is that everything on your devices today gets moved to the cloud. The display will be incidental, with something available wherever you are, with various sizes that can be used mobile, &/or something like Google Glass or VR/AR mainly for display. The device in you hand will be how you access everything. Microsoft wins if they're running the cloud most use -- how you get there is potentially incentive to use Microsoft's cloud, & maybe a potential slight profit, but not the main focus or goal. While we're obviously not there yet, I do think that longer term strategy informs the products they offer today & tomorrow, as well as their decisions to continue or end support for those products.


      Or put another way, IMHO Microsoft doesn't intend or expect to dominate any hardware market, but more-or-less nudge the market in their desired direction.

Leave a Reply