Thinking About New Surface Devices

Posted on September 19, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft Surface with 60 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.

 

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