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Microsoft Surface Tablets: Big Bet, Small Changes

Microsoft will debut its newest Surface tablets Monday, counting on incremental changes to win over skeptical buyers. Has Microsoft done enough?
As for the Surface 2, Microsoft's next Windows RT tablet should gain new accessories and a two-position kickstand, just like the Surface Pro 2's. If rumors are accurate, the Surface 2 will use Nvidia's Tegra 4 ARM processor and a 1080p screen, both of which are solid upgrades over the current model's relatively antiquated components. Windows RT 8.1, meanwhile, will add not only a number of UI enhancements but also support for Microsoft Outlook.

The uncertainty doesn't necessarily mean Microsoft's new tablets will struggle like its current ones. After all, critics moaned for weeks that iOS 7 and the iPhone 5S weren't innovative enough -- and now that the products are actually available, most of this criticism has been replaced by lavish praise.

Analysts aren't sold, though. In a phone interview, Forrester analyst David Johnson said "using Haswell chips in the Surface Pro is a good idea," but countered that the firm's surveys indicate interest in Windows tablets has declined over the last year.

Johnson said he cannot see the Surface Pro 2 as a primary device unless it's attached to a monitor and a bigger keyboard, and that the Windows tablets have not diminished the iPads's profile. A recent Gartner study similarly concluded that Windows tablets will not displace iPads in the workplace, and that enterprise workers would continue to use iPads even if corporate-owned Windows tablets were deployed.

Microsoft's new devices will face the same branding and pricing challenges as the earlier ones, said Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi in an email. She doesn't see the Surface tablets as an obvious success.

Speaking of price, Microsoft is reportedly not going to make the new devices more affordable. The original Surface RT and Surface Pro will remain on the market at their current prices--$349 and $799, respectively, ZDNet recently reported via an unnamed source. The Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 will debut at base costs of $499 and $899; keyboards will still be sold separately and the 512 GB Surface Pro 2 will be a wallet-busting $1,699, according to that report.

The rumored prices aren't encouraging, but Microsoft could always surprise people when the devices are finally revealed.

Will Microsoft finally score a hit in the consumer tablet market, and can it chase iPads out of its enterprise home turf? Reactions will begin flooding out Monday morning.

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