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10/10/2014
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Microsoft Surface Pro's Future: 5 Facts

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says the Surface line is here to stay. But are changes coming to the company's device strategy?

Windows 10: 11 Big Changes
Windows 10: 11 Big Changes
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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said this week that Microsoft is committed to its Surface products. Why was the clarification necessary? Microsoft introduced its first Surface tablet in fall 2012 and ever since, critics have been pointing out reasons the company should stop making devices.

Disastrous early sales gave Surface detractors plenty of ammunition, for example. Those sales have gradually improved -- but not enough for Microsoft to actually disclose sales numbers. Without strong sales figures to appease concerns, some Microsoft critics have dismissed the tablets as ill-advised Apple envy. These critics, who have reportedly included influential Microsoft shareholders, fear that devices eat up resources that Microsoft could more profitably allocate to high-margin enterprise software efforts.

The well-received Surface Pro 3, though nowhere near an iPad-level success, has quieted some of the criticism. So has Nadella. Whereas previous CEO Steve Ballmer positioned devices as a core pillar in Microsoft's strategy, Nadella has emphasized that productivity platforms and cloud products define his vision, with products such as the Surface playing a supporting role.

But how big a role? Nadella terminated the Surface Mini that the company had planned to announce alongside the Surface Pro 3, raising questions about the Surface line's long-term direction. Recent supply chain rumors claimed Microsoft might shut down its first-party tablet efforts, and though Microsoft said Thursday that this won't be the case, many questions remain.

What do we know about the future of Microsoft's tablet efforts? Here are five facts.

1. The Surface line has Nadella's full support.
In a blog post, Nadella said, "Microsoft is putting its full and sustained support behind the ongoing Surface program as one of a number of great hardware choices for businesses large and small." Its notable Nadella mentioned the Surface as one option among many "great" choices -- language that not only reflects the Surface line's "supporting role" within the company, but also suggests Microsoft wants to avoid the impression that it's competing with its own hardware partners, such as Dell and Lenovo.

2. Surface Pro 3 accessories will work with the next-gen Pro device.
According to the blog post, the next-gen Surface Pro will be compatible with almost all of the Surface Pro 3 accessories available today: Type Cover keyboards, power adapters, Ethernet adapters, and other "infrastructure" accessories, and the Surface Pro 3 Docking Station. According to Microsoft, this means businesses can invest in Surface Pro products without worrying about support issues down the road. It also indicates that future Surface Pro models will share the Pro 3's 12-inch display size -- though in typically secretive fashion, Microsoft reps declined to confirm that this will be the case.

3. Surface Pro tablets will be compatible with Windows 10.
Nadella's blog post mentioned that Surface Pro 3 will be fully compatible with Windows 10. In an interview, Surface Director Cyril Belikoff told InformationWeek older Pro models will be upgradable to Windows 10 too. The outlook for non-Pro Surfaces is less clear, however (see next item).

4. ARM-based Surfaces might be axed.
Microsoft has confirmed ongoing support for its Surface Pro models, but company reps have been much cagier when asked about the ARM-based Surface products -- the original Surface RT, and its follow-up, the Surface 2. Some online reports suggest Microsoft might be working on additional ARM-based Surface tablets, but at least one rumor indicates the company will focus on Intel-based Surface models going forward. If Microsoft doesn't update the year-old Surface 2 ahead of the coming holiday season, the inaction would certainly raise questions about the company's ongoing commitment to ARM tablets.

Microsoft has struggled to convince other manufacturers to invest in ARM-based Surface tablets, which lack the full compatibility with desktop apps offered by Intel-based models. Some Windows 10-based smartphones will presumably use ARM chips, but it's unclear what that means for next-gen Windows tablets, let alone Surface models in particular. Last month, Microsoft execs previewed Windows 10's enterprise-oriented features and promised to reveal the OS's consumer versions in coming months. The company's plans for ARM-based Windows devices should come into sharper focus by then.

5. Optimized Surface apps are finally appearing.
Microsoft recently revealed that half of its corporate Surface Pro 3 customers purchase the device with its docking station. This arguably speaks to the device's utility as a laptop or desktop-replacement -- but what about its tablet mode? Microsoft has pitched 2-in-1 use cases since its Surface tablets hit the market, but because of a dearth of compelling touch apps, the hybrid model hasn't yet broken out. That could be changing, though. Earlier this month, Adobe and Microsoft showed off versions of Adobe's Creative Cloud apps that have been optimized for use with the Surface Pro 3, for example.

The changes don't merely apply touch sensitivity to Adobe's traditional UI; rather, Adobe, with input from Microsoft, rebuilt the apps from the ground-up, meaning customers will be able to use either the familiar mouse-and-keyboard UI or a completely new interface built for touchscreens.

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Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio

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tjgkg
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tjgkg,
User Rank: Ninja
11/24/2014 | 10:20:45 AM
Re: Nadella's support surprising
@Michael Endler: You are right, Win 10 does look promising. I am hoping it is not a "false flag" by MS to staunch the criticism of 8.x. They need to get this right. It is already embarassing that so many enterprises including the US military are still relying on XP let alone Win 7 instead of the latest OS.
anon1757349087
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anon1757349087,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/15/2014 | 6:35:40 PM
Re: Just bought Surf 3, for office environment . .
Crowland, I'm afraid you're wrong about the dual monitor supoport. It works out of the box on all surface devices since the pro 2, maybe even earlier.  I know many people that use them either with or without the docking station and a mini display cable and two monitors.  You only need onecable from the surface and the second monitor daisy chains through the first, not to the surface.  You need any newish monitor for it to work (i.e. display port and not vga etc).
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
10/13/2014 | 3:17:58 PM
Re: Just bought Surf 3, for office environment . .
The i5 model can definitely run hot if taxed, though I'm not sure I'd say "overheat," since I've found performance remains pretty reasonable. That said, anecdotally, it seems a little easier to tax the Surface than to tax a MacBook Air. I haven't used the i7 version of the Pro 3, but I wonder how well it deals with heat dissipation.

Honestly, I expect a Surface Pro 4 no later than this spring. Microsoft faced some tricky engineering getting a small fan into the SP 3 and managing power constraints in such a tight package. Moving from Haswell-class to Broadwell-class chips should make these challenges a lot easier.
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
10/13/2014 | 10:22:21 AM
Re: Just bought Surf 3, for office environment . .
My friend bought one and told me that after a while it overheats. This is not something that Microsoft wants on its devices, if it wants to compete with Apple.  I think Surface is not ready for prime time yet. 
midmachine
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midmachine,
User Rank: Strategist
10/13/2014 | 8:21:07 AM
Re: Nadella's support surprising
If you haven't used one then you don't understand what a beautiful machine this is. Over priced yes (unless they include the touch cover. The stylus is amazing and the tablet is blazing fast and powerful. If I could afford one I'd get one, plus a docking station, and dump my traditional desktop. Those that try to compare to the IPad don't get it. This thing is in a league of it's own for those needing productivity. The Ipad is useless as a desktop replacment.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
10/11/2014 | 6:54:04 PM
Re: Nadella's support surprising
It sounds like Microsoft might've heard from some customers who were interested in buying some Surfaces but wanted more assurance that the devices will be supported over the long run. That's my guess, anyhow, based on how Microsoft framed this news, with the emphasis on accessory investments that will carry over to next-gen Surface Pros.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
10/11/2014 | 6:51:18 PM
Re: Nadella's support surprising
@tjgkg,

I agree about price. If we see additional ARM-based Surfaces, they'd better be cheaper than the ones that came before. If Microsoft decides to release a Surface Mini at the same price as an iPad Mini, for example, I don't see that working out. With the Pro devices, the price would be more justifiable if the keyboard were included.

As for Win 10, they still haven't shown us much regarding tablet/ mobile functionality, and most of the desktop stuff they've shown is about mice and keyboards, not touch. Will be interesting to see if Win 10 convinces those people you mentioned who are still trying to buy Win 7 PCs. I think the desktop UI in Win 10 looks promising, but it's still a long way until the new OS launches.
tjgkg
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tjgkg,
User Rank: Ninja
10/11/2014 | 4:59:46 PM
Re: Nadella's support surprising
Agree but we are going to have to wait to see how Win 10 is received. The devices were not priced right, in fact they were downright expensive. Most business folks do not really need touch capability at this time and Win 8 is not a good OS for a lot of reasons. If MS is going to command a premium price for a laptop, the device is going to immediately get compared to the Macs and that is not a contest MS will win. They need to fix the OS-people are still trying to buy PC's and laptops with Win 7 and then go from there.
crowland816
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crowland816,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/11/2014 | 4:35:19 PM
Just bought Surf 3, for office environment . .
Yes, it is a desktop & laptop replacement, with a big surprise: there is no easy, dual monitor support for the docking station. THE GOOD: MS Office, the Cloud, my PC apps, the size and 'office performance'. THE BAD: Battery life could be better if you sit on long flights, $1800+ for all the accessories is expensive, performance is good enough on i5 but not gamming good (which I didn't need). THE WORST: . . is MSFT didn't see their early adopters in the business world needing dual monitors? Whoops, maybe they rely on logitech for a splitter? Yes, that lack of thinking makes me wonder if MSFT is serious about Surface as a platform or too worried about Dell & Lenovo. Surf 2 was a non starter, but Surf 3 is good enough, but at that price point it needs a road map focused on business users.
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
10/10/2014 | 4:44:57 PM
Re: Nadella's support surprising
I think it will be a waste to completely eliminate its surface line.  They have invested so much time and money.  If they can improve on what they did wrong, Surface can become a good competitor in the new field, which are the 2 in 1. 
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