Microsoft unveiled the second generation of its Surface tablet line, announcing plans to launch with a much wider distribution than for its first, lacklustre devices.
The new products – in Windows RT 8.1 and Windows 8.1 Pro versions – will be available from next month in 21 markets across Europe, North America and APAC, to be joined by China early in November.
The wider availability will help Microsoft make more of an impact with its second generation products than its first. According to a financial filing made by the company earlier this year, it made $853 million in Surface sales in the year to 30 June 2013, while taking a $900 million charge related to price cuts and inventory value adjustments for Surface RT.
Surface 2 is the second generation device powered by Microsoft’s fledgling Windows RT platform, which has failed to find traction among third party vendors amid reports of weak consumer demand.
Windows RT, which is designed for tablets powered by processors with ARM architectures, does not offer application compatibility with the full version of Windows 8, and with customer support muted, app developer interest has likewise been weak.
Surface 2 is powered by Windows RT 8.1, which is said to bring improvements in “key areas such as personalisation, search, multitasking, built-in apps, the Windows Store and cloud connectivity”. It ships with Office 2013 RT pre-installed, including Outlook RT.
The second-generation RT surface is powered by an Nvidia Tegra 4 processor, which is said to make apps run smoother and improve battery life. It has a 10.6-inch full HD screen, USB 3.0 port, and camera resolution has also been improved to 3.5 megapixel in front and 5 megapixel on the rear.
It will be available in 32GB and 64GB versions, with prices starting at $449.
Surface Pro 2
Surface Pro 2 is described as “a true laptop replacement”, capable of running “virtually all” Windows software including the full Office suite.
It is powered by a fourth generation Intel Core i5 processor which, combined with other improvements, is said to deliver increased performance and up to 60 per cent longer battery life than the original Surface Pro.
With prices starting at $899, it will be offered in 64GB and 128GB configurations with 4GB of RAM, and 256GB and 512GB versions with 8GB of RAM.
The devices will be supported by accessories including improved cover with touch keypad, which now has backlit keys, and costs $119.99, and a docking station for Surface Pro ($199.99).
Customers can pre-order devices from tomorrow from Microsoft and Best Buy in the US and Canada, as well as “select” retailers in “most” launch markets.
Early analyst reaction to Microsoft’s new products has not been overly positive. “Other than upgraded hardware (chips primarily, and somewhat better cameras) and a somewhat lower price (than the initial released pricing), I don’t see much incentive for people to buy these devices,” wrote Jack Gold. “Yes, the devices are cheaper than the iPads, but is that enough reason? They certainly aren’t price competitive with all the new Android tabs set to come out later this year, including those with the same chips (Tegra 4 and 4th Gen Core).” Gold does not expect sales to significantly impact the firm’s revenue.