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The future of Microsoft Surface: What to expect from Surface 3 and Surface Pro 4

Mark Hachman | March 25, 2015
Just over ten months ago, Microsoft launched the Surface Pro 3 in New York City. While the first two generations of Surface tablets were undeniably clunky, the SP3's clean lines and bright, forceful design have carved out a niche in the 2-in-1 market that no other manufacturer has matched.

I think it makes perfect sense for Microsoft to design a Surface lineup based on Intel's 14-nm chips, with an Atom or Core M offering on the low end, and Core i3, i5, and i7 chips for the fastest, most feature-laden versions.

And if Microsoft is determined to ditch ARM and Windows RT for good, this could be an opportunity to rethink the basic Surface tablet — we'll call it Surface 3 — as an Intel-powered device. I think that this is going to happen.

Some would argue that the basic Surface brand has been irreparably damaged, but I disagree. One of the selling points of the basic Surface has always been long battery life, and to achieve that life, Microsoft has relied on low-power ARM chips. But imagine a fanless Surface 3 powered by a Core M or Atom chip. It would be light, and it would last long — key selling points to business travelers. And, of course, it would run standard Windows apps.

If I were Microsoft, I'd introduce the new Surface 3 near Microsoft's Build conference next month, announce the "refreshed" Surface Pro 3, and smile coyly and serenely when journalists ask about the upcoming "Skylake" processor.

Behind the scenes, however, I'd also have my engineers busily redesigning the Surface Pro lineup in anticipation of the next Intel processor, Skylake, and the wire-free future Intel believes in.

Say Hello to the Surface Pro 4

It's important to remember that Skylake represents a new Intel architecture, not a process shrink. Instead of significant reductions in power, Intel is promising to overhaul the entire PC experience by eliminating wires: replacing ethernet with 802.11ac, ditching power cords for wireless charging, and even including LTE support for connecting on the go.

Microsoft already markets a number of wireless charging accessories for its Lumia phones, but I'm not entirely convinced that a Surface will ever include that feature. Consider the geometry: A Surface tablet is generally propped at an angle, while wireless charging works best when the tablet lays flat against the charger. 

Regardless, I think the truly killer addition in Surface Pro 4 will be a depth camera. It's the key ingredient to Microsoft's vision of computers that recognize us via sight and sound.

You may already be familiar with depth cameras if you've been following Windows 10. The new OS will include Microsoft Hello, a friendly name for the biometric technologies that have already appeared on Apple's iPhone, Samsung's Galaxy phones, and other handsets. Hello uses either a fingerprint reader or infrared depth camera to "scan" your face, identifying yourself to the computer. From there, Windows validates your identity to Microsoft services, and around the web.

 

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