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

Mark Hachman | March 30, 2015
Just over ten months ago, Microsoft launched the Surface Pro 3 in New York City. So what's next?

If I were Microsoft, I'd announce the "refreshed" Surface Pro 3 near Microsoft's Build conference next month, 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.

For Surface Pro 4, Microsoft could explore a number of different depth camera options. It could opt for a version of the camera found in Kinect for Windows. It could also use Intel's RealSense 3D camera, a version of which is already embedded inside the Dell Venue 8 7000 tablet. Microsoft execs have also told PCWorld that they can use existing Webcams to achieve the same effect.

If I were Microsoft, I'd be tempted to launch a revamped Surface Pro 4 around the launch of Windows 10 this summer. If Microsoft were to launch a refreshed Surface Pro 3, however, that would jam all those Surface releases right on top of one another. Instead, I'd ship a refreshed Surface Pro 3 "designed for Windows 10" before the Windows 10 launch, and wait a few months to announce a Surface Pro 4 that's "optimized for Windows 10," perhaps to coincide with the the beginning of the fiscal year in October.

 

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