Microsoft will stop manufacturing Surface 3 by the end of the year, which raises a big question: Will there be a Surface 4?
The company has declined to say whether a Surface 4 will ever be released. But Microsoft says it saw strong demand for the Surface 3 tablet PC, so releasing a successor seems like a no-brainer.
But the PC market is challenged. Upgrades have slowed down to every five or six years, and tablet shipments -- with the exception of 2-in-1s -- are declining. PC makers are already releasing innovative products that could be viable options to a Surface 3 successor.
The price of the Surface 3 starts at US$499, and the device is targeted at consumers. Microsoft also sells big brother Surface Pro 4, which has flashier features and starts at $849.
An argument could be made for and against the release of a successor to the Surface 3, said Bob O'Donnell, principal analyst at Tirias Research.
Among arguments for a new product: After spending loads of money marketing and branding Surface products, Microsoft should continue with an entry-level Surface tablet, particularly for those who can't afford a Surface Pro.
The Surface has strong name recognition, and there's interest in upgrading budget PCs to 2-in-1 devices. A Surface 4 could serve that role, O'Donnell said.
At the same time, PC makers are already offering similar products, so Microsoft may not need to make a Surface 4, O'Donnell said.
It's a good idea to scrap a budget version of Surface, and focus on higher-end products to motivate PC makers again, suggested Roger Kay, principal analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates.
Surface started off as a proof-of-concept to stimulate innovation among PC makers. The Surface Pro serves that purpose, but not the entry-level Surface. Microsoft should instead focus on innovation in the Surface Pro now that iPad Pro is emerging as a competitor.
The Surface products still upset PC makers, who feel Microsoft shouldn't compete with its own customers, Kay said.
"I have talked to a lot of OEMs, and they roll their eyes when they hear Surface," Kay said.
But if Surface 4 will make Microsoft heaps of money, that's a different story, Kay said.
There are questions on what hardware a Surface 4 would use. The Surface 3 was based on Intel's Atom chip codenamed Cherry Trail, which will be succeeded by Pentium and Celeron chips code-named Apollo Lake. Those chips are primarily designed for 2-in-1 PCs, but will also appear in tablets.
The idea of buying a Surface tablet with a Pentium or Celeron chip -- which have been used in low-cost laptops for a long time -- may not appeal to some buyers.
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