The Sur­face 3 is dead, as ex­perts de­bate the fu­ture of low-end tablets

Ex­perts look at whether the world wants or needs a Sur­face 4. Agam Shah re­ports

PC Advisor - - NEWS -

Mi­crosoft will stop man­u­fac­tur­ing the Sur­face 3 by the end of the year, which raises the ques­tion: will there be a Sur­face 4? The com­pany has so far de­clined to say whether it will pro­duce such a tablet, but said it had seen strong de­mand for the Sur­face 3.

On the sur­face then, it would seem that re­leas­ing a suc­ces­sor would be a no-brainer. How­ever, the tablet mar­ket is a chal­leng­ing one. 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.

Prices for the con­sumer-fo­cused Sur­face 3 start at £369. For the pro­fes­sional user Mi­crosoft has the Sur­face Pro 4, with the en­try-level model cost­ing £749.

Un­cer­tain fu­ture

Ac­cord­ing to Bob O’Don­nell, prin­ci­pal an­a­lyst at Tirias Re­search, there are ar­gu­ments both for and against Mi­crosoft re­leas­ing a Sur­face 4.

For ex­am­ple, Mi­crosoft has spent a lot of money mar­ket­ing and brand­ing Sur­face prod­ucts. The re­sult is that the name is widely recog­nised by the pub­lic. There’s also a grow­ing trend among con­sumers, who in­stead of buy­ing a new bud­get PC opt for a 2-in-1 de­vice in­stead. A Sur­face 4 could serve that role, O’Don­nell ar­gued.

At the same time, PC mak­ers are al­ready of­fer­ing sim­i­lar prod­ucts, so Mi­crosoft may not need to make a Sur­face 4, O’Don­nell said.

Roger Kay, prin­ci­pal an­a­lyst at End­point Tech­nolo­gies As­so­ci­ates, sug­gested that it would be a good idea if Mi­crosoft scrapped its bud­get Sur­face and in­stead fo­cused on higher-end prod­ucts to mo­ti­vate PC mak­ers again. Ac­cord­ing to Kay, the Sur­face started off as a proof-of-con­cept prod­uct to stim­u­late in­no­va­tion among PC mak­ers. The Sur­face Pro serves that pur­pose, but not the con­sumer-fo­cused tablet. Mi­crosoft should in­stead fo­cus on in­no­va­tion in its pro­fes­sional tablet now that iPad Pro is emerg­ing as a com­peti­tor.

He also makes the point that Sur­face prod­ucts up­set PC mak­ers, who feel Mi­crosoft shouldn’t com­pete with its own customers. “I have talked to a lot of OEMs, and they roll their eyes when they hear Sur­face,” Kay ex­plained. How­ever, if Mi­crosoft thought that the Sur­face 4 would make it heaps of money, he said that would be a dif­fer­ent story.

New chips could mean new mod­els

There are also ques­tions on what hard­ware a Sur­face 4 would use. The Sur­face 3 is based on In­tel’s Atom chip, co­de­named Cherry Trail, which will be suc­ceeded by Pen­tium and Celeron chips co­de­named Apollo Lake. These have been 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 has been used in low-cost lap­tops for a long time – may not ap­peal to some buy­ers.

If Mi­crosoft does make a Sur­face 4, then the de­vice could in­stead carry a Core M chip, which is al­ready used in a model of the Sur­face Pro 4.

In the long run, Mi­crosoft has to work out what to do with the en­tire Sur­face line-up. The Xbox is the money maker, the HoloLens is the game changer, but there are ques­tions on the mo­ti­va­tion be­hind Sur­face de­vices. “What’s their pur­pose? Are they mak­ing money? Are they mak­ing pro­to­types?” asked Kay.

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