There’s been a lot of rumours ‘Surface’-ing (sorry, couldn’t help myself) around Microsoft’s potential Surface 4 two-in-one of late, and early indications are impressive.
The Apple iPad shook the foundations of the computing market when it launched back in 2010, forcing Microsoft and just about every other PC vendor to come up with their own tablet offerings – and fast.
The iPad – its latest iteration being the impossibly thin iPad Air 2 – is still hugely popular, but of course today we have much more choice in the marketplace than we did five years ago.
From budget models to hybrid two-in-ones, smaller variants and even tablets that look like smart handbags, we now have almost any kind of tablet computer you can imagine.
Microsoft took a change in direction with the Surface Pro 3, announcing it as ‘the tablet that can replace your laptop’, giving it a funky stand that doubles up as a keyboard. This helped set it apart from the iPad and its other competition.
Now, with more rumours about the upcoming Surface 4 emerging, it seems this could be the device that takes greater marketshare from Apple.
The Surface 3 uses Intel’s Cherry Trail processor, which improved the graphics performance compared to the older Bay Trail chip, but not so much in terms of CPU performance. Some reports suggest the Surface 4 will use ‘Broxton’ chips boasting much greater performance across applications and games.
However, Intel has just announced the second generation Core M processor at IFA this week, for tablets and laptops, promising up to twice the processing performance of todays’ tablets. It’s possible this could be used in the Surface 4, as well as the next MacBook.
Skylake would also improve Surface 4’s battery life. Currently, the Surface Pro 3 tablet provides up to seven hours and 27 minutes (Business News Daily’s custom battery life test), while the 13-inch Apple MacBook Air boasts 12 hours and 20 minutes.
The Core M would be able to power three displays at 4K, running at 60fps, giving the Surface 4 a hell of an improvement in terms of performance.
As the market develops, consumers may come to expect the mobility of a tablet and the functionality of a laptop from a single device, instead of buying a separate tablet and laptop. We’ve already seen sales of two-in-ones rise earlier this year, so it’s not an unfeasible possibility.
According to some reports, the Surface Pro 4’s display will be available in 12-inch and 14-inch forms, with the latter helping it compete with larger tablets and the iPad.
Additionally, Windows 10 is doing very well indeed, and has been positively received by users on the whole.
If it launches in early 2016 as expected, the Surface 4 would become the first Surface to arrive with Windows 10 and Cortana voice activation at launch, hence having the benefit of being designed specifically for the new operating system.
For example, aside from the device automatically switching to desktop mode in laptop/keyboard form, then touch screen in tablet mode, it will also apparently feature an improved ‘multitasking’ feature of Windows 10.
Using Snap, users will be able to snap legacy Win32 apps and new store apps side by side, run apps simultaneously and with one in each corner of the screen, users will be able to see more of the content in each window.
Rumours also suggest the Surface 4 will feature an improved N-Trig stylus with better pressure sensitivity, new ways to use the pen (like writing over a screenshot before sharing it and converting writing to digital text), as well as boasting a 256GB Samsung SSD for the top spec Pro models.
The other key thing, of course, is that the Surface 4 needs to remain affordable. I said when the Surface 3 arrived, it was something Microsoft needed to launch, because the Surface Pro 3 was a little pricey from £639 to the top-of-the-range £1,349 model.
The more affordable Surface 3 starts from £419, so you’d expect the Surface 4 to be priced similarly, possibly less than £500, but some reports say it will be priced from £575 to more than £1,300 for the high-end Pro models.
The iPad Air 2 is priced from £399 to £659, but it’s still just a tablet, with Microsoft’s Surface is more of a tablet and laptop hybrid two-in-one.
Time will tell whether the Surface 4 can become Microsoft’s next killer device, but it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on.