Microsoft bets again on tablets, announces new Surface models

Microsoft is doubling down on the tablet market.

The software giant on Monday unveiled two new Surface tablets, the successors to the original Surface and Surface Pro the company released last year. The new tablets, the Surface 2 and the Surface Pro 2, start at $450 and $900, respectively and will go on sale on Oct. 22 in the United States and many other countries. Last year’s models started at $500 and $900.

Like its predecessor, the Surface 2 runs on an ARM-based processor, in its case an Nvidia Tegra R. It also runs on Windows RT, the version of Microsoft’s PC operating system that it customized for ARM-based devices that, despite its name, can’t run traditional Windows programs.

The Surface Pro 2, by contrast, runs a standard version of Windows, in its case, version 8.1, which includes recent updates. The Surface Pro 2 runs on a fourth-generation Intel core processor; Microsoft says the new processor helps give the updated tablet 60 percent more battery life than its predecessor.

Microsoft is offering the Surface 2 tablet in 32-gigabyte and 64-gigabyte versions. The Surface Pro comes with either 64 gigabytes or 128 gigabytes. Those are the same storage sizes Microsoft offered on the previous versions of the Surface tablets.

Besides the processor upgrades and the updated version of Windows running on each of the new tablets, the Surface Pro 2 is little changed from its predecessor and Microsoft made only minor tweaks to the Surface 2. The new Surface 2 gets a pair of higher-resolution cameras, for example. It has a 3.5-megapixel front and a 5-megapixel rear camera; it’s predecessor had a pair of sub-1-megapixel cameras. The Surface 2 will have a higher resolution screen than the original Surface; it will be a 1080p screen, while its predecessor was only 768p.

Despite the display upgrade on the Surface 2, neither it nor the Surface Pro 2 to have a screen that can match the ultra-high resolution on Apple’s iPad or other recent devices such as Google’s Nexus 7.

It remains to be seen whether the upgrades and the price cut on the Surface 2 are sufficient to lure customers to Microsoft’s tablet line. Overall sales of Windows RT devices have been disappointing and Microsoft recently took a $900 million charge related to unsold Surface inventory.

In the second quarter, Windows was installed on 4 percent of the tablets shipped and Windows RT on just 0.5 percent, according to research firm IDC. Microsoft didn’t rank among the top 5 tablet manufacturers in terms of shipments in the quarter, meaning that the Surface models together accounted for less than 3 percent of the total market.

Photo, of Microsoft’s new Surface 2 tablet, courtesy of Microsoft.

Troy Wolverton Troy Wolverton (248 Posts)

Troy writes the Tech Files column as the Personal Technology Columnist at the San Jose Mercury News. He also covers the digital media, mobile and video game industries and writes occasionally about Apple, chips, social networking and other aspects of technology. Previously, Troy covered Apple and the consumer electronics industry. Prior to joining the Mercury News, Troy reported on technology, business and financial issues for TheStreet.com and CNET News.com.