When Microsoft announced its original Surface and Surface Pro four years ago, the company was diving into uncharted waters with a new, ARM-based iteration of its operating system and a higher-end x86 PC hardware packed into a tablet form factor. Surface may have gotten off to a rocky start, but Microsoft made good on the form factor in the long run — the Surface 3 and Surface 4 Pro are solid systems, while the Surface Book won recognition for its innovative hinge and overall value. Now there are rumors that Microsoft will unveil a new, all-in-one Surface to take on the iMac, possibly alongside some type of Surface Phone. The problem is, it’s hard to see how either device would build on what’s made the Surface brand work.
These rumors have come from a variety of sources, including Windows Central and DigiTimes, and variously imply that Microsoft will either debut new hardware later this year or wait for early 2017 when its second major Windows 10 update (Redstone 2) is scheduled to drop. Supposedly the launch date will depend on when Intel ships Kaby Lake, but we’re not sure how much credence to attach to that rumor. Microsoft and Intel didn’t collaborate on the original Surface launch and the chip company’s Kaby Lake refresh is expected to be a minor overhaul of existing SKUs. The difference between using Kaby Lake versus Skylake, in other words, is likely minor.
The larger question is why Microsoft would do this in the first place. When Microsoft announced Surface, initial reactions from the press were quite positive, mostly because PC OEMs hadn’t been doing a great job of surfacing (pun intended) tablet designs, either x86 or ARM-based. AIOs, in contrast, have been widely promoted for years by multiple vendors, including systems meant to occupy the living room with touchscreens, cameras, and similar features.
Windows Central thinks that Microsoft could be angling to integrate its Pixel Sense technology, but we’re just not sure this idea makes much sense. Microsoft isn’t an OEM manufacturer — launching more product SKUs just exposes it to more of the same woes that have kept PC sales margins low and the overall market depressed. Slugging it out for a declining chunk of the market doesn’t really bode well for the company, and no one is arguing that what PC buyers need is yet another OEM to choose from. It’s all well and good to talk about targeting the iMac, but Apple customers don’t seem to be falling all over themselves to switch and there are plenty of AIOs already in-market if they’re interested.
Then again, the very notion of a Surface Phone seems ridiculous now that Intel has killed all future x86 development and Microsoft has fired virtually all the Nokia employees it inherited from that merger — yet such a device is reportedly still on the table.