Microsoft is planning to release a new mainstream line of Surface tablets as soon as the second half of 2018, seeking a hit in a market dominated by Apple's iPad, according to people familiar with the matter.
The new tablets will feature 10-inch screens – around the same size as a standard iPad, but smaller than the 12-inch screens used on the Surface Pro laptop line – and will be priced from a low US$400.
They’ll also include USB-C connectivity, a first for Surface tablets, for charging and data syncing, while similar rounded edges to an iPad will differ from the squared-off corners of current Surface models.
The tablets are expected to be about 20 percent lighter than the high-end models, but will have around four hours fewer of battery life. The current Surface Pro can last 13.5 hours on a single charge, according to Microsoft.
Intel will supply the main processor and graphics chips for the devices, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans aren’t public.
The company is planning multiple models, including versions with 64GB and 128GB of storage and models that can connect to LTE cellular networks, according to the people. It will continue to have the kickstand for upright typing and watching video. Like Microsoft’s other devices, it will run Windows 10 Pro.
The current professional-oriented Surface Pro lineup starts at US$799. Microsoft, which hasn’t finalized its plans, is expected to price the cheapest versions of the new device at about US$400.
Like the Surface Pro, these models won’t be bundled with the company’s keyboard cover. To go along with the lower-cost device, Microsoft is preparing less-expensive versions of its keyboard cover, stylus and mouse, the people said. The current keyboard cover costs an extra US$160, while the new keyboard will be priced a bit lower, they said.
A spokesman for Microsoft declined to comment on the reports.
According to market researcher IDC, Microsoft sold almost 725,000 tablets in the first quarter of 2018, up 1.8 percent from a year earlier. That compares with 9.1 million iPads sold in the same period.
In March, Apple launched a new iPad model for US$329 geared toward education users. The new cheaper Surfaces could likewise appeal to students and teachers, and to schools that buy less-expensive devices in bulk.
Since 2015, Apple has rapidly added new productivity tools to the iPads, taking on Microsoft features like integration with digital drawing pens and using multiple apps at the same time. The company is planning on releasing a revamped iPad Pro this year with iPhone X features such as facial recognition.
Microsoft last released a device in the lower-cost category in 2015 with the Surface 3, which started at US$499 and featured a 10.8-inch screen. The company stopped making it at the end of 2016.
The new line will be part of a growing ecosystem of Microsoft hardware products that, beyond the tablets, includes the Surface Laptop, Surface Book laptop with a detachable screen, and the Surface Studio desktop computer.