11 Jul.

My Surface Prodictions

After spending time in several hardware sessions at WPC13, merging in my wish list, and adding a dose of reality, I’ve come up with the following Surface predictions in a non-scientific and completely random manner.

Naming Choices

V2 is too boring. SP1 would acknowledge problems in previous versions along with an expectation of being available free of charge. Gen 2 or G2 would be too much like HP servers. Adding a year to the suffix causes an expectation of annual releases, which leaves us with a couple of options…no name change, and incorporating a 1.

No name change works on many levels, even though it causes confusion. Not changing the name, and instead changing the configuration, could allow offerings like the following for Pro…

Premium SKU – Surface 256GB
Mainstream SKU – Surface 128GB
Entry Level SKU – Surface 128GB (based on first gen hardware)

This is close to what Apple offer with iPads from a variety perspective, not capacity or capabilities, and the entry level SKU provides ongoing supply of what could have been a nominated hardware platform for a corporate standard.

The next option is taking a page out of both the Windows 8 and Xbox playbook – adding a 1 or a one. Surface.1. SurfaceOne. While I’m not sold on these options, they do align with other Microsoft naming conventions. Maybe if they use Roman Numerals, hmmm SurfaceI. That could work.

Release Timeframe

Apple’s refresh of the MacBook Air line has put pressure on the PC ecosystem when it comes to battery life in a highly mobile form factor.  Some might argue that comparing a notebook to a tablet is an unfair comparison, but if you have to choose one device to travel with, and need extended battery life, they need to be compared.

Windows 8.1 GA is a good target for release, it means that MS has plenty of time to ensure the best performance with new hardware platforms, and aligns with the holidays season. The question is, what hardware platforms will Microsoft build upon next time round?

Hardware Platform

On the Surface Pro front, Haswell is the obvious frontrunner. The question is what CPU  model will it be based upon is up for discussion. The usage scenarios for Surface Pro point to another i5 CPU. There is no need to go all the way to i7, and the additional power usage and heat dissipation won’t provide major benefits for most users over the current platform. While I would love an i7 unit with 8GB of RAM so that I could run a few VMs, I know that I am not a typical user, and that 4GB of RAM is a reasonable amount in most situations.

As a long term Surface user, I know it’s not that hard to push the Tegra 3 too hard, even on some websites that aren’t overly complex. The support of Flash is a double edged sword, it allows an iPad compete story, but when it slows your device to a crawl it’s not so great. I’ve even noticed more than acceptable lag at times within the Mail app, which is of a concern to me, but thankfully it’s not always the case.

The next logical choice is to move to Tegra 4, but Qualcomm are also an option. An option with better telephony and communications capabilities. Would adding 4G support to the Surface expand its appeal? For me, not so much, unless you are talking about smaller devices. I don’t want more data plans and SIMs to manage, so this device would need to supplant an existing one, and I doubt it will replace the need for my phone.

My gut feeling is that Tegra 4 will win. Not based on technical merit, but based on Nvidia needing to do what is necessary to maintain a stronger relationship with Microsoft. AMD in the Xbox One has some positive flow on effects for AMD in the APU space, and I’m sure Nvidia doesn’t want to be frozen out of future Windows development initiatives.

The dark horse in the low power CPU choice is an Atom, which would provide ARM like battery life but with x86 compatibility, but this would effectively signal the end of the Windows on ARM experiment. Microsoft would position this as a change of SoC providers, and then open up the possibility of next major Windows Phone releases working on some of the newer ultra low power Atom CPUs.

Configuration Options

Sticking to few hardware configurations makes the business more profitable, so I can’t see Microsoft introducing a plethora of options in hardware configuration, with bundled accessories and storage being the differentiators. This can cause some dissent if the bundled accessories aren’t differentiated from current accessories that you own eg getting another Touch Cover isn’t something I have a desire for.

Screen Resolution

1920 by 1080 isn’t something that I think needs to change on the Surface Pro, at least not until more legacy applications behave better when DPI scaling is changed, or we are living in a modern app world. I can’t see either of these two changing soon, so I am more than happy with the Surface Pro as it is.

The Surface, however, is a different story. It really needs to be the same resolution at the current Surface. I’ve ranted many times, to anyone who listens, that encouraging 1366*768 usage is not forward thinking. Sure, not everybody has great eyesight, but trying to use snap on the desktop with this resolution leads to very poor results for me. 1920 by 1080 is my preferred resolution, but I don’t think it will happen. My reasoning behind this is that Microsoft has seen that lower prices equal increased Surface sales, so shaving corners here and there is what I’m expecting with the next generation.

Integrated Components

TPM 2.0 support in future Windows devices has been called out repeatedly in sessions this week at WPC, so I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume it will be included.

NFC support is something I’m not sure of. If MS is on a regular release cycle for Surface devices, then it’s not essential to get it in this year, but by the next revision it would be essential. This is based purely on my lack of exposure to useful NFC experiences on a day to day basis, so this could be a very different requirement for others.

Advanced biometrics was also discussed repeatedly, but it would need to be included in a way as to not impact the aesthetics. The clutter free appearance of the Surface family is a positive, and adding too many external components isn’t really something I see them doing.

Accessories

Okay, this is more of a wish list than anything else, but I would like a backlit keyboard option, and a backlit keyboard with additional battery capacity. I have mixed feelings about Microsoft introducing a USB 3.0 docking station/port replicator as there are already a number of good options in market already. Microsoft would really need to do something different here to make me think it’s a good idea.

Changing the power or keyboard connector would cause some short term pain, but if long benefits were to be delivered it would be worth it. Better to cause some pain with the current installed base versus an expanded user base.

Ports

I don’t see any major changes happening here. The current storage and network speeds on the Surface don’t justify a change to a USB 3.0 port, moving forward, it’s a tick on the box that could be required for consumers. What I would really like to see on the Surface Pro is another USB 3.0 port. The charging port on the power adapter is an acknowledgment that one is needed by many, but I’m happy that it is there. I still like using a mouse, and am regularly in environments where a wired mouse is required due to the RF levels don’t cooperate with Bluetooth, and I also need to regularly move files at high speed to or from a network or USB 3.0 HDD. Carrying around my USB 3.0 hub that has an integrated GbE port isn’t perfect, but it’s the best option I have right now.

I would like to see standardisation on both devices to DisplayPort, rather than just the Surface Pro. This means less adapters and/or cables to carry around, and the CPU/CPU on the next Surface should be capable of driving displays that require Dual-Link DVI. Not a deal breaker if they stick to the current approach, but not my preferred path.

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