Microsoft has officially unveiled its second generation of Surface tablet devices, promising better performance, longer battery life, an improved user experience in Windows 8.1, and new peripherals including a desktop dock and a new Battery Cover.
At a special event in New York, Microsoft unveiled its eagerly anticipated Surface Pro 2 and Surface 2 devices, successors to the its first tablet devices that were themselves only launched last year.
The new models are set to be available from 22 October in key initial territories worldwide, including the UK and the US, in Microsoft retail stores, as well as select third-party retailers. They can also be pre-ordered from Microsoft's Surface site.
As expected, the Surface Pro 2 is based on Intel's Haswell 4th generation Core processor family, which deliver increased performance and up to 60 percent longer battery life than the original model, Microsoft said.
While the Surface Pro 2 is very similar to its predecessor, it boasts a redesigned kickstand that offers a second angle position better suited to using the device on your lap, and will run Windows 8.1.
With pricing starting at £719, the Surface Pro 2 will be offered in several configurations: 4GB of memory with 64GB or 128GB storage, and 8GB memory with 256GB or 512GB of storage.
Meanwhile, the new Surface 2 with its Windows RT 8.1 version of Microsoft's platform has also been given a boost with a Tegra 4 processor, making it three to four times faster than the previous model, the company claimed.
The Surface 2 is also similar to its predecessor, but slightly thinner and lighter, and comes with a 1920x1080 full HD display to match that of the Surface Pro 2. It also now boasts a USB 3.0 port for faster data transfers.
The Surface 2 will be priced from £359 in 32GB and 64GB storage configurations.
Writing on Microsoft's Surface blog, vice president for Surface Panos Panay said the firm had an ambitious vision to make Surface tablets the most productive on the planet, for both personal and professional use.
"We strongly believe that many people need great devices for play and getting things done," he said.
Microsoft also disclosed new accessories, including thinner Touch Cover 2 and Type Cover 2 keyboard covers, plus a new Power Cover that extends the battery life of the Surface 2, Surface Pro 2 and the first Surface Pro by up to 50 percent, according to Microsoft. The Power Cover is due for release early next year.
Also a welcome addition is a new Docking Station that will allow business users to quickly connect either a Surface Pro or Surface Pro 2 to desktop devices, including monitors, Ethernet LAN, speakers and USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 peripherals. This is also due in early 2014 and will cost £164.99.
Sarah Rotman Epps, senior analyst at Forrester, said Microsoft was clearly determined to stick around in the hardware market despite its initital failures and that the new devices were clearly improvements, but that it still faced a tough task.
"Microsoft is doubling down on Surface, making needed hardware improvements to appeal to businesses and consumers. The first version of Surface, especially RT, couldn't compete with
Apple's products. Surface 2 is better positioned to compete with iPad, and Surface Pro 2 attempts to take on MacBook Air as well as competition from Lenovo, Samsung, and HP," she said.
Microsoft's future depends on consumers and businesses using these services, and Microsoft feels like it can't rely solely on hardware partners to deliver these experiences anymore. The improvements to Surface won't make it an overnight best-seller - Microsoft still has a long road ahead to win over consumers and businesses."
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