Microsoft Surface sales slip — and May 23 looks like the date to do something about it
Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 was introduced in 2015 as the company’s newest “tablet that can replace your notebook” style of 2-in-1. The Windows 10 machine offered a larger and higher-resolution display, as well as sixth-generation Intel Core processors, which is likely why it sold far better than Microsoft expected it to.
More: Surface Pro 5 could launch alongside the Windows 10 Creators Update in early ’17
Given the machine’s resounding success, it only makes sense that Microsoft will produce a Surface Pro 5 at some point, a fact that seems to have been confirmed by a recent job posting listed on LinkedIn. The company has otherwise been surprisingly good at keeping new Surface machines a secret, however, and so almost all we currently have to go on is speculation. Here’s everything we know so far.
The delays keep on coming – is May 23 the charm?
Many people expected Microsoft to introduce the Surface Pro 5 successor in October 2016. That would have followed Microsoft’s recent pattern of introducing new and enhanced Surface products at its annual hardware event. However, that didn’t happen. Instead, the company introduced the futuristic Surface Studio, along with a minor but welcome update to its notebook-centric 2-in-1, the Surface Book with Performance Base.
More: 2-in-1 PC aren’t dead, and Microsoft’s class-redefining Surface Pro 4 is proof
Next, speculation shifted to an early-2017 launch of the Surface Pro 5 to coincide with the release of the Windows 10 Creators Update. A recent report allegedly identified Taiwanese company Pegatron Technology as one of the manufacturers of the Surface Pro 5, with a first quarter release estimate. The idea that Pegatron might produce the next Surface Pro isn’t that far-fetched, especially because the company currently produces the Surface Studio for Microsoft.
Given the Creators Update’s due date of April 2017, some sources were speculating that Microsoft could announce the Surface Pro 5 at Mobile World Conference (MWC), which ran from February 27 through March 2. However, MWC 2017 came and went with no word on new Surface machines, and Creators Update is due next week and there’s still nothing from Microsoft.
Furthermore, long-time Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley was told by sources at the end of March 2017 that while Microsoft is likely to hold a Spring 2017 event of some kind, there may or may not be an announcement of a Surface Pro 5. Soon after, Microsoft announced an event for May 2, 2017, which is said to focus on the education market. Microsoft’s Build conference is about a week later, starting on May 10, 2017. However, Build usually isn’t used as a venue for new physical product announcements.
Finally, the May 2 educational event came and went, with a Surface Laptop introduction but no Surface Pro 5, and then Built 2017 was a bust as well — at least as far as new Surface hardware goes. That left yet another Microsoft hardware event that is scheduled for May 23, 2017 in Shanghai, China.
If technology reporter and leaker Evan Blass is correct — and he often is — then it is at next week’s event that Microsoft will be releasing what is looking more like a refresh of the Surface Pro 4 than a significant new generation. And if Blass is correct, then the machine will be called simply the Surface Pro, joining Apple’s MacBook Pro in letting people figure out the generation for themselves.
This is the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 refresh https://t.co/H0RVtwRqFO [click through for more pics] pic.twitter.com/TUogevpDvm
— Evan Blass (@evleaks) May 19, 2017
Additional leaked images were published by Blass at VentureBeat, and they show off a machine that appears to follow the Surface Laptop motif in having multiple coordinated color schemes.
Given the timing of the upcoming event and the fact that this rumor is coming from @Evleaks, it appears that that May 23 will indeed be the date.
4K display, Kaby Lake, and more – or almost nothing at all
The Surface Pro 4 uses sixth-generation Intel Core processors and offers an excellent 12.3-inch display with a 3:2 aspect ratio, 2,736 x 1,824-pixel resolution, and 267 PPI. Anticipated — and logical — Surface Pro 5 updates, therefore, include a move to seventh-generation Intel Kaby Lake processors and a 4K display option. Also expected, and equally logical, is the inclusion of more expansion ports and a move to USB Type-C, which would also allow the new machine to be even thinner than the Surface Pro 4. The Surface Pro 4 has a single USB 3.0 port, a DisplayPort, and an SD card reader.
Other rumored possibilities:
- The Surface Pro 5 could offer an option with an ARM processor, given Microsoft recently announced that Windows 10 will support ARM at some point. That would make an LTE variant an obvious update as well. However, because ARM support isn’t likely to arrive in the Creators Update and perhaps not even with the Redstone 3 update that’s expected toward the end of 2017, it seems unlikely that Microsoft would announce an ARM variant so soon.
- Microsoft has patented an active pen with wireless charging, which would make some sense for the Surface Pro 5 given that the Surface Pen already magnetically attaches to the side of the Surface Pro 4.
- A larger capacity battery is also possible, which would please anyone who’s suffered through the relatively poor battery life afforded by the Surface Pro 4. Moving to seventh-generation Intel processors would help, given they’re more efficient.
More recently, Microsoft pundit Paul Thurrott tweeted an interesting and potentially disappointing tidbit:
Surface Pro 5 will not change the Surface Connect power connector, I was just told. Kaby Lake, nothing dramatic.
— Paul Thurrott (@thurrott) April 6, 2017
If this information is valid, then it’s entirely possible that Microsoft will only give the existing Surface Pro 4 a slight refresh. While switching from sixth-generation Intel Skylake processors to seventh-generation Kaby Lake would provide a small boost in performance and more significant power savings, that certainly wouldn’t represent the kind of major update that many Surface Pro fans have been anticipating.
According to Blass’s leaked information, we are definitely looking at a refresh — at least judging by the Surface Pro’s minor external changes. USB Type-C is nowhere to be found, following Microsoft’s decision of leaving that port off of its devices for now. The good news is that the inclusion of the usual Surface Connect port promises compatibility with existing Surface accessories, something that Microsoft has said it wants to maintain. And a move to Intel’s Kaby Lake processor for bettery performance, battery life, and 4K video decoding seems to make a good deal of sense.
Do price cuts and product cancellations mean anything?
Adding further fuel to the fire are a host of price cuts on the Surface Pro 4 that have extended well beyond the holiday season. If you’re paying full price for a Surface Pro 4 today, then you’re doing something wrong, as the Microsoft Store and other retailers have been slashing prices on all of the machine’s configurations.
Moreover, the Surface Pro 3 is no longer listed on the Microsoft Store, meaning that it’s likely been discontinued after being sold for well over a year alongside its newer sibling. There’s no official confirmation yet, but dropping the Surface Pro 3 would represent yet another step on the way to a newer machine. Remaining Surface Pro 4 inventory would also likely take its place as the lower-cost option until that stock is depleted.
Sales slip as Surface line languishes
Revenue from Microsoft’s Surface division slipped 26 percent in the first quarter of 2017. That had a small impact on the company’s bottom line but did seem to scare investors, and the company missed its overall revenue target.
It does seem that a new Surface model is needed, and its absence is doing some damage to Microsoft’s financials.
A Surface Pro 4 replacement is certainly coming — there’s not much doubt about that at this point. The Surface Pro 4 has been too successful, and continued momentum in the 2-in-1 market remains too important to Microsoft’s strategy for the company to abandon the “tablet that can replace your notebook” form factor. The real questions are when the new Surface Pro will arrive, what it will look like, and what it will cost. We have some strong evidence for the first two, but no idea about the thired.
There’s the distinct possibility that Microsoft will eventually expand its price leadership position on the high end to match what it’s done with Surface Book and Surface Studio while making less significant changes in the meantime. The Surface Book received its Performance Base enhancement rather than a complete redesign, and it’s possible that the new Surface Pro will be nothing much more than a processor refresh. If that’s the case, then Microsoft will likely have some disappointed Surface Pro fans on its hands.
Updated on 5-19-2017 by Mark Coppock: Added Evan Blass leak information and related images.