Though this may sound familiar, Microsoft is reportedly planning a line of lower-cost Surface tablets to challenge Apple’s least expensive iPads later this year. The new tablets are expected to start at around $400, down from the $799 starting point of current Surface Pro models.
Citing “people familiar with the matter,” Bloomberg suggests that pressure to find a “high-volume hit” rivaling iPad unit sales has compelled the company to redesign Surface to be more like the iPad. The report says that the new Surface will feature 10-inch screens, iPad-like rounded edges, and battery life closer to the iPad’s promised 10 hours than the prior Surface claim of 13.5 hours. Microsoft is also said to be adopting USB-C for the first time, similar to Apple’s use of the Lightning connector for iPads.
On a positive note, the changes will reportedly allow the Surface to be lighter and less expensive. Bloomberg reports that the devices will lose 20 percent of their current weight, falling from 1.7 pounds to around 1.4 pounds — still more than the one-pound iPad — while preserving their integrated kickstands. Beyond cutting the new tablets’ prices, Microsoft will apparently also offer less expensive versions of its keyboard cover, stylus, and mouse accessories, which will be sold separately.
It goes without saying that Microsoft has previously tried and failed to take on lower-cost iPads. The company’s non-Pro tablet, Surface 3, was released for $499 in 2015 with a 10.8-inch display to compete against the 9.7-inch iPad Air 2. In early 2016, Apple cut that iPad’s price to $399, matching the price tag of the smaller iPad mini 4 and leading Microsoft to withdraw from the lower end of the market later that year.
That decision left Microsoft to chase a smaller number of premium customers at a much higher price point. Over the last year, Apple has sold roughly 44 million iPads, generating nearly $20 billion in revenue, versus Microsoft’s $4.4 billion in Surface revenue across the entire line — including desktops and laptops — during the same time.
The smaller Surface will reportedly come in 64GB and 128GB configurations, as well as Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi/LTE versions. Microsoft will also preserve Windows 10 Pro support and continue to use Intel CPU and GPU components. Whether these features and the included kickstand are enough to justify a $70 price gap with Apple’s latest entry-level $329 iPad remains to be seen.
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