Bloomberg reports Microsoft is working on a low-cost Surface tablet designed to compete with Apple’s $329 iPad. The report indicates Microsoft could release the devices as soon as the second half of 2018.
Microsoft has tried this before. The software giant kicked off its consumer-oriented hardware push in 2012 with the launch of the original Surface RT. At the time, it was priced starting at $499. After the tablets didn’t resonate with consumers and product reviewers, Microsoft pivoted to the more-expensive Surface Pro, a line which has gained steam and likely contributed to demand for a pro-oriented iPad, which Apple launched in 2015.
The new tablets will boast 10-inch screens and will be priced at around $400. The new models will feature rounded edges similar to the iPad, and will also sport USB-C connectivity, a first for Surface tablets. Storage options will include 64GB and 128GB, and there will be LTE options for the new devices.
Microsoft’s “budget” tablets are expected to weigh in at around 20% lighter than their high-end brethren, but at a penalty of four hours less battery life. The current Surface Pro model can last up to 13.5 hours on a single charge. Intel will supply the main CPU and GPU for the devices.
All of this was told to Bloomberg by the ever-popular people “who asked not to be identified because the plans aren’t public.”
Microsoft has struggled to find a high-volume hit with the Surface devices as well as to introduce a flow of new choices to keep growth steady. In the fiscal year that ended last June, Surface revenue declined 2 percent as the company faced lower volume sales owing to an aging Surface Pro line. Revenue rose 32 percent in the most recent quarter, indicating new interest in Microsoft’s hardware.
Apple sold about 44 million iPads that generated almost $20 billion in revenue during the past four quarters. Microsoft’s entire Surface hardware business produced $4.4 billion for the same period.
In March, Apple launched a new iPad model for $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.
The current Surface Pro lineup starts at $799.