With Surface 2 and Windows 8.1 RT, Microsoft has certainly addressed some of usability issues that plagued the original Surface RT models.
Based around an Nvidia Tegra 4 chip, the second generation Surface hardware is faster and has a superior battery life. It also boasts an improved 1080p HD display, redesigned kickstand and a competitive price tag that undercuts Apple’s iPad. You can see how Surface and Surface 2 compare in Surface vs Surface 2.
Whatever Microsoft is doing it is working – albeit slowly. Numerous reports say overall Surface usage went upover the festive period in late 2013.
So what will Microsoft do next? What might a Surface 3 device look like in 2014?
Surface 3: The Windows RT dilemma
There’s arguably nothing wrong with the Surface hardware. We like it. The Surface 2 looks good and feels good. It’s smartly, stylishly designed and the two-stage kickstand makes it easier to position the device comfortably for work. Although not including one of the iconic click-in keyboards as standard is frankly criminal.
A Surface 3 tablet should look fundamentally the same, albeit with a customary millimetre shaved off its magnesium alloy waistline and a few grams shifted from its chassis. Hardware isn’t the problem. The problem is Windows RT.
We really like Surface 2 – can Surface 3 improve on the formula?
With Dell recently dumping the ‘Lite’ Windows 8 OS citing poor sales of its XPS 10, any new Surface hardware could be held back by the limitations of the RT software, which restricts users to using ‘Metro’ apps. It’s Windows, but not as consumers know or expect it.
Admittedly, Windows 8.1 has improved the usability of the OS, and Office RT is now included. Any future Windows 8.2 update should do even more to iron out the inconsistencies. The Windows Store also boasts more apps than a year ago – over 100,000 at the last count. By the time a Surface 3 line-up rolls out, there should be double that number.
See also: Windows 9 release date, news and rumors
But a stripped down version of an OS that many people already dislike isn’t going to help Microsoft claw back the $900 million it has lost on Surface RT so far. At the moment, there’s no clear benefit to running RT over the full version of Windows and so no clear benefit for investing in a non-Pro Surface tablet, Surface 3 or otherwise.
If Microsoft wants to be bold, Surface 3 needs to quietly dump Windows RT and eliminate customer confusion. The popularity of the Surface Pro model and the powerful potential of the new Surface Pro 2 point the way forward for a more successful, populist Surface 3.Surface 3: Mini or Maxi?
If Microsoft does stubbornly stick with Windows RT (and it will), then perhaps a Surface 3 line-up will offer more hardware options.
Before the Surface 2 launch, there were strong rumours of a ‘Surface Mini’ with a 7.5-inch or 8-inch display, especially as Windows 8.1 now provides improved support for smaller tablets. This would range it against more compact slates such as the iPad mini and the Google Nexus 7, not to mention the Acer Iconia W3 and Toshiba Encore.
At the other end of the scale, we can imagine a bigger touchscreen model. There are rumours of Apple experimenting with 12- and 13-inch iPad displays and where Apple leads, the other manufacturers are sure to follow. With this in mind, perhaps fingerprint sensors might become standard issue too, after their iPhone 5S debut.
Or we might see an even larger device that takes its cue from Sony’s VAIO Tap 20. Such a ‘Surface Maxi’ would move Surface into all-in-one desktop PC territory, although it would require ditching Windows RT in favour of the full-fat Windows 8 OS. A Surface Pro 2 XS or XL would be ideal.
The most obvious change for Surface 3 would be to shrink the device down and ship an iPad mini-sized model
Surface 3: Is there a smartwatch in the works?
With wearable tech all the rage, it must surely have occurred to Microsoft that the touchy-feely Surface brand could be extended into smartwatch territory. Like the Galaxy Gear, a ‘Surface Watch’ with a small screen and obligatory built-in fitness tech could be launched as a companion device for its Windows-powered tablets and smartphones.
Then there’s Surface gaming to consider. Gamers have long hankered after a portable Xbox and devices such as the Razer Edge give us glimpses of how this idea could work. Yet Microsoft barely touched on the gaming potential of its Surface 2 hardware at launch, choosing instead to focus on productivity and business.
But with reports of Microsoft cloud-streaming Halo 4 to a low-end Windows PC and a Windows Phone, a future Surface 3 device could easily evolve into a portable games console.Surface 3: The obvious answer
Surface 2 is affordable but limited by its Windows RT software; while the Surface Pro 2 has all the versatility of a Windows PC but, in tablet terms, costs way too much. Surely any Surface 3 machine needs to hit the sweet spot between the two – full Windows functionality at an affordable and competitive price point?
What would you like to see in a Surface 3 device? Leave your comments below.