Thanks to a number of leaks, we think we have a pretty good idea of what's coming in the new versions of Microsoft's Surface and Surface Pro tablets: faster chips (including Intel's new Haswell Core i5 CPUs), keyboards with an extra battery and different colours and a kickstand that snaps into two positions, all in the same sleek VaporMag case.
Those improvements will certainly be welcome, but there are some other technology improvements I'm hoping for in Surface 2.
Back at TechEd this summer, Microsoft demonstrated a touch fingerprint sensor much like the one in the iPhone 5s; instead of swiping your finger, you just press it down. Suppliers such as Validity and Fingerprints are working with PC OEMs, but Microsoft is keen to replace passwords entirely. So adding a touch fingerprint sensor to either the Surface Pro or the Surface keyboards would fit well with the biometric API support in Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1.
Nokia is putting 802.11ac Wi-Fi into a Windows Phone this year, according to its application for FTC approval.
That includes beam-forming that targets specific streams of wireless data at individual devices; a device with a faster wireless chip gets a faster connection than the older device on the other side of the room instead of them both getting the slowest common denominator. And getting the data transmitted sooner saves power because the radio turns off sooner.
That would be ideal for Surface 2; the first generation of Surface and Surface Pro have the dual antennas needed for 802.11ac and the chips are available to drop into the design now.
I'd also like to see Microsoft switch to the latest low-power memory. Dell is already using the low-power memory Invensas has licenced to Hynix in XPS devices; they're smaller, with fewer layers and fewer interconnects. That means they need less power and you can remove the heat more efficiently.
Less likely (because we hear Microsoft is keeping the same case design); we'd love to see a second USB port and a full-size SD card slot instead of the micro-USB slot. Surface Pro is a full PC and great for image editing (try drawing a tricky outline for your Photoshop filter with the pen and processing RAW images in Lightroom — it's great). But that makes us want to plug in the SD card from a dSLR or a USB stick and a mouse at the same time.
DIY Surface fixes
In the meantime, we've been doing a bit of Surface hacking, starting with a port extender from Juiced Systems (Bidul in Europe) designed to fit neatly against the bevelled edge of the Surface Pro.
Putting a battery in the Type Cover will make it more rigid; that could help stop the Surface Pro sliding off your lap when you're typing. That's a problem for those of us with shorter legs; if your knees and your hips aren't at roughly the same height when you're sitting down, the slope of your legs puts a lot of strain on the magnetic hinge. Plus your legs need to be long enough that you can fit both the keyboard and the hinge on your lap. I recently solved the problem with a bit of DIY.
When I bought a Samsung Series 7 tablet to test the Windows 8 preview on last year, it came with a case I could flip over and use as a stand, and Bluetooth keyboard. That combination was impossible to use on my lap so I experimented with buying a second case so I could cut it in half and duct tape it onto the first case. The resulting origami gave me a flat surface to balance the tablet and keyboard on.
Since switching to Surface Pro, the severed case has languished on the shelf marked 'it seemed like a good idea at the time'. But when I found myself sketching a design I could cut out of cardboard to stabilise the Surface Pro on my lap, I pulled it off the shelf and used half of it instead.
Stabilising my Surface Pro with half of a Samsung case
The flock lining grips the fleece cover, the corners designed to snap onto the Series 7 keep the kickstand in place and the flat surface stabilises the Surface Pro far better than my knees.
The half case; flock lining and handy corners
I've also been decorating my Type Cover to personalise it (and as a tryout before tacking the Touch Cover I actually use). You can put a custom vinyl skin on your Surface or Surface Pro and if you want a Type Cover you can pick from a range of colours, but Touch Cover users only get boring, professional grey.
A paper stencil, fabric paints and the finished Touch Cover
I made a paper stencil of a favourite design (a stylised chrysanthemum flower) and broke out the fabric paints. They work well on the fleece back of the cover; I prefer the thicker coverage I get using liquid fabric paints and pens over felt-tip style fabric markers which give a subtler effect. Ignore the instructions to iron or wash the fabric when you're done — most fabric paints cure at room temperature after a few days anyway, and I haven't had any problems with the design running or smudging when the cover gets wet. (Although I prefer the feel of typing on the Type Cover, being able to wash the Touch Cover clean after a cat threw up on the keys was a definite bonus).
For the chrysanthemum design, I used four or five layers of paint to get the graduated shades and depth of colour
I'm hoping for a bright green cover this time around; if that's not on the cards, I'll pick a contrasting colour and paint it.