Microsoft Surface rumor roundup: What's on tap for this fall (and beyond)

The latest Microsoft rumors are pointing to a Windows 10 hardware launch this fall, but no brand-new Kaby Lake-powered Surface devices until later 2017.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

It's increasingly looking like we'll be seeing at least some new Surface products in calendar 2016, though nothing that could be construed as a major new form factor or update.


That's what my sources are saying, as of late. And it jibes with a new hint that at least one new Surface-branded product is coming before the end of calendar 2016.

I've written previously that Microsoft had decided to postpone its "Redstone 2" update until Spring 2017 because of a need to align new hardware with the next major update to Windows 10.

I'm still hearing Redstone 2, the version of Windows 10 that will follow the Windows 10 Anniversary Update arriving August 2, is still a Spring 2017 thing. But talk of any kind of Spring 2017 hardware launch has dissipated, at least among my contacts.

As of the last few days, I am hearing there will be some kind of Fall 2016 Microsoft hardware event. The question, at this point, is what the Softies will be highlighting there. Microsoft may be leaning toward making the fall hardware event a partner-first showcase and put the spotlight on Windows 10 devices from its OEMs.

But even if Microsoft does that, the company is still likely to launch some new minor updates to its Surface line this fall too, I'm now hearing. This new information lines up with a recent sighting by developer Subhan Chemburkar of some kind of "2016" Surface placeholder plaque (alongside three other 2017 Surface placeholders) in Microsoft's Building 88.

I don't know how many new Surface configurations Microsoft may be planning to launch later this year. I don't know whether there will be updates to both the Atom-based Surface line and the Intel-Core-based Surface Pro family.

Company officials did say recently that Microsoft will cease manufacturing its Surface 3 family of tablets as of this December, which may mean the company is readying successor Surface 4s for a late 2016 arrival. (Or it may mean Microsoft will no longer offer a cheaper/entry-level Surface tablet tier.)

There's also been some speculation that Microsoft may announce a new version of its fitness band some time soon, as a number of users of current Band 2 devices are reporting problems with the skins of those devices splitting and tearing. Band 2 is not a Windows 10-powered device, nor is it a Surface-branded device. I've had no word as to whether subsequent bands will be Windows 10-powered and/or Surface-branded.

Those looking for new Microsoft Surface form factors, such as the expected "Surface Phone" and possibly the recently rumored Surface "all in one" living room device, shouldn't hold their breaths for a 2016 unveiling, my sources say. New Surface form factors that are dependent on Intel's coming "Kaby Lake" processors (the successors to "Skylake"), should be expecting to wait until later in calendar 2017 for new devices.

While Redstone 2 is still looking like a Spring 2017 deliverable, the next-generation/new-form-factor devices are not. Microsoft is likely to let Redstone 2 and the coming Kaby Lake processors bake a bit before putting them into brand-new devices, sources say. No one wants a repeat of what happened with Skylake and Surface Pro 4/Surface Book in late 2015. That means Surface-branded Kaby Lake devices may not be available for purchase until closer to holiday 2017, my sources are hinting.

"Surface Phone" also is currently still in Microsoft's plans, my contacts say. The coming devices will be business-focused and ARM-based (not Intel). However Microsoft positions them, these devices won't be meant to go head-to-head against consumer-centric phones from Apple and the Android contingent. Continuum will be a centerpiece of these large screen, mobile devices, allowing them to act like the brains of larger screen monitors/displays, when need be.

I'm really curious what this rumored "all in one" Surface might be. Is it a modular PC? Or is it a souped-up Surface display designed to connect with Continuum-powered phones?

As several others have noted, Microsoft filed a patent for an all-in-one modular PC design last year. The patent mentions holographic devices as a possible element of such systems. But a recent Microsoft job posting also uses "all-in-one" to refer to the touch display that's at the heart of Microsoft's Surface Hub conferencing system. So maybe we're talking more about a mini Surface Hub type device for home users?

So at this point, I'm betting we see a Fall 2016 Windows 10 hardware launch which will include some minor Surface configuration updates, and then later next year, a big bang Windows 10 hardware launch featuring new Kaby Lake devices running Redstone 2 from Microsoft and its partners.

Microsoft officials aren't commenting on any of this; everything in this post is based on sources and rumors. When trying to read the tea leaves, it's always helpful to remember the current Surface team's mission statement: "The Surface Team focuses on building devices that fully express the Windows vision."

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