Microsoft's Spring fling: Is another new Surface device category coming?

Microsoft's anticipated Spring hardware launch is unlikely to feature the Surface Book 2. So what else might be on the docket?
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

We're officially one week into "Spring" in this part of the world, and still no word on Microsoft's long-rumored Spring 2017 hardware launch.

Since early 2016 or so, a number of us Microsoft watchers have been hearing and predicting that the company would roll out its next versions of its Surface Book PC (Surface Book 2) and Surface Pro tablet (Surface Pro 5) at a Spring 2017 event.

Recently, however, I've heard from a couple of contacts that Surface Book 2 is not going to be announced here, as I mentioned during a recent episode of the Windows Weekly podcast. I'm not sure whether Surface Pro 5 will debut at the still-unannounced Spring hardware launch either.

(If Microsoft hadn't recently decided to drop its planned HoloLens 2 glasses, I might have thought officials might show off the next-generation HoloLens at this kind of an event. But as we learned recently, Microsoft decided to skip from HoloLens 1 to HoloLens 3, which isn't expected until 2019.)

I continue to hear from my sources that there will be a Microsoft Spring 2017 hardware launch. The question is what will Microsoft be showing off at there, besides Windows 10 Creators Update?

DigiTimes -- known for its fairly unreliable track record on new product announcements -- claimed recently that Microsoft was manufacturing new 13.5-inch clamshell form-factor Surface Book laptops that could retail for around $1,000.

As I mentioned above, I'm hearing no Surface Book 2 machines will be announced this Spring, as they're not quite ready yet.

Microsoft didn't offer brand-new Surface Book or Surface Pro devices in calendar 2016. The company released the original two-in-one Surface Book in October 2015. The 13.5-inch Windows 10 device allowed users to tear off the screen and use it as a clipboard/tablet. Microsoft also released Surface Pro 4, its signature tablet computer running Windows 10, in October 2015.

Microsoft updated Surface Book with a new Performance Base last Fall. Microsoft also recently listed -- albeit briefly in the Microsoft Store -- an Intel Core i7 Surface Book without a discrete GPU, priced at $3,000. Shortly after Neowin and others noticed that listing, it disappeared from the Store.

It's important to remember that Microsoft's purpose in building its own line of Surface-branded hardware is to create new categories, not to go head-to-head with its own partners in already established ones. So if there is a clamshell-like Surface coming, Microsoft will need to claim it's a new category, the same way that it claimed its Surface Studio all-in-one wasn't just another desktop PC, but a product that could turn your desk into a studio.

So let's think this through. Here's what the Softies have announced, device-wise, under the Surface brand:

  • Surface table (now known as PixelSense)
  • Surface RT (later christened plain-old Surface) tablet
  • Surface Pro tablet
  • Surface Book 2-in-1 PC
  • Surface Hub conferencing system
  • Surface Studio all-in-one PC

Given that Microsoft is expected to begin rolling out to mainstream users its Windows 10 Creators Update release in early April, I'd think any new Surface hardware would somehow make use of the features that are coming with this Windows release. Creators Update includes 3D Paint, Game Mode, Beam game streaming, Windows Mixed Reality support, some new ebook functionality in Edge, some tweaks to enterprise security and manageability ... and a so-far still unofficially announced Cloud edition (which actually has little to do with the cloud, and is more about limiting users to Windows Store apps).

If there really are new Surface-branded clamshell laptops coming this Spring, maybe Microsoft will market them as "Cloud Books" or something along those lines (to compete with Chromebooks)? Or some kind of gaming-first devices (as in "cloud first," "mobile first," "game first")?

I believe it's too early for Microsoft to unveil its expected next-generation Surface mobile device, which may be based on some kind of foldable phone or mini-tablet, based on recent Microsoft patents. (Here's the latest Microsoft hinged-tablet patent, unearthed by "The Walking Cat" on Twitter.) I would think these devices will require some of the features Microsoft is expected to include in Redstone 3, the version of Windows 10 expected later this Fall.

These are all nothing but guesses on my part, readers. I am speculating out loud here, hoping that others may chime in with their guesses as to what Redmond might be unveiling on the Surface front this Spring. Chime away!

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