Surface Pro 4 will also reportedly square off against jumble 12.9-inch 2K iPad Pro tablet

The gold tone has barely dried on the revived and reimagined Apple, Inc. (AAPL) MacBook, but up the coast a storm is reportedly brewing.   According to sources Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) is prepping brand new fourth generation Surface Pro models to challenge the shockingly slim ultrathin.

I. Surface Pro 4 Nears

A recent report in the Inquisitr notes that recent price cuts and trade-in programs relating to the Surface Pro 3 could be a signal that a new model is waiting in the wings.  However it cites "sources" as a saying the actual release will happen around the July window.

Surface is finally emerging as serious business for Microsoft.  Microsoft recently plopped down a cool ~$200M USD to acquire the Israeli firm that makes the stylus for the Surface Pro 3.  That expenditure is representative of a shift at Microsoft, who believes that its patient approach to first party hardware is finally entering the payoff phase.

Surface Pro 3 pen

In calendar Q4 2014, Microsoft cracked a billion dollars in revenue from Surface computers and accessories for the first time. That number hints that at least a million of the device likely sold.

That's a drop in the bucket compared to Apple's iPad, which "disappointed" with "only" 26 million iPad tablets sold in the holiday quarter.  But in many ways the Surface is making a name of its own, as perhaps the most recognizable, best-selling, and strongest-reviewed hybrid tablet.  The Surface is looking to do for the hybrid what Apple did for the tablet -- turn it into a must-have device.

Surface Pro 3

Here's the rumored launched highlights, courtesy of the Inquistr report and a PC Advisor publication:
  • Three models will launch
    • 12-inch Surface Pro 4
      • 2160 x 1440 screen
      • Intel Corp. (INTC) 14 nm Core M (Broadwell) SoC
      • 16GB RAM LPDDR3  (twice the current memory)
      • 1 TB of maximum flash storage
    • Surface Pro 4 Mini
    • 14-inch model (little is known about this entry)
    • Will launch alongside Windows 10

The past couple years have seen a stead stream of releases:
  • Gen. 1
  • Gen. 2
  • Gen. 3
    • Surface Pro 3 -- June 20, 2014 (8 months after Gen. 2 launch).
So the it's pretty much a given to expect a fourth generation surface to be approaching the market shortly.

The supposed comeback of the Surface Pro Mini is a bit more of a surprise, if true.  Microsoft was believed to have scrapped this device.  But with the Google Inc. (GOOG) branded ASUSTek Computer Inc. (TPE:2357) Nexus 7 tablet and the iPad Mini selling well, it's not altogether unfathomable why Microsoft might reexplore the 7-to-8-inch tablet niche.

II. The Challengers -- the iPad Pro

Up against the Surface Pro 4 will reportedly be a new 12 inch tablet from Apple, dubbed the iPad Pro.  The subject of numerous rumors, this 12-to-13 inch jumbo iPad tablet is expected to feature stylus input.  A number of high profile analysts have said their sources at Apple have confirmed the device is in development, add an air of credibility to these rumors.

iPad Pro

iPad Pro mockup
Mockups of the iPad Pro are seen. [Image Source: iMore (top) MacRumors (bottom)]

Among the analysts buzzing about the new device is Ming-Chi Kuo, a veteran analyst who provides research for the securities branch Taiwan-based KGI Bank Comp., Ltd. (TPE:2387) writes in a note [via KnowYourMobile]:

The new iPad will have a screen measuring 12.9 inches diagonally.  Potential customers for larger-screen iPads are businesses, where the device could take on more tasks of a traditional laptop computer.
Coupled with its unfavourable cost structure, high selling prices may turn consumers off if the 12.9-inch iPad is always bundled with [the stylus].  We therefore expect the stylus to be an optional accessory before sufficient user feedback is received.
Apple is now considering adding USB ports and adopting a faster technology that promises to transfer data up to 10 times faster than current USB ports.  The company has also been considering adding ports to connect to a keyboard and mouse.
Compared with lower-margin iPad mini with Retina display, which shipments has been tepid, higher-margin iPad Air was a hot selling item in 4Q13, which will slow Apple in developing new iPad mini models. We believe Apple plans to launch upgraded iPad Air early this year, and will accelerate development of 12.9” iPad.

Product design concept seems to be based on iPad Air 2, pair of speakers and microphones will be added on top-side not only bottom’s pair. iPad Pro might be capable for supporting stereo audio
As such, more resources will be allocated to these two products, which will affect the progress of the development of new iPad mini. All told, we think chances of the debut of a new iPad mini in 2H14 are slim. In addition, the 12.9” iPad is unlikely to be offered in 2014. For these reasons, we predict the only new iPad product in 2H14 will be the upgraded iPad Air.

Photos of what are believed to be prototypes of the device have shown up on Weibo.  And French leaks site Nowhereelse has published a supposedly leaked CAD image of the frame of the device.

iPad Pro
A leaked CAD image shows a possible iPad Pro frame. [Image Source:]

The device is expected to pack a premium spec:
  • 12.9-inch 2,732 x 2,048 pixel ("2K") Retina display (265 ppi) [source: DisplaySearch]
    • Other sources say it could be a 12.2-in. 2K panel.
  • 7 mm thick (slightly thicker than iPad Air 2); 700 g (24.7 oz.)
  • New Apple A-Series SoC (likely the 14 nm Apple A9)

    Apple A9
  • 4 GB of LPDDR4
  • Flash storage: 16GB, 32GB, 64GB and 128GB
  • 11,000 mAh battery (up from the 7,340 mAh iPad Air 2 battery)
  • Rear-facing camera, microphone
  • Stereo speakers
  • 3D handwriting sensors for better stylus support
  • UX changes to iOS to support bigger screen (like w/ iOS 9)
Originally Kuo and Bloomberg both predicted the iPad Pro would launch in Q2 2015, with production starting in Q1 2015.  


Production delays, however, have reportedly pushed the device back to a Q3 2015 (August or September) launch.

III. The Challengers -- the (New) MacBook

On the other side of the table-hybrid-laptop divide, sits the newly unveiled 12-inch ultrathin laptop from Apple, which revives the MacBook brand name.

MacBook gold

In the spirit of netbooks, this isn't exactly a barn burner with its Intel Core M chip (the Intel Core M-5Y31; w/ upgrades ot the M-5Y51 and M-5Y71).  The Surface Pro 4 will likely follow in the like of the Pro 3, offering a wider variety of Core i-Series processors at different price points.  The entire design is fanless, thanks to Intel's tiny 14 nm transistors.

MacBook staar

The Apple notebook packs a 12-inch 2,304 x 1,440 pixel Retina display -- which has a marginal edge over the 2,160x1,440 in pixel count at similar density.  Both devices pack 8 GB of low power memory and 256 GB of storage in the base model.
MacBook Pro
The circuit board with Core M processor onboard is seen to the top, solo.  Batteries and the Force Touch trackpad sensors are seen added below.

MacBook Circuitboard
MacBook board

It weighs just 2 lbs and is a razer-thin 0.516 in. (13.1 mm) thick.  That's 24 percent thinner than the MacBook Air.  

MacBook Gold

It's also a tiny bit thinner than the 0.56 in. (14.2 mm) Surface Pro 3 with keyboard attached.  The Pro 3 w/ keyboard attached also weighs marginally more at 2.4 lb.

Retina MacBook

Retina Macbook

Despite the new MacBook having the densest-ever Apple notebook circuitboard (roughly the size of a deck of cards and sitting centered under the top of the keyboard) and resorting to exotic sounding "terraced contoured" lithium ion battery technology which allow it to pack in 35 percent more battery volume than the MacBook Air, the Surface Pro 3 still manages to beat it in battery capacity, with 42 Wh compared to the MacBook's 39.7 Wh.

Contoured terraced batteries

Both devices feature unique input.  In the Surface Pro 3 case you get full-screen multi-touch and pressure sensitive input via the N-Trig Surface Stylus pen.  Apple, meanwhile packs a redesigned keyboard and a Force Touch clickless trackpad.  

The new keyboard is 40% thinner thanks to its "butterfly" style membrane key design (insert joke about "scissoring" membrane keyboads here).  It also packs individaul LED backlighting on each key.

Apple Keyboard

The Force Touch trackpad uses four pressure sensors set under a glass pad.  Hard clicks are akin to right click on the PC, soft clicks (taps) are the equivalent of left-clicking.

Force Touch

The Surface Pro 3 is comes in one shade (silver), but gets colorful with its colored keyboard covers.  Options on the cover include:
  • Red
  • Black
  • Cyan
  • Blue
  • Purple
Surface Pro 3 covers

The MacBook, meanwhile features various metal tintings:
  • Silver
  • Gold
  • Space Gray

MacBook color

MacBook Color Trio

Both devices are highly coveted in terms of design.  The Surface Pro 3 won many "computer of the year" awards last year, thanks in part to its slick look.  The new MacBook isn't very hard on the eyes either -- Apple's VP of Engineering Phil Schiller dubs it "Hashtag Apple Lust", while Apple's Jony Ive gushes, "The new MacBook is the result of a collective obsession."

Apple brags about its new ultrathin's green cred.  The new notebook computer's body and circuitboard are free of PVC, BFR, and Beryllium.  The display is free of mercury and arsenic.  It's achieved EPEAT Gold and Energy Star 6.1 certifications.  And Apple calls it "highly recyclable."

Macbook green

One decided downside of the new MacBook is the need to purchase dongles in order to gain USB ports, thanks to Apple's decision to include only a single USB-C port which doubles as both the charging port, display port, and I/O data port.  

Macbook port

MacBook port

The MacBook starts at $1,299 (or $1,599 for a faster processor and double the storage), but you have to factor the dongles into the price equation, much as you have to factor the $129.99 keyboard cover into the Surface Pro 3's $699 USD introductory price point.

The MacBook starts shipping on April 10.

Surface Pro 3

The Surface Pro 4 may add more exotic input features, but at worst its predecessor remains competitive with the new Macbook.

Sources: PC Pro, Inquisitr, BGR, Apple [product page]

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