Microsoft plans smaller Surface tablets and a silicon shift to Qualcomm

By Graeme Burton
07 May 2014 View Comments

Microsoft is planning to launch a new, smaller Surface tablet computer, while shifting the core silicon in its ARM-based products from Nvdia to Qualcomm.

The new products to be released this year will include an 8in ARM-based Surface tablet, which will retail at a more competitive price compared with the current 10in widescreen Microsoft Surface tablets.

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The 8in model will be among a number of new devices that will be unveiled at a launch event in New York on 20 May, according to the Bloomberg newswire, which will also include new Surface Pro models which run standard Intel microprocessors.

The shift from Nvidia to Qualcomm is significant: previous Surface devices have been criticised for being underpowered, deploying less-than-cutting-edge Nvidia Tegra microprocessors. The more powerful Surface Pro devices, which run standard Windows 8 on Intel microprocessors, have proved more popular even though they are twice the price.

While Qualcomm dominates the market for mobile phone microprocessors, it has struggled to make a dent in tablet computers, where Apple dominates with its own ARM-based designs, while cheap Taiwanese and Chinese semiconductor companies dominate the low-end Android device market.

The launch indicates that new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has no plans to discontinue the Windows RT operating system, which runs exclusively on ARM and cannot natively run applications developed on other versions of Windows.

Windows RT had been thought to be under threat due to the underwhelming sales of the original Surface RT, over which Microsoft booked a $900m write-down on unsold units.

The longer-term plan, according to insiders, is to merge Windows RT and Windows Phone to create the same split in operating systems between desktop and laptop, on the one hand, and more mobile devices, on the other, that Apple pioneered with MacOS and iOS.

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