According to a pre-publication "backgrounder" in DigiTimes, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) is planning to release a new Surface tablet in October. Given that Microsoft already launched the Surface 3 this year based on Intel's (NASDAQ:INTC) Atom processor and Windows 8.1, it stands to reason that this next generation Surface will be the Surface Pro 4.
Based on this launch timing, it's possible to make some educated guesses as to what Microsoft will be bringing to the table with this next generation tablet.
Forget Broadwell, this is a Skylake design
When Intel launched its Broadwell family of low-power processors earlier this year, Microsoft ultimately chose not to launch a Surface Pro model using those chips. Instead, it kept selling tablets using Intel's older generation Haswell processors, apparently skipping Broadwell.
Intel has said that it plans to launch its next generation processors based on its Skylake architecture in the second half of 2015. Given that this next generation Surface Pro is reportedly coming in October -- which is in the fourth quarter of the year -- it seems pretty clear that the device will be powered by Skylake and not the older generation Broadwell.
Surface Pro 4 should be a formidable competitor to Apple's upcoming iPad Pro
In the AnandTech review of last year's Surface Pro 3, the reviewer had the following to say about Microsoft's latest tablet:
I don't know how big the professional productivity tablet market is, but it's a space that Microsoft seems to have almost exclusive reign over with its Surface line. With its latest iteration, Microsoft is serving that market better than ever.
However, Microsoft is likely going to face some stiff competition later this year if the reports are true that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) plans to launch a large-sized iPad, commonly referred to as the "iPad Pro."
I suspect that both Microsoft's and Apple's offerings will have their respective strengths and weaknesses, but for a more productivity-oriented device, I can see a Skylake-based Surface Pro 4 with Windows 10 having a number of big advantages over a potential iPad Pro.
Firstly, the device will run full Windows 10, which means that all of the productivity applications that people traditionally run on their PCs should also run on the Surface Pro 4. Additionally, the Skylake chip inside the Surface Pro 4 should be quite adept at running traditional PC workloads (office applications, games, and so on), which could further strengthen the Surface Pro 4's value proposition as a combined PC/tablet for some buyers.
Will the Surface Pro 4 be a game changer?
It doesn't seem likely that the Surface Pro 4 in itself will be a "game changer" for either Microsoft or Intel. I still think that many users (such as yours truly) will prefer to buy more traditional notebook PCs (I, for one, prefer traditional notebooks to Surface Pro-like devices), but for users who want both a tablet and a PC in one device, the Surface Pro 4 and other systems based on Skylake/Windows 10 could be viable options.
At the end of the day, I see Microsoft wanting to gain share from alternative operating systems (iOS and Android), and I see Intel wanting to capture as much chip share from the various ARM (NASDAQ:ARMH) vendors as possible.
Devices like the Surface Pro 4 might not "kill" pure tablets, but I'm pretty sure Microsoft and Intel are happy to take back as much business from the competition as possible.