Just about all of the hype around Microsoft's Surface tablet lineup revolves around the forthcoming Surface Pro 5. And for good reason: The current-generation Surface Pro 4 is a dynamite device -- one of our favorites -- that combines power, portability, and productivity in just the right way. After its October 2015 introduction, the Surface Pro 4 instantly became the standard-bearer for Windows tablets. It's both a unique alternative and worthy rival to Apple's iPad.
But the Surface Pro isn't the only Surface tablet in Microsoft's portfolio. There is also the less expensive non-Pro variation, the most recent of which is the Surface 3. Though there were rumors that Microsoft had planned to introduce a new version of this second-fiddle model -- the Surface 4, presumably -- at a May 2 event in New York City on May 2, it didn't come to pass. (Microsoft did announce a new Surface laptop and version of its operating system, Windows 10 s, however.)
In the current tablet market, which includes recent standouts including Google's Pixel C, Samsung's Galaxy Tab S3, and Apple's newest and least expensive iPad (the $329 9.7-inch model, introduced in March 2017), the Surface 3 doesn't look like much. Initially priced at $499 -- which (inexcusably) did not include the essential $129 keyboard/cover -- the well-designed Surface 3 did correct some of its predecessor's flaws by integrating a full version of Windows for the first time and delivering more processing power.
But when Microsoft followed up seven months later with the Surface Pro 4, it was pretty much curtains for the Surface 3. After cutting the price to $399, the company discontinued the overshadowed Surface 3 at the end of 2016. Now, however, it seems as though the company may be preparing its successor for the light of day. More on that below.
And what about the Surface Pro 5? Yeah, we may be waiting for that one a little while longer. In the meantime, check out the Surface 4 rumors to find out what Microsoft may introduce soon and what it may leave in reserve for the Surface Pro 5's debut, expected to come later this year.
Announcement and release
Despite a rumor that Microsoft would debut the new tablet at its May 2 event, the company instead introduced the new Surface laptop. New Surface hardware has often been announced in March, but it's unlikely that Microsoft will wait that long to release the Surface 4 or Surface Pro 5. So, for now, the question of when we'll get to see a new Surface tablet is wide open.
Under the hood
Despite all the buzz surrounding the Surface Pro 5, there hasn't been much speculation about Surface 4 specs. And it's tricky to make predictions about this product. As Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet points out, Microsoft uses the Surface portfolio primarily to create new product categories -- it doesn't want to compete with partners such as Acer and Lenovo in existing categories.
Given this, it would be awkward for Microsoft to simply give the Surface 3 a makeover -- outfitting it with components that are newer but still inferior to those we expect to see on the Surface Pro 5. So, it's reasonable to expect to see some new features and capabilities with the Surface 4.
Software is one area of high potential. On April 11, Microsoft released a major update to Windows 10 (learn how to access the free download here). Creators Update includes new 3D apps, VR capabilities, enhancements for gaming, and enterprise security features. The new Surface 4 could leverage some of these new capabilities. Or Microsoft could debut a Surface 4 that runs the newly announced Windows 10 S operating system, which limits users to apps installed through the Windows Store.
Otherwise, the hearsay cobbled together from Reddit forums and other unreliable corners of the Internet posit that the Surface 4 could follow the Surface Pro 4 by omitting the home button and using a side-attaching stylus. Or it come come equipped with a USB-C port, more kickstand positions, and an updated Intel processor. And in the long-shot category, there is Microsoft's patent for a hinged display (unearthed and published on Twitter by WalkingCat). But it's highly unlikely we'd see this kind of boundary-pushing feature debut on the Surface 4.
This is where things get really interesting. With Apple dropping the price of its newest iPad, and a growing array of excellent, inexpensive midrange tablets on the market, there is tremendous pressure on Microsoft to price the Surface 4 more aggressively than previous editions. The Surface 3 debuted at $499 -- plus an additional $130 to get the keyboard -- before dropping to $399. Unless Microsoft takes a totally new, way more premium tack with the Surface's hardware and design, that kind of price tag simply won't fly in 2017.
Scroll down for a reverse-chronological look at the latest rumors.
May 2, 2017
Microsoft is ready to jump back into the classroom. Here's all the tech it's bringing along.
May 2, 2017
Microsoft has a new Surface computer, but rather than a touchscreen tablet that adds a keyboard cover, the new Surface Laptop is exactly what it sounds like -- a shockingly traditional clamshell laptop.
April 12, 2017
The company will hold an event in New York featuring CEO Satya Nadella, but don't expect to get a glimpse of the new Surface Pro tablet.
April 11, 2017
The still-unofficially-announced Windows Cloud edition may be the focal point for Microsoft's Spring launch event, which sources say looks to be happening in early May.
March 27, 2017
Microsoft's anticipated Spring hardware launch is unlikely to feature the Surface Book 2. So what else might be on the docket?