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More Surface Rumors Bubble Up

More Surface Rumors Bubble Up

Microsoft left out a few key details when it debuted its upcoming Surface tablets last week. Leave it to the rumor mill to fill in the blanks. Reports have emerged regarding the line's supposed price, wireless capabilities and battery power. In terms of wireless, the Surface will reportedly only be available with WiFi, but for many consumers, that might all that's really necessary.

By Richard Adhikari
06/25/12 6:00 AM PT

Microsoft announced its Surface tablet just last week, and already the whispers have begun. It's going to be WiFi-only, some rumors say. Its battery isn't quite as good as the iPad's, according to others.

Price has also been subject to speculation, and one report has indicated Redmond will price the device between US$600 and $1,000.

As for WiFi, limiting tablets to that wireless system, as reported by Bloomberg, would put the Surface behind the iPad and various Android tablets that can also draw data from cellular networks. However, that may not make much difference to many users.

"Right now, 85 to 90 percent of the market is using WiFi because data plans are so expensive, and it's probably a better solution to offer a WiFi-only tablet for use with a tethered smartphone than to have a tablet with its own data plan," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld.

"Microsoft's rumored to be building its own smartphone, and it could be a tetherable device, which is the way most Microsoft smartphones are sold in Europe," Enderle continued. "It really makes a lot of sense."

Windows Phone 8 has to be optimized for battery life, "but we're still a month away from that," Enderle pointed out. "I wouldn't take any of the battery life metrics at face value."

The report about pricing, published in The Next Web, is pretty much on the money, so to speak. "It's likely the pricing for Intel-based Surface tablets will be closer to $1,000 and for ARM-based ones around $600," Enderle remarked. "Microsoft will probably try to go down to $500 and up for the ARM tablets and $700 and up for the Intel-based ones."

Give Me a Home Where the WiFi Can Roam

Microsoft's decision to offer a WiFi-only tablet isn't far-fetched. Apple offers WiFi-only iPad models.

Further, wireless carriers have been seeking to offload traffic onto WiFi for some time now. Recognizing this, five major cable service providers in the United States have teamed up to let their high-speed Internet customers access each other's metro WiFi networks in several U.S. cities.

Meanwhile, DSL service providers are increasingly offering wireless and WiFi access in addition to phone, TV and Internet access bundles.

Making the Juice Last

The battery life of Microsoft's Surface tablets might not equal that of iPads, Computerworld estimates.

Microsoft rated the ARM-based Surface RT tablet at 31.4 Wh and the Windows 8 Pro Surface at 42 Wh. The Wh rating is based on how much power a battery produces in a given amount of time. A 42 Wh battery could either produce 6 W of power for seven hours or 7 W of power for six hours, for example.

Apple's current iPad has a 42.5 Wh battery that is claimed to offer 10 hours of life on one charge.

However, a battery's life doesn't just depend on its watt-hour rating. The kind of screen used, the screen resolution and what the device powered by the battery is used for all impact battery life. Watching videos sucks up far more juice than just sending and receiving emails, for example.

"Microsoft's using a pixel-dense display on the tablets, and that would impact battery life a bit," Enderle said. "I would expect it to improve over time" as the OS is tweaked.

Another factor is the type of processor used. The Intel processors guzzle more power than the ARM ones, Enderle pointed out. On the other hand, the Intel processor is compatible with more devices in the market. "I think you'll have lower battery life but higher compatibility with Intel tablets and higher battery life but lower compatibility with ARM-based tablets," Enderle remarked.

The Price Point Puzzle

Some tablets have faltered after an initial success because consumers prefer the iPad, Shaw Wu, an analyst at Sterne Agee, told TechNewsWorld. Wu had opined that Microsoft would lowball the pricing of the Surface tablets.

Not everyone shares that opinion. "Microsoft's probably not going to try to match the iPad in the low end, but in the midrange," Enderle said. "Remember, when the iPad is fully configured, it costs close to $800, although the base price is about $500."

Microsoft declined to provide further comment.


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