September 23, 2013

Microsoft unveils new Surface tablet

By Anick Jesdanun / The Associated Press

NEW YORK — Microsoft introduced new Surface tablets, including a professional model that allows people to use it more like a laptop or a desktop computer.

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Panos Panay, corporate vice president of Microsoft, introduces a Surface 2 tablet with an integrated kickstand on Monday in New York. Microsoft says the Pro 2 also offers a 75 percent improvement in battery life over the previous model.

The Associated Press

The Redmond, Wash. company is trying to boost its tablet business as sales of traditional desktop and laptop computers decline.

The Surface Pro 2, unveiled at an event in New York, is targeted at professionals who want the full power of a laptop in a tablet-style device. The kickstand built into the device is redesigned to make it easier to use on laps. In the past, it worked best on a flat surface such as a table.

Microsoft says the Pro 2 also offers a 75 percent improvement in battery life over the previous model. There's also a new cover accessory that extends battery life even further. An optional docking station allows the Pro 2 to be used like a laptop.

A cheaper model, Surface 2, offers a better screen and other improvements over last year's Surface RT.

The Surface 2 starts at $449, and the Surface Pro 2 at $899. It is available starting on Oct. 22 in the U.S. and other markets.

Microsoft plans to release an update to its Windows 8 operating system on Oct. 17. Among other things, Windows 8.1 will be usable on smaller touch screens, which have become popular because they are cheaper and easier to carry. The previous version of Windows 8 was limited to tablets with 10-inch to 12-inch screens.

The screen on both new Surface models remains at 10.6 inches, measured diagonally. Microsoft didn't announce smaller Surface models.

The redesigned Surface tablets come at a time of transition for Microsoft. At a time when personal computer sales are falling, the software giant is trying to become a more diversified software and mobile devices company. Earlier this month, Microsoft struck a deal to acquire Nokia's handset and services business for $7.2 billion. The company is also searching for a new CEO to replace Steven A. Ballmer, who announced last month that he plans to retire within the next year.

Microsoft has manufactured devices before, such as its Xbox gaming console. In selling the Surface, the company became a competitor to its many manufacturing partners, which rely on its Windows operating system to power their machines.

Microsoft began selling Surface tablets last October, but sales have been slow. The company shipped about a million tablets in the first three months of 2013, according to research firm IDC. That includes about 260,000 of the slimmed-down RT version of Surface and 750,000 of the Pro version, which is compatible with older Windows programs. The shipments gave Microsoft a meager 2 percent share of the tablet market in the first quarter. By the second quarter, Microsoft tablets dropped out of IDC's Top 5.

Microsoft absorbed a $900 million charge in the April-June period to account for its expected losses from the Surface RT after it slashed prices to stimulate demand. The $150 cut brought the price of the Surface RT with 32 gigabytes of memory to $349. The Surface has a 10.1-inch screen measured diagonally. The RT version is 1.5 pounds. The Pro version is 2 pounds and starts at $799, $100 less than it was at launch.

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