By Anick Jesdanun
The Associated Press
Microsoft refreshed its Surface tablet computers Monday, giving them longer battery life and better comfort on laps as the software giant continues its transformation into a devices and services company.
The company said it tried to address many shortcomings of the first-generation Surface models, sales of which have been slow. Microsoft needs to boost its tablet business to make up for sales declines in traditional desktop and laptop computers. IDC is forecasting a nearly 10 percent decline in PC shipments this year. The research firm also said tablets will outsell traditional PCs in the last three months of the year.
The new tablet models come with a better built-in kickstand so they can rest more firmly on users' laps while they sit on the couch. Microsoft also is making a docking station and a wireless mouse for business customers who need the mobility of tablets but also desire the traditional ways of using computers while in the office.
"We've definitely gotten a year smarter," Brian Hall, general manager of sales and marketing for Surface, said in an interview.
The redesigned Surface tablets come at a time of transition for Microsoft. Earlier this month, Microsoft struck a deal to acquire Nokia's phone and services business for $7.2 billion. The company also is searching for a new CEO to replace Steven A. Ballmer, who announced last month that he plans to retire within the next year.
The Surface Pro 2 is targeted at professionals who want the full power of a laptop in a tablet-style device. With a starting price of $899, the Pro 2 uses a full version of the upcoming Windows 8.1, meaning it can run any program written for Windows desktops and laptops.
The Pro 2 promises 75 percent more battery life than the debut Pro model, which came out in February. There's also an optional Power Cover accessory that extends battery life even further.
A cheaper model, Surface 2, offers a 25 percent improvement in battery life, which means it can get up to 10 hours of use. It also has a better screen compared with last October's Surface RT. It uses Windows RT 8.1, meaning it can run only apps specifically designed for it.
Microsoft said it now has 100,000 apps, or 10 times the amount available last year. As with other RT tablets, Microsoft is including a version of its Office software for free with the Surface 2. But now, the package will have the Outlook email and calendar program, not just Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
Microsoft is selling the Surface 2 starting at $449 and will continue to offer last year's Surface RT for $349.
The new tablets will go on sale Oct. 22, less than a week after Microsoft releases the 8.1 update to its Windows 8 operating system Oct. 17.
Microsoft said it tried to address many shortcomings of the first- generation Surface models, sales of which have been slow. Microsoft needs to boost its tablet business to make up for sales declines in traditional desktop and laptop computers.