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article imageMicrosoft: 'There is no Surface Pro 5'

By James Walker     May 8, 2017 in Technology
Microsoft has put to bed rumours that it's preparing to launch the next version of its Surface Pro tablet, categorically stating that the device doesn't yet exist. It leaves the company's upcoming hardware event in Shanghai looking even more mysterious.
Microsoft announced the briefing last week, mere days after officially launching its new Surface Laptop. Panos Panay, Microsoft's head of hardware and creator of the Surface, tweeted the event invitations with the hashtag "Surface." The company confirmed to media outlets that new hardware is involved.
The obvious device to get an unveiling is the Surface Pro 5, Microsoft's highly-anticipated next-generation convertible to follow the current 18-month-old Pro 4. Originally thought to be launching last month, the tablet's absence at Microsoft's education event makes it a natural fit for the next conference.
According to Panay, the fans and analysts have got it wrong though. In an interview with CNET, Panay stated "there's no such thing as a Pro 5," shutting down the rumour mill that's been spinning for several months.
Discussing past, present and future Surface products, Panay explained Microsoft's reasons for keeping the aging Pro 4 on sale without a successor being in sight. The company is waiting for the "Pro Next" to have a "meaningful impact," rather than launching it with mere incremental changes. Instead of adding a new processor, tweaking the chassis design and calling it a new product, Microsoft would rather launch significant changes at an extended release cadence.
"Meaningful change isn't necessarily a hardware change, which is what a lot of people look for," Panay said to CNET. "They're like, 'Where's the latest processor?' That's not what I'm mean. I'm looking for an experiential change that makes a huge difference in product line."
Panay suggested these "experiential changes" could be more physical than what's under the hood. He cited reduced weight and improved battery life as traits that could justify a rebranded device. This compares to the typical annual processor, memory and storage upgrades used by rivals and formerly Microsoft itself. While desired by some, most consumers won't notice the difference.
Addressing the increasing age of the Pro 4, Panay said Microsoft is "OK" with the idea that people may no longer buy one. The company is also confident the Surface will be "competitive for five years" though, returning to the idea that adhering to an annual upgrade cycle wouldn't benefit the majority of customers.
This doesn't necessarily mean we won't see a new Surface Pro in the near future. Microsoft is reportedly readying new devices incorporating Intel's Kaby Lake processors, alongside other minor changes. However, the updated range won't be rebranded as the "Pro 5," in accordance with Panay's comments. It's thought Microsoft will instead refresh its existing Pro 4 line-up, giving itself more time to work on the far more significant Pro 5.
Microsoft's approach to the issue of aging hardware is intriguing as it's fairly unique in the industry. The annual upgrade has become a favourite of tech giants, ensuring they always have an image for selling new products at the expense of reduced development time and less significant year-to-year changes. Microsoft is evidently confident that Surface has sufficient brand appeal to retain its customers for years at a time, allowing it to concentrate on a longer upgrade cycle.
Microsoft's Shanghai event is scheduled to take place on May 23rd. The company will "show the world what's next," a claim that now seems to reference a different kind of device altogether. The Surface hashtag indicates something new from the product family will be present on-stage, although it won't be the Pro that's taking the headlines.
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