Microsoft's new Surface Pro 7 tablet will make the leap from Intel to Qualcomm, becoming the first device to feature the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx processor.
Underwhelming Surface Pro 6
We all expected big things from the Surface Pro 6, released in 2018. We wanted it to be bigger, better, bolder, more powerful, more amazing. We wanted it to come with Thunderbolt 3. We wanted it to have amazing new accessories and beat the upcoming iPad Pro into the dust. It didn't.
In fact, the Surface Pro 6 was so underwhelming, that many Microsoft fanboys who had hold of the Surface Pro 5 for 2 or 3 years, and were waiting to upgrade to the amazing Surface Pro 6, were so deflated by the release of the Pro 6, that, well, they didn't buy a Pro 6 at all. In fact, many of them went out and spent that Surface Pro money on an iPad Pro. Yes. Really.
Why was the Surface Pro 6 so... bland?
Since the beginning, all Surface devices have adhered to a simple formula: less is more.
In addition, they have adhered to an odd choice of ports: USB-A, Mini-DisplayPort, and Surface Connect.
This continued from the Surface 3 into the Surface 4, Surface Pro 4, and Surface Pro 5 lines.
Surface Pro 6 was expected to break with tradition and drop USB-A, Mini-DisplayPort, and Surface Connect, and give us two or four Thunderbolt 3 ports, Bluetooth 5, and Wifi AX. That did not happen.
Instead, we got a slight processor speed bump, revised RAM options, and the same-old same-old port selection. We also got a very cool-looking black case colour option.
Overall, the Surface Pro 6 wasn't the drastic upgrade we were all hoping for, and it just did not sell.
Surface Pro 7
Next up, in 2019, we are expecting Microsoft to release the Surface Pro 7. We're expecting it to be... either wonderful, or bland.
Microsoft can't afford to let its popular Surface line die on the vine.
Microsoft needs a breakthrough hit with the Surface Pro 7. Table that to happen, it needs better processor performance, better ports, and better prices.
To make "better processor and better ports" a reality, Microsoft id relying on Intel bringing its latest and greatest processors to the table. Intel has been having a lot of trouble achiving that goal, with the death of its 10-nanometer production, failures in its 7-nanometer production line causing a complete stop of 70nm production, and being forced back on to 14-nm production.
In the meantime, AMD is moving forward with 7-nm production of its chips for servers, and 10-nm production or hybrid production of its consumer processors.
Apple is sucking up as many Intel and AMD parts as they can get their hands on, limiting the supply to other OEMs.
Speaking of Apple, Apple continues its feud with former partner Qualcomm, in regard to Qualcomm's patent licencing agreements, which affect the iPhone and iPad lines. Apple has turned to Intel to supply wifi and modem parts instead of buying them from Qualcomm.
In the background, Qualcomm has cosied up to Microsoft, and Microsoft has been quietly developing software compatible with ARM architecture chips over the last 5 years, such as those from Qualcomm.
So while Qualcomm's lawyers are fighting with Apple, Qualcomm's engineering teams are working closely with Microsoft. While Apple is buying up parts from Intel, Intel is struggling to keep pace with non-Apple orders.
There's a midly-incestuous circle happening here between Apple, Intel, Microsoft, and Qualcomm.
Side note: Samsung will be buying processor and modems from Qualcomm for roughly half of all Samsung mobile phones sold during 2018-2019-2020. That'll be a fun sideshow for Apple.
Back to the Surface Pro 6
Getting back on topic with the Surface Pro 7, we were in the middle of explaining why the Surface Pro 6 was so bland.
In short, the Surface Pro 6 was only a mild refresh of the aging Surface Pro 5, to keep everyone happy until the Surface Pro 7 is released.
When Microsoft debuted the Pro 5, it called it the "Surface Pro" (no number).
When Mictosoft debuted the Pro 6, it called it the "Surface Pro 6" (with a number).
This is because the Surface Pro (5) was meant to stick around for 2 years, until the release of the next amazing Surface device, which was supposed to be the Pro 6. After nearly 3 years with the Surface Pro 5, and people wondering what the hell was going on, Microsoft had to release the Pro 6 to try to stay relevant, in the face of competition from the Apple iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab.
So the Pro 6 became a placeholder, replacing the placeholder that was the Pro 5.
On to the Surface Pro 7
Ready for the good news? Here it is: the Surface Pro 7 was meant to be the king of Windows Tablet market, and rock an amazing Intel processor, lots of RAM, lots of Thunderbolt, lots of wireless accessories, and a revised Type Cover. Sadly, that didn't happen, because Intel couldn't deliver on its chips. Microsoft waited and waited, until it became obvious that Intel had failed.
In parallel, Microsoft had been working with Qualcomm on ARM chips for "Lumia" devices. These devices are not mobile phones competing with the iPhone, nor are they computers competing with the Surface line.
The Lumia's were meant to be a new category of device that slot in that grey space between smartphones, tablets, and laptop/desktop PCs; with their defining factors being awesome battery life and being Always Connected to the internet.
So how did we get the Surface Go?
The Surface Go, the small-screen tablet from Microsoft, is a weird device.
It's not a phone, it's not a tablet, it's not a laptop, it's not a desktop PC. It's not... anything.
If you pretee Surface Go was designed for children, then you can see a use case: it's a "my first Windows PC" for children. Microsoft has never marketed it that way. They aimed it at on-the-go-adults who want to leave their full size Surface device at home or work, and still have something with a screen larger than their smartphone with them if they need to get "work" done.
Unfortunately, with only a Pentium Gold CPU inside, it was dead on arrival to anyone with more than three brain cells in the tech community.
But wait. What if the Surface Go had a Snapdragon chip in it?
If you put a Snapdragon chip in a Surface Go, along with a Qualcomm modem, all types of battery-saving love, and a persistent internet connection, then suddenly the Surface Go looks awesome. The hurdle there was that Windows 10 for ARM wasn't ready for the general public.
Back to the Surface Pro 7
Yes, yes I'm back on track.
The Surface Pro 7 desparately needs to be entirely awesome if it is to sell at all.
That means giving the Surface Pro 7 an all-Intel breakthrough, or giving it an all-Qualcomm breakthrough.
Looking at the state of Intel right now, I'd say that Intel in 2019 is entirely focussed on fulfilling orders from Apple (desktop and laptop processors, modems, wifi controllers; iPhone and iPad modems and wifi controllers; better laptop and desktop integrated graphics options, and better interoperability with AMD discrete graphics APUs). Intel is focused on Apple orders, and everything else at Intel is currently suffering.
As for Qualcomm, they're motivated. While Qualcomm's lawyers are fighting with Apple, Qualcomm is getting no chip orders from Apple, and that's hurting Qualcomm's production targets and profits. So Qualcomm has to work well with its other tech friends, Samsung and Microsoft.
Samsung will be ordering boat-loads of Qualcomm chips at the end of 2018, and all thoughout 2019 and 2020. These chips will be headed into Samsung devices such as the Galaxy S10, S11, Note 9, Note 10, Note 11, Galaxy Tab 11, selected Samsung speakers (JBL, Harmon Kardon, Mark Levinson, etc), automotive products for Android Auto, and a range of other devices like smart fridges and appliances in western markets.
Meanwhile, Microsoft and Qualcomm are working hard to deliver a the hardware for their Windows on ARM project. Once the hardware is ready to go, Microsoft can bolt down the final details on the software front, along with drivers and packages, to make Windows on ARM consumer-ready.
All three of these stoylines come together at a date around March 2019.
The Surface Pro 7 should be eligible for a public showcase before then.
CES, January 2019
At CES in January 2019, we can expect Microsoft to release:
Surface Pro 7, featuring a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx or better processor
Surface Go 2, featuring a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8xx processor
Surface Laptop 3, featuring a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx processor
Surface Book 3, with a Snapdragon 8cx processor in the screen, and an Intel processor and AMD APU in the Performance Base.
Cortana retreats from the desktop, to be replaced by Amazon Alexa in Windows 10.
Summing up the Surface Pro 7
Here it is, the Surface Pro 7, in as much detail as we can gather at the end of 2018:
The 2019 Surface Pro 7 will include:
A mildly revised PixelSense touch screen
No USB-A port, no mini-DisplayPort, no Surface Connect port
No Thunderbolt ports (Intel owns Thunderbolt, and there's Intel on board here)
Two or Four USB-C ports
Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx processor
Qualcomm integrated modem for LTE
Qualcomm integrated wifi
Qualcomm integrated Bluetooth 5
Qualcomm integrated battery management
Qualcomm graphics processing
Equivalent of 8 GB or equivalent of 16 GB of RAM
Battery charging via a quickcharge USB-C port
Magnetic connector for the Type Cover
Magnetic connector for the Surface Pen
Read our ongoing coverage of Surface 2019 devices at www.xyztech.blog
Until next time,
Xavier Zymantas XYZtech