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Microsoft signals it's committed to Surface hardware for the long haul

Though Microsoft has lost hundreds of millions of dollars on its Surface tablets, the company made it clear on Monday that it has no intention of backing away from the platform, going as far as to openly state plans are in place for future Surface tablets in the years to come.

The new Surface lineup represents a refinement of last year's models, sporting better battery life and upgrades to features like screen resolution and new keyboard accessories.

But perhaps most surprising is Microsoft's continued commitment to the Windows RT platform, a stripped-down version of Windows 8 that runs on the company's entry-level Surface tablets with ARM processors. While some have speculated that Microsoft could kill off Windows RT, the company signaled Monday that it is actually headed in the opposite direction, doubling down on Windows RT devices in the form of the new entry-level Surface 2.

"You're only going to see more and better come from the Surface team." - Microsoft VP Panos PanayEven last year's entry-level Surface RT remains, hitting a new $349 price point for the company, approaching the $329 price of Apple's 7.9-inch iPad mini.

Microsoft's media presentation led by Surface team head Panos Panay was also filled with hints about future plans to continue improving the Surface lineup. Toward the end of his presentation, he teased that the company's Surface team is already hard at work at its next generation products.

"This team is crazy. And they're not going to stop," he said. "You're only going to see more and better come from the Surface team."

At one point, Panay even claimed that his personal Surface had design documents and roadmaps for the next three generations of Surface models, and that the company is designing them "right now." He then jokingly handed his Surface to journalist Mary Jo Foley as a way of demonstrating his confidence with the device's Bitlocker security.


"If you do (break into the device), you can have my roadmap," Panay told Foley. "It's on there. Good luck."

The fact that Microsoft plans to continue developing and improving its Surface lineup in the years to come is no surprise in the ever-evolving tech industry. But it is an important message for Microsoft to portray in its attempts to grow the platform and gain the confidence of consumers.

As Apple's iPad continues to dominate the current tablet landscape, Microsoft's Surface is largely viewed as a failure after its first year. The company was forced to take a $900 million write-down on the products in July due to unsold inventory.

Add in the rumors and speculation that Microsoft could kill its low-end Windows RT operating system, and Surface may appear to some as a platform on shaky ground — something that may not inspire confidence in consumers to invest in Surface.

To date, Surface has largely been viewed as a failure against Apple's iPad. But Microsoft has indicated it has no plans to abandon its first-party hardware strategy.But in Monday's unveiling of the Surface Pro 2 and Surface 2, Microsoft made an effort to portray its tablet hardware as a platform with a bright future ahead of it, backed by the company's substantial resources for the long haul.

The event certainly highlighted Microsoft's underdog status: In an effort to show off the versatility of Surface, Microsoft brought in a number of real-world users to talk about why they use the company's touchscreen tablets. These Surface users came from all walks of life, allowing Microsoft to suggest its tablets are appealing to students, artists, gamers, and more.

Surface Pro 2 and Surface 2 will go on sale Oct. 22, but Microsoft has more planned for the near future. The company is teasing the possibility of new "blade" attachments adding unique functionality to the Surface, with one velocity-sensing music control attachment already shown off.

In a video shown by Microsoft, the company solicited potential "blade" attachment concepts from design students. What were presented were a number of "what if" ideas, again encouraging people to think about the future of Surface.

Concepts for Surface "blade" covers presented by students included one that could have a portion of it separated and worn around the wrist as a watch. However, aside from the new music controller coming in October, Microsoft has not announced any other "blade" attachments.

What the future actually does hold for Microsoft Surface remains to be seen. But it's likely that when Surface Pro 2 and Surface 2 go on sale in October, they'll be met with a wave of hype for Apple's next iPads: The second-generation iPad mini and fifth-generation iPad are expected to go on sale next month.