It's been almost a year and a half since Microsoft unveiled the Surface Book, its Windows 10 2-in-1 with a laptop-style form-factor, and a detachable 13.5-inch display with Pen support. With far newer and more affordable alternatives now available from other manufacturers, the Surface Book seems ripe for replacement, and rumors are intensifying over what Microsoft might have in store.
According to DigiTimes - which has something of a mixed track record when it comes to reporting on upcoming products - the new Surface Book has already entered production, and will eventually go on sale with a much lower starting price than the current model.
The report claims that the main reason for this is that Microsoft is ditching the Surface Book's signature feature - its detachable display. The display on the existing model connects to the base using a mechanism developed as part of the device's 'dynamic fulcrum hinge'.
This hinge design is a distinctive element of the machine's design, but it's also attracted some criticism, since it prevents the device from folding down fully against the keyboard, leaving a noticeable gap that doesn't appear on 'conventional' notebooks. The latest Surface Book models, featuring its Performance Base, have a slightly slimmer hinge, but the basic design is the same.
The complex hinge design - which includes a dedicated button on the keyboard to release the display before it can be detached - undoubtedly adds to the considerable cost of the Surface Book. The base model is usually priced at $1,499 in the United States, although it's currently available from $1,299; and Microsoft recently increased the cost of its entire Book range by 10-15% in the UK.
By ditching the detachable display - while keeping the overall dimensions of the device similar to the current model - the Surface Book 2 will reportedly be priced as low as $1,000.
None of these details have yet been confirmed, and today's report leaves many questions unanswered. The most obvious of these is why Microsoft would develop a 'conventional' notebook that competes so directly against other devices from its hardware partners.
Microsoft's Surface line has so far focused on creating new and distinctive types of Windows devices; even its latest Surface Studio may look like 'just another all-in-one' PC at first, but it includes Surface Pen support, as well offering the most complete user experience for its new Surface Dial interaction tool. Incidentally, as The Verge notes, DigiTimes accurately reported that Microsoft was working on a Surface all-in-one PC long before it was announced.
Unless Microsoft has found some other intriguing new way to make the new Surface Book more than 'just another notebook', it would certainly be an unusual move for Microsoft to abandon the distinctive design of the original model in favor of something more ordinary, albeit more affordable. It's hard to imagine other manufacturers - who are already facing enough challenges in the PC market - jumping for joy over Microsoft competing head-on with them for sales of their most popular devices.
Microsoft announced in December that it would launch its Surface Book with Performance Base in eight new markets in the first quarter of this year, but it's remained conspicuously silent on that subject since then. Meanwhile, Microsoft's much-rumored 'Surface phone' - which is expected to define a new class of handset with support for desktop-class x86 apps - isn't expected to arrive until next year.