Microsoft is shoveling out Surface tablets as fast as it can. The company's latest gimmick -- charging schools $199 for a list $499 Surface RT tablet -- shows that Microsoft's intent on getting rid of its Surface stock, prices be damned.
With new Surfaces on the way (possibly as soon as next week's Build conference), one has to wonder what goodies Microsoft can stuff into the tablet format and still keep the price competitive.
Here's my short list of features every customer should expect from Surface Pro 8.1:
1. A cover with every Pro. Microsoft might nickel-and-dime us by charging $10 extra for a Type cover on the Surface Pro 8.1, instead of the flat-nobbed Touch cover, but charging extra for a keyboard destined to the Pro market is unconscionable.
2. Better battery life. The new Haswell chips should add 50 percent to battery life on the Pro 8.1, minimum, as it has on other newly announced PCs. The only question is whether Microsoft will squander that newfound longevity on more power-hungry components, or use it as an excuse to save money (and weight) on the battery.
3. Office 2013 Pro. Microsoft currently bundles Office 2013 RT (special versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote) with every new Windows RT tablet. Earlier this month Microsoft announced it will put Outlook RT on new Windows RT 8.1 computers for free. Microsoft has also announced that sub-9-inch Windows Pro machines will ship with a free bundled copy of Windows 2013 Home & Student. Cool, but it doesn't go far enough. Windows Pro 8.1 customers should get at least as much as their RT counterparts -- Outlook most certainly included -- and the additional pieces (including Publisher and Access) that "Pro" buyers expect.
4. An extra-cost dock. How can Microsoft sell Surface Pro 8.1 without a dock? The current Surface Pro includes four connectors on the bottom that don't do anything. Why not a dock? Built-in full-size keyboard? Extra battery? Extra USB 3.0/HDMI/DVI/LAN and sound connections? A trackpad, for when I don't want to move my arm way up to the screen? C'mon, Microsoft --you obviously designed the original Surface Pro to have more connectivity. Cut the tease.
5. A bigger screen. Yes, the 10.6-inch 1,920-by-1,080 screen on the current Surface Pro dishes out 208 pixels per inch, and it ain't half bad. But it's just too small. The 11-inch MacBook Air has an 11.6-inch screen, and although the resolution's lower, that extra space makes a big difference. A bigger screen with a smaller bezel would make me happy. I'd pay extra for a Retina-quality 300-PPI screen, especially at 14 inches.
6. An adjustable kickstand. I know -- everybody in Redmond sets all of their screens at 26 degrees because Steve Sinofsky decided it's the optimal angle -- whatever "optimal" means in this context. Those of us in the real world use tablets in different locations, at different angles, for different purposes. You can take back the now-famous "whooompf" the kickstand makes when it retracts. I don't want whooompf, I want degrees of freedom.
7. 128GB. That should be easy; SSD prices have come down since the first Surface Pro, and 64GB just isn't enough -- never has been.
8. 802.11ac. If you've ever used the faster Wi-Fi standard, you know why the Surface Pro 8.1 needs it. Apple put 802.11ac on its new MacBook Air -- why not Microsoft?
9. LTE. Without it, the Surface Pro 8.1 will be obsolete for many people in months.
10. Fast wireless charger. Of course.
And Microsoft should offer all of it -- excluding the docking station -- at the same price points as the current Surface Pro.
Given what we know about Windows 8.1, I figure that's about the best we can expect this time around. If we had Windows Red, Surface could do much better.
With Microsoft's headlong rush to shove first-generation Surface machines out the door, it wouldn't surprise me a bit if we saw specs -- possibly even demos -- of the new Surface Pro 8.1 at the Build conference next week. For those of you wondering why Microsoft hasn't announced deep discounts at Build on Surface RT and Pro machines, at least matching the offers at Tech Ed earlier this month, perhaps there's an unexpected reason: Microsoft may not want to push soon-to-be-obsolete systems on Build attendees.
Who knows? Microsoft might pull a Rabbit 8.1 out of the hat and hand out new Surface Pro 8.1 machines to everybody at Build. Stranger things have happened.
This story, "10 features Microsoft needs to put in the next Surface Pro," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.