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Microsoft's new Surface line aims to get better foothold in tablet space

September 23, 2013 | By Kris Graft

Microsoft unveiled its plans to try to make better headway into the tablet space this morning with the introduction of the next generation of Surface tablets.

The new Windows 8.1 Pro-based Surface Pro 2 and lower-spec Windows RT 8.1-based Surface 2 will cost $899 and $449, respectively, Microsoft said during a press briefing this morning, and will launch October 22. The currently-available Surface RT is still available for $349.

Like the previous Pro model, the Pro 2 is essentially a device that runs full Windows 8, which allows users to run any Windows 8 app or desktop programs, while the Surface 2 only runs programs created as Windows 8 apps.

The basic theme from Microsoft is that the next generation of Surfaces is all about being thinner, lighter, more powerful and with a longer battery life (see the specs here). There's also a $200 battery cover that can stretch that life further, as well as a Pro 2 docking station meant to increase business productivity.

So what does any of this mean for game developers? Not terribly much. These are incremental improvements over last year's hardware. This year's Pro is basically a Windows 8 ultrabook with a touchscreen (like last year's), while the Surface 2 is an upgraded version of the poor-selling Surface RT, and can't run traditional Windows desktop programs (like last year's).

Developing for Windows 8 specifically does allow developers to plug into the Windows and Xbox device ecosystem. For example, 17-Bit's Skulls of the Shogun lets players switch between Windows, Windows Phone and Xbox 360 to continue to play the same save.

Games are the leading apps on Android and iOS devices, but Microsoft just briefly showed the weeks-old Halo: Spartan Assault during the presentation, and instead focused more on tablet productivity improvements.

Near the end of the conference, the company teased a detachable pressure-sensitive keypad that was made specifically for an app that lets users remix their music, which does make one wonder what other specialized pads might be in the works.

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