It will launch in the US and Canada first, with pricing starting at US$899. An Australian release date and price has yet to be announced.
The Surface Windows 8 Pro model joins the existing Surface with Windows RT tablet; both devices were designed internally by Microsoft. The software giant is hoping they will help spearhead sales of its new Windows 8 operating system and also act as an example to other hardware makers.
Though the two tablets may look similar, they're quite different in terms of capabilities and internal hardware.
Surface with Windows RT is built using the same type of ARM hardware found in Android tablets and Apple's iPads. It's Australian pricing starts at $579 for the base model, which sells for US$499 in the States. The RT Surface offers up to 10 hours battery life, but runs a cut-down version of Windows 8 that is not backwards compatible with traditional Windows software; it can only run apps purchased and downloaded through the new Windows Store.
By comparison, the Surface Pro includes the full version of Windows 8 and can therefore run traditional Windows programs, as well as those from the Windows Store. It is built using the same type of hardware found in laptop PCs and is thicker and heavier than its RT counterpart. Microsoft has previously stated that the Pro version's battery life will be around half that of the RT model.
The second Surface tablet runs on more traditional laptop hardware, but is thicker and heavier.
To date, sales of Windows 8 devices have been below expectations for the PC industry. Microsoft is putting a brave face on the situation, stating that it has sold over 60 million licenses, but that includes those shipped to PC manufacturers and upgrade copies.
When it comes to retail hardware sales, the picture looks less rosy. Over the past 6 weeks, major PC makers including HP, Acer, Fujitsu and ASUS have all suggested that Windows 8 laptop and PC sales are off to a slow start. According to industry analyst IDC, despite the arrival of the new version of Windows (which has traditionally caused a spike in demand) worldwide PC sales actually fell by 6.4% in Q4 2012.
"There was not a huge spark in the market. It’s a slow start, there’s no question," said the president of Acer's Americas division, Emmanuel Fromont, to the New York Times in late December.