John Paczkowski

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Microsoft Hints at Battery Add-On for Surface Pro

Battery_ChargerMicrosoft doesn’t see any problems with the nearly four hours of battery life offered by its new Surface Pro tablet. But for those that do, the company may have a solution in the works.

During an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session on Reddit Wednesday, Surface GM Panos Panay and his team spoke to the perceived battery-life problem with the Surface Pro, and hinted that Microsoft may have already developed a means of addressing it.

First off, Panay et al don’t seem much concerned that the Surface Pro offers three hours less battery life than its Surface RT sibling, and less than half the stamina of the iPad. Microsoft wanted strong performance out of the Pro, and that required some trade-offs.

“The product was designed to take full advantage of Windows 8, coupled with the Ivy Bridge core processor from Intel,” Panay explained. “We created a product that did not compromise speed, performance in any way. With that, we wanted to be the best notebook/laptop product in its class, but still deliver you the tablet form factor. This product is optimized in every way to take advantage of the full third-generation Core i5 it runs, yet give the best battery life. If you compare it to say a MacBook Air, you will quickly see that pound for pound in battery size versus battery life, you will find optimizations that puts Surface best in its class. That said, we picked a smaller battery to be sure we were able to give you the same performance and to keep it thin.”

So, yes, it appears that Microsoft did compromise on Surface Pro battery life. Speed, performance and form factor all took precedence over stamina. But perhaps that’s because the company knew it could address the battery longevity issue in the future with a peripheral. Asked about the mysterious connectors on the Surface Pro that aren’t built into the Surface RT, Panay hinted that they were capable of carrying more current than other connectors, and designed with an eye toward supporting peripherals.

“We haven’t announced what [those connectors] are for but they aren’t an accident,” Panay said. “At launch we talked about the ‘accessory spine’ and hinted at future peripherals that can click in and do more. Those connectors look like [they] can carry more current than the pogo pins, don’t they?”

An interesting remark. More interesting still when you consider Panay’s reply to a question about the company’s plans for an external battery. Here’s the exchange:

Q: Does Microsoft have any plans for an external battery or for a thicker keyboard cover that has an extra battery? Or, if I want an external battery brick, is there a third party one I can buy that can be used with the surface.

A: That would require extending the design of the accessory spine to include some way to transfer higher current between the peripheral and the main battery. Which we did…

Now, that’s far from hard confirmation that Microsoft has some sort of battery-equipped Surface Pro cover in the pipeline. But it seems pretty clear that the company has at least considered the possibility. At the very least, it’s planning for some sort of accessory that requires more current than the RT’s connectors can provide, and, given criticism of the Pro’s stamina, an external battery would be a good one to have.

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