The rumors were true. On March 18, Microsoft caught up with Apple in one crucial feature for many tablet users: 4G connectivity. Since the Surface's launch in October 2012, Microsoft has only offered WiFi connectivity options.
The first clues of the tablet's impending launch emerged when the device showed up in Federal Communications Commission (FCC) filings. On March 10, Windows Phone Central's Daniel Rubino claimed that his site had photographic evidence. "Photos of the device, including the box that reads 'AT&T Network Ready' have been sent our way, though we have been asked to not post them due to the sensitive nature of the material."
The 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) version of the Surface 2 tablet is now on sale at the Microsoft Store (both online and brick and mortar), Best Buy and commercial retailers in the United States. The 4G LTE version enables buyers to venture beyond the confines of their WiFi networks without firing up a 4G hotspot. Yet unlike its rival, the iPad, Microsoft's tablet has been released only for AT&T's network. (Apple sells carrier-specific iPads that operate on the networks of Verizon, Sprint and AT&T.)
The tablet packs 64GB of internal storage—all Surface tablets can be expanded with microSD cards—and carry a price tag of $679. That represents a $130 premium over the WiFi version, in line with Apple's pricing strategy. It is currently in stock at Microsoft's online store with immediate shipping.
Powered by an Nvidia Tegra 4 processor that runs Windows RT 8.1, the Surface 2 delivers up to 10 hours of battery life. Apart from LTE support and a SIM tray, the device is practically identical to the Surface 2 that launched in October.
In a statement, Panos Panay, corporate vice president of Microsoft Surface, boasted, that "all of the refinements that went into Surface 2 are here: the increased speed and battery life, the dual-position kickstand, Microsoft Office Home & Student 2013 RT and Outlook 2013 RT, the full HD screen, the upgraded front- and rear-facing cameras and full-size USB 3.0 port, just to name a few." Buyers are also entitled to 200GB of OneDrive cloud storage for two years at no additional cost.
Despite the new wireless broadband option, Microsoft's tablet faces an uphill battle in dethroning Apple's iPad as the king of computing slates.
Apple's iPad led the commercial tablet market in 2013, according to NPD's research. Through November 2013, Apple claimed 59 percent of tablet sales volume on the strength of its iPad offerings, which were refreshed last year.
Microsoft must also contend with a growing legion of Android tablets. Sales of tablets based on Google's mobile operating system grew more than 160 percent over 2012's figures, said NPD. By nabbing 62 percent of the worldwide tablet market, Android emerged as the top tablet operating system in 2013, reported Gartner.