The imminent arrival of Windows 8.1 will make the company's new tablet computing devices more usable. But Microsoft's hardware updates won't radically change the money-losing Surface proposition in a market that fails to see keyboards and me-too apps as a major differentiator. 

Its Not Pretty Beneath the Surface

This morning, Microsoft launches its second-generation tablet devices. There's no livestream, but most key details have leaked with similar styling, new Haswell and Tegra processors, updated Windows 8.1 and a new kickstand (whoo!) for broadly similar prices to the original models. So far, so dull, despite the original's pretty styling, and unless Microsoft pulls something stellar out of the bag, it could soon get a lot worse. 

Users don't need to be reminded, but the PC big boys still seem deaf to the concept that computing in all areas continues to rapidly evolve. Even cheap smartphones and tablets are now working devices, not just for communications or content consumption. Against this backdrop, we have Microsoft launching its upgraded computer/tablet Surface 2 (formerly RT) and Surface Pro 2 Windows 8.1 devices, with the same hefty Windows ecosystem proposition aimed at both consumers and business users in its slick, and often empty, Microsoft Stores.

Compare its approach to Tesco (a U.K. supermarket) that has launched its own tablet, the Hudl, a mid-level 7-inch Android tablet for £120 ($190). While its profit margins will be thin, potentially millions of buyers will be seeing them next to the weekly shopping as a handy second- or third-screen across thousands of outlets. Those users will find Tesco's own services installed, and can easily graduate to apps and other services.

With Kindle Fire HD pulling the same trick at Amazon's online store, and endless Android options, plus the iPad range (and if Apple can sell 9 million new iPhones in three days imagine what the upcoming iPad refresh will do), how is Microsoft supposed to compete, despite its keyboard and Office apps differentiation? 

Surface 2 and Pro 2 Feature List

The event has just concluded , here's what's new. Shown off was the new two-position kickstand which improves usability. The first new accessory is the Surface Power Cover that comes with a built-in 30wh battery offering more than double the life of the original. There's also Type Cover 2 which is thinner and backlit to make it better and easier to use.