Microsoft Surface Membership Plan Targets Businesses

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Microsoft has subtly launched a Surface Membership Program to let small businesses purchase devices on a payment plan.

Microsoft has quietly begun to offer a Surface Membership plan to small business customers. This gives organizations the option of financing new devices through a monthly payment plan.

The plan applies to current models of the Surface Book, Surface Pro 4, and Surface 3 hybrids. Subscribers can upgrade to new devices for free as Microsoft puts them on the market. This option is exclusive to business customers and not individuals, Thurrott.com reports.

Monthly fees vary depending on the type of plan you choose. Customers can select to spread their payments over 18, 24, or 30 months.

Prices for the Surface plan start at $32.99 per month for the Surface 3 device and Type Cover keyboard, for a 30-month plan. Higher-end devices cost more; for example, a Core i5 Surface Pro 4 with 8GB RAM and 256GB storage will cost $79.99 per month for a 24-month plan or $97.99 per month on an 18-month plan.

Surface Book is the most expensive device available. The cheapest model, which comes with a Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM, 128GB storage and no GPU, costs $80 per month for a 30-month plan. It's worth noting the Surface Pro 4 comes with a black Type Cover and pen, and the Surface Book also comes with a pen.

The application and financing for Surface Membership plans are handled by LiftForward.

In addition to new devices, subscribers have access to Microsoft support and services. The membership comes with 7-day phone and in-store tech support; one-on-one personal training; in-store discounts for future purchases on hardware, software, and more; and the Microsoft Complete for Business Extended Service Plan with Accidental Damage Protection.

It wouldn't be surprising to see more enterprise customers adopting hybrids like Microsoft's Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book. Two-in-one devices are growing in popularity as the PC market continues to shrink and tablet sales plummet.

Hybrid shipments grew a little over 13% during the first quarter of 2016, reported market research firm Canalys. Data from IDC reflects a similar pattern: detachables have seen triple-digit year-over-year growth and increased to 4.9 million units, which amounts to 12.4% of the market.

Microsoft's pricing strategy could easily appeal to small business customers seeking an affordable means of providing employees with the latest mobile PCs. The rise of hybrid devices will prove a concern to traditional PC makers going forward.

"The introduction of detachables from traditional smartphone vendors is only beginning, and poses a real threat to traditional PC manufacturers," Jean Philippe Bouchard, research director for tablets at IDC, wrote in the report.

How long will it be before Surface subscribers can access a new device? Sources are split. Some claim Microsoft will launch the Surface Book 2 and Surface Pro 5 later this year; others report we'll have to wait until 2017 for the upgraded hybrids.

The availability of Intel's upcoming 7th Generation i5 and i7 processors, or "Kaby Lake" chips, could be behind the delay of Surface Book. Analysts claim the Skylake processor is interfering with battery life, leading many users to complain about the device's lasting power.

Unfortunately, reports claim the Kaby Lake processor won't be ready until year's end. If that's the case, Surface Membership plan subscribers may be waiting until 2017 for new devices to launch.

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