Microsoft targets Google and Apple in schools with ‘Surface Plus’ hardware subscription program

Microsoft’s Surface Laptop, with Windows 10 S, is available as part of the new Surface Plus subscription program, in addition to Surface Pro, Surface Book and Surface Studio. (Microsoft Photo)

Microsoft is launching a new subscription program for buying Surface computers and tablets in much the same way that many people now purchase smartphones, with no-interest financing for two years and the ability to upgrade to a new device before the term is up.

Announced this morning at the launch of back-to-school season, the initiative is part of a broader push by Microsoft to gain new momentum in U.S. schools, where Google Chromebooks have taken the lead vs. Microsoft and Apple.

Microsoft’s new subscription program, called Surface Plus, will be available starting later today through the Microsoft Store in person and online. Microsoft’s Surface Laptop, Surface Pro, Surface Book and Surface Studio are all options under the program. The program lets participants upgrade to a new machine after 18 months when they return their existing hardware in good condition.

The push to boost Surface adoption comes amid declining sales of Microsoft hardware for the past three quarters. Microsoft Surface revenue fell 2 percent in the latest quarter to $945 million, because of lower volumes sold, according to the company. The Surface Laptop launched two weeks before the quarter ended, minimizing the impact on the company’s quarterly results.

In addition to Surface Plus for students and consumers, Microsoft is offering a variation called Surface Plus for Business with the option to buy multiple machines under a single agreement, and the ability to finance a 55-inch Surface Hub as part of the agreement. The business version of the program also includes upgrade rights, with the timing of the upgrade depending on the length of the agreement.

The fine print: an interest rate of 19.99% kicks in after 24 months.

In addition to its own hardware, Microsoft announced several new third-party machines that will be available in the coming months pre-installed with Windows 10 S, the new, streamlined version of Windows for education. Microsoft said schools can begin to order Windows 10 S devices today.

The company also announced a new online series for educators, called Back to School Live, focusing on several Microsoft programs for schools.