Microsoft held its "special" event for Surface and AI this week. The company told people to keep their eyes out for big announcements. My eyes are still looking, as I imagine so are many sets of eyes from Surface enthusiast. This week's showcase gave us little to be excited about from Microsoft's hardware division. In fact, it was so lackluster that it's easy to see why Panos Panay left the company.
It's easy to write an editorial when you're angry. Passion flows from you through a keyboard. It's difficult to write when you're apathetic. That's how I am right now. I can't even muster outrage over the dull and disappointing presentation Microsoft didn't even both to live stream.
What's Surface without experimentation?
Panay's departure from Microsoft seemed abrupt, but as more details come into focus, it's not surprising. This week, a report revealed that Panay left his role as EVP of Experiences & Devices due to cutbacks, layoffs, and device cancelations. Microsoft reportedly plans to ditch its efforts to make niche or experimental hardware.
The tech giant once planned to release a new generation of Surface Headphones, but those are no longer on the way. Our Senior Editor Zac Bowden detailed that a Surface Studio All-in-One was in the works at one point, but that it also won't see the light of day. A new Surface Duo has been axed as well. Bowden explained that Microsoft has "no plans to ship a new version of either product line for the foreseeable future."
Instead, Microsoft plans to focus on Surface Pro, Surface Laptop, Surface Laptop Go, Surface Laptop Studio, Surface Hub, and Surface Go. Those are all lovely devices. I'm sure the Surface Laptop Studio 2, Surface Laptop Go 3, and Surface Go 4 will be solid devices for what they are, but they aren't exciting.
One of the primary purposes of Surface is to innovate, to push OEMs to create new devices. Microsoft would show a new idea or showcase a form factor with a device and then companies like HP, Lenovo, and Razer would follow. I question if that's still a goal of Microsoft's when it comes to Surface. Panay, who was as passionate about niche devices and experimenting as anyone, leaving the company suggests that's the case.
Surface has served its purpose
In our Surface Pro 9 review, Bowden called the device "a decade of form factor perfection." I fully agree with his claim, and he does an excellent job illustrating the strength of the 2-in-1 in his review.
When Microsoft introduced the first Surface Pro, the PC space was drastically different than it is now. Microsoft burst onto the scene with a 2-in-1 featuring a detachable keyboard and a kickstand, memes be damned. After a few generations, the Surface Pro lineup hit its stride. Later, the device led to emulation by Dell, Apple, and many other companies.
The Surface Pro lineup is probably the best example of a Surface device doing its job. Surface hardware doesn't always introduce a new form factor, but it often does. Even when it doesn't, Surface devices generally do something different than most of their competitors. Look no further than the Surface Book's detachable display or the Surface Duo's screens for evidence of Microsoft pushing limits.
Experimental devices don't always work out. For example, Microsoft shifted away from the Surface Book's design to the Surface Laptop Studio. While the latter still isn't a traditional laptop, it is less out there than the book. But there was a time when that was okay. Microsoft could try something with Surface and spark passion among creators or other PC makers. Those days may be over.
What's a computer?
Many of us mocked Apple's "what's a computer" advertisements a few years ago, and rightfully so. That question would have been better posed in a Surface ad. The history of Surface includes detachable screens, foldable phones, and moveable All-in-Ones. Now, Microsoft appears content to crank out overpriced PCs with older specs.
Without looking, can you even name all the devices Microsoft announced yesterday? Heck, two of them weren't even unveiled during the event! The Surface Go 4 for Business and Surface Hub 3 were announced basically as footnotes on a Microsoft page summarizing this week's news. When that page went live, there wasn't even a post about the Surface Hub 3, just a video.
Before this week's event, I worked on a piece titled "Surface has run its course. It's time for Microsoft to move on." I didn't publish it, however, as I wanted to see if any announcements from the Surface and AI event changed my mind. To the contrary, the presentation solidified that the Surface that turned heads for over a decade is dead.
Maybe that was the plan all along? Microsoft wanted to push OEMs to make unique PCs, and we see that regularly now. The newly announced HP Spectre Foldable is just of many PCs pushing the boundaries of computing. The Legion Go and ROG Ally are also the types of devices I imagine Microsoft wants to see on the market. Now, companies make those, and Microsoft doesn't need to invest time and money into R&D.
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Sean Endicott brings nearly a decade of experience covering Microsoft and Windows news to Windows Central. He joined our team in 2017 as an app reviewer and now heads up our day-to-day news coverage. If you have a news tip or an app to review, hit him up at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I 100% agree with this article. It's a shame, imo, as Surface risks into unique designs / form factors are what really made it special.Reply
I simply wish they would've simplified their naming - Surface, Surface Pro, Surface Book, Surface Book Pro, Surface Studio, Surface Studio Pro, Surface Hub - partner and/or purchase Sonos, provided better support around those devices, continued innovation, and used more current or upcoming technology to justify the high cost.
Now, as noted, it seems like that's all coming to an end and us consumers will be left with little excitement with devices. But I'm hopeful that somehow, this may allow them to really perfect what they have and innovate again down the road.
Panos was pumped releasing the same Surface Pro (with a new Intel processor) again and again. He was pumped when they released the Surface Book 3 times with tablet disconnect firmware that never worked right. He was pumped when they put three year old processors in a $5000 desktop.
And he was pumped releasing two dead on arrival phones that he knew MS was never going to develop software for.
I agree that they should innovate. Remember how Paul Thurrott and others lambasted the Surface Pro line, saying things like people want real laptops and that the Surface laptop would be Microsoft's bestseller. later to walk it back when the Surface Pro line continues to do very well compared to the Surface Laptop. Then again, products do have to sell. Apple and Google walk back items that don't sell, falling back to their bread and butter.Reply
You mentioned the Lenovo Legion in the article, but that's not going to sell well (though I do find it cool). It is a spiritual brother to the Surface Pro in that it has a kickstand. Even though the Legion is a better value compared to my Asus ROG Ally, the issue I have with it is it's so friggin big and heavy. I already thought the Steam Deck was too bulky and that the Asus was closer to the my ideal size (even though that itself is bordering on too heavy).
Remember like 10-12 years ago, when MS was really trying to innovate, pushing boundaries, huge event's to show things off like Hololens, new phones, Cortana, Kinect, so on. I was so excited about the future they were building. Then slowly someone, not mentioning names, thought they should just put all their eggs in the cloud. The future I wanted to see slowly started slipping away at that point.Reply
So much potential. So much squandered.
They'll have the greatest cloud that no one can access because the world will move on to Mobile while Microsoft is still pushing desktop.Cmndr_Bytes said:Remember like 10-12 years ago, when MS was really trying to innovate, pushing boundaries, huge event's to show things off like Hololens, new phones, Cortana, Kinect, so on. I was so excited about the future they were building. Then slowly someone, not mentioning names, thought they should just put all their eggs in the cloud. The future I wanted to see slowly started slipping away at that point.
So much potential. So much squandered.
What does this mean? The cloud is not just file storage. It's databases, application servers, streaming frontends, storage, web servers, etc.taynjack said:They'll have the greatest cloud that no one can access because the world will move on to Mobile while Microsoft is still pushing desktop.