With Windows 10 and Surface, Microsoft is (finally) making real consumer gains

Microsoft Surface logo
Microsoft Surface logo (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

In the Windows and Microsoft enthusiast community, there is constant tension. Some believe Surface, Xbox, and Windows 10 reveal the best of what the company has for consumers, while the fates of Windows Phone, Band, and Groove portray a failing company that has its head stuck in the (intelligent) clouds.

The truth lays somewhere in between.

There is no hiding the fact that Microsoft has had some massive failures over the last few years, with mobile being the most damaging. But when you ask non-Microsoft fans about what they see, they tend to be impressed. (See tech journalist Owen Williams's excellent article "The Surface Book 2 is everything the MacBook Pro should be", for example.)

Over the last few months, though, the company appears to have shifted again, and it seems to be moving towards the consumer space. Again. Of course, many at Microsoft would say that they never were pulling away from consumers. But recent shifts and updates make clear it that non-business personal computing is still a focus.

Surface, Surface, Surface

Ever since the Surface Pro premiered six years ago, many have been calling for or predicting that Microsoft would not continue to make PC hardware.

As recently as October of 2017, The Register ran an article citing industry insiders and executives with the headline "2019: The year that Microsoft quits Surface hardware". Since then, the Surface Book 2 came to market and Surface Hub 2 was announced.

There is also speculation that a smaller, 10-inch Surface is returning to the lineup along with Surface Studio 2, a new Surface Pro in 2019, and, of course, Project Andromeda, which we still hear will arrive in 2018.

Everything we know about upcoming Microsoft Surface and Xbox hardware

If all those pan out, Microsoft would have Surface, Surface Pro, Surface Laptop, Surface Book, Surface Studio, Surface Hub and whatever Andromeda is called for seven lines of PCs running Windows 10. That doesn't even include all the different configuration SKUs and technically two Surface Book 2 models. (We could put Surface Hub to the side as that is a purse business play at this point, but the concept for consumers endures).

Toss in Xbox One X – designed along with the Surface team – and it is hard to even entertain that Microsoft is pulling out of making its own PC and gaming hardware.

Microsoft Store is getting better

Microsoft finally seems to be taking its Store seriously, too. The Microsoft Store has gone from a stagnant app and game repository to something much more. For example:

However, there is still too much "U.S.-only" going on with the Store, and many users don't have access to these features. But at the very least, it is hard to believe that Microsoft is not putting more effort toward making the Microsoft Store a more exciting place.

The Microsoft Store is finally becoming what it should have been five years ago. Microsoft should be criticized for taking so long, but that misses the point: Microsoft could just as quickly let the Store die, give up, and move on if it was not serious about the consumer market.

The exact opposite is happening. At a fast pace. Finally.

App development is improving

Another interesting change is with app development. Things like Microsoft To-Do, which has languished in development hell, is now getting frequent updates with new features like a dark theme, tags, list sharing, and Fluent design.

Even Skype, everyone's favorite app to hate, is getting a redesign for Windows 10 built on React Native and the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) – and so far, it's excellent. There's that Twitter PWA, which is so good I use it as my only Twitter app across all my devices. And the app-formerly-known-as MSN News is being refreshed with Fluent Design and a new name despite earlier reports that inbox apps were "winding down".

Gaming on PC is still a huge focus, with Xbox head Phil Spencer recently noting that the Xbox app for Windows is being reworked to focus more on PC gamers.

Next to Skype, Microsoft's Cortana is the next favorite app that people are expecting Microsoft to kill. In 2018, we have seen it go to Microsoft's Launcher for Android, Edge for Android, Outlook on iOS, and in Redstone 4 and Redstone 5 the features spread through the OS. These are the beginnings of weaving Cortana throughout apps and Windows 10, plus there is the future Cortana-Amazon Alexa partnership.

And Microsoft is doing a ton of work on consumer services and apps on Android and iOS.

But is it all good enough?

Whether you think Microsoft is doing enough in the consumer space with hardware, or even Windows 10, is up to you. All companies can always do more. But something has changed, and it's for the better.

Much of this is driven by behind-the-scenes changes coming to Windows 10, like more of a push for Windows in S-mode and later Windows Core OS. There's also Windows 10 on ARM, like Snapdragon 850 and now Snapdragon 1000, which has seen a lot of momentum in recent months (despite barely few devices on the market). Likewise, maybe some of this is because Microsoft's Joe Belfiore, who always seemed to get Microsoft enthusiasts, is now heading up a lot of Windows 10 consumer initiatives. Combined all that with new Surface hardware, which will be very consumer-focused, and Microsoft's whole "retrenched" thing seems to have been accurate.

Microsoft finally appears to be emerging from its consumer cocoon.

Daniel Rubino
Editor-in-chief

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been here covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics and ran the projectors at movie theaters, which has done absolutely nothing for his career.

152 Comments
  • To add some perspective here, what I am not saying is everything that Microsoft doing in this space is perfect, or a paved road to success. However, with all the negative feelings from ex-Windows Phone users, I think it's important to also notice where Windows and its ecosystem is still growing. Progress is progress - that's where I ask myself Are things better with Windows 10 on PC than last year? For me, it's yes. The Store has always been, let's just say, less than adequate. However, now, it's starting to feel full-fledged (at least in the U.S.). I think the push here to expand it with all of these different features and categories is deliberate - Spencer even said as much last summer on PC gaming in the Store. I think by the fall (and even in the coming weeks) we'll see some movement in the consumer space. Sure, there's miles and miles to go for Microsoft, but I'd rather report on new Store features and new rumored Surfaces, then not. Do you think Belfiore and co. are turning things around?
  • I'd say I'm cautiously optimistic. There have been setbacks (mobile, wearables, music streaming, etc.). While there have certainly been steps forward (improvements to the Store), alluded to steps forward (a yet to be seen update to the Xbox app), and rumored steps forward (Andromeda), they don't fully make up the ground. However, these steps do tell a different story than what I think many were seeing in 2016-2017 when we saw products and services going away. That's encouraging.
  • Yeah, definitely agree there about these don't make up ground for those, at least not yet. In fact, we won't have a better idea until probably Spring 2019 - many months after some of these devices and RS5 has hit the market. Even then, there's still Polaris (late 2019?), new HoloLens, build up towards new Xbox (2020), and beyond. The roadmap is ambitious. I guess I just find it funny that by this time next year we may have at least seven separate lines of Surface devices. That's kinda crazy.
  • 1. Surface (mini or whatever)
    2. Surface Pro
    3. Surface Book
    4. Surface Laptop
    5. Surface Studio
    6. Surface Hub
    7. Surface courier?
  • A much less america first, rest of the world (maybe, eventually, you never know) later attitude would not hurt Microsoft either. It's undeniable that Microsoft seems to be targeting the us primarily and the rest of the world, well... not. Cortana is the most prominent example of this, where something introduced with much fanfare utterly failed everywhere on the world except the us. Now you point to the Store and also point out "at least in the us". That attitude to get it all spick and span for only america is a huge big finger to the rest of the world
  • If they can't convince America, what is the chance anyone else will listen? Until they have a great product with more than just potential, expanding doesn't make much sense.
  • What's ironic, it was the rest of the world that garnered the most Windows Phone/Mobile support. I can understand why people in other countries have been so frustrated with MS. They have been the lead supporters, but got kicked off the edge Leonidas style.
  • Windows Phone had some kind of successful markets with around 15% in Italy, for example. Your argument is kind of wrong...
  • Hi! Do you think there is some chances to see the full 64bit Office 2019 suite (365 ) to hit the store?
    Thanks :)
  • Here in Brazil, the Microsoft Store is showing signs of progress too. Not long ago was a barren wasteland.
  • Yep. All in good time for Andromeda, and that's going to bolster Windows 10 development as a whole considering CoreOS is taking part in it.
  • This is all nice flowery language. However, I am VERY skeptical. I bought a Mixed Reality headset as it was coming to Xbox; dead. I bought an Xbox One X because it was the ultimate; sure it has more improved graphics but what else did I get for $500? And of course now it's just sitting there cause the new Xbox is coming out in a year or two.. but this was supposed to be the ultimate? And its hardware is still severely underutilized. I built a new Ryzen 2600 based PC. GTX 1060 6GB, 16GB RAM, 500GB m.2 storage. Windows 10 runs excellent on it, no doubt. Plug in the Mixed Reality headset and go on SteamVR? Mixed Reality games have a 50% chance of being totally broken, and the ones that work are really simple. Anything having to do with standing, shooting or moving a lot results in your "hands" flying off into the middle of nowhere. It's maybe the developers, however I think it's more Microsoft. The actual Windows Store mixed reality selection is laughable. I appreciate a positive spin on everything wrong. However you are missing the forest for the trees. You have on rose tinted glasses. Microsoft has not completed a single damn project in *YEARS* that they have promised. Dumping Mobile was silly no matter if they had an install base of 10 or 10's of millions. They are a monstorous company... they couldn't port apps *themselves* with PWA or something like that? No of course not. They let developers who hate Microsoft on principle decide … Microsoft's management may be financially successful but make no mistake; the FANS, and the consumer are getting Apple Taxed for decent stuff like Surface and ignored for everything else.
  • "This is all nice flowery language. "
    What flowery language? I cited real examples. Meanwhile, your comment is littered with idioms "you are missing the forest for the trees. You have on rose tinted glasses", which is definitely, ahem, flowery. Your comment is more a grudge/personal experience. That's fine, I'm not even dismissing your concerns as nowhere do I say or imply everything is great, or there's no need for improvement. I guess I just don't see what's wrong of going "hey, these things are finally getting some attention they deserve, it's long overdue". I get comments are supposed to be littered with one long personal complaint as yours proves, but that's not what I'm interested in right now. Looking at this from another perspective: I see the most positive things about Microsoft coming from Apple and even Android users. The people who think that Microsoft is the worse are just ex-Windows Phone fans aka the tiny, but loud, minority. There's already plenty of constant negativity in this world. I don't want to be a part of it. Not sorry.
  • Right On Daniel! In fact just last Friday, I died and my cold dead hands were pried open and the devil took my HP X3 Elite... in fact I wrote about (I kid thee not...) my wonderful experience going over to Android and the GREAT experience Microsoft has brought to the Android table. https://msftman.wordpress.com/2018/06/25/reluctance-revelations-realizat...
  • Wait, you died? So you're speaking - really, typing - from the afterlife? 🤨😂
  • Just as in the expression I've used many times in regard to my devotion and love of Windows Phones, "You'd have to pry it from my cold dead hands!"
  • You must have really lowered your standards if you're contending the experience Microsoft brings to Android is remotely "great". I have a device that I've tried everything people like Paul Thurrott and others have suggested to MAKE it an experience that's a great as on Windows. It's impossible.
  • Just dump the Microsoft services. There are much better options for most everything.
  • I have yet to find anything redeeming about Android, and even less so with Apple.
  • Haven't lowered my standards at all, here's the facts; Windows Phone is at EoL, there are ONLY two other players iOS and Android, The way the Microsoft Apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Office Lens) work by themselves on my Android device and integrate with my Windows 10 PC and OneDrive is pretty damn impressive. Is it the same as a WP experience... hell no! But since we don't have WP, this is GREAT! Microsoft has done a good job (imo) at making the Office 365 experience available on the only TWO mobile phone OS's left, I can't speak for the iOS, but the Android experience is good.
  • Great comment! I'd prefer to still be using my 950XL, but alas I can't do that. (It still works, but my employer won't let me access work stuff on it.) So, I've happily Microsofted my Nokia 6.1. Launcher is a great app and the integration between the MS apps on my phone and my work and personal PC devices is first rate. Those who complain about this approach are in denial and those who knock the MS apps on Android just flat out don't know what they're talking about.
  • My lineage is the same as yours, 950XL (vibrate went out on it) warrantied up to HP X3 Elite. Bought the Nokia 6.1 a week ago because HP started acting weird an well the time for it is near anyway. Like you, all Microsoftified! The Nokia 6.1 at that price with the build quality and Android One is hard to beat.
  • Lol my work is iPhone... Can't wait for Andromeda so i won't need to carry the iPhone for mobile apps anymore, just use it like my work laptop, everything available on laptop
  • That's exactly how I feel about my (android) work phone!
  • Hahahahaha, you bought a computer thingy and thought it was the ultimate and last, be all to end all thingy, hahahahaahaha
  • Wait so you're complaining that the Xbox One-X does exactly what they said it would do and doesn't work with hardware they never said it would? Nice.
  • Better advertising in the UK, and more 4k content for UK users would be a great start. The xbox advertising team need kicked in the nuts, really make good adverts featuring games are best on the x and then show of the multimedia side of it. Make things exciting not so Microsoft boring. Their current adverts in the uk are pathetic and will not tempt younger users in anyway.
  • You have Microsoft adverts in the UK? The only time I see Microsoft adverts are when the Xbox logo shows up on game commercials or inside PC stores (you know, brick and mortar ones) Outside of that, nothing here in the Netherlands
  • I mean, I'm not sure what you think it's like here in the US. Sure, we have Game Stop and Best Buy who sell the Xbox, but it's not like wall-to-wall TV ads, billboards, etc. I haven't seen an Xbox-only TV ad in sometime. You see them during the holidays or when a new console launches e.g. One X, but that's it. They rely on game ads for most of the lifting. Sometimes I think non-US people believe in the US we're just showered in MS ads all day, lol, it's not.
  • When I was on vacation in the States last September, there was a Surface Laptop commercial in every second commercial break.
    So yeah, that's what I would call "being showered in MS ads".
  • Thanks for the article, Dan. It does seem there is a glimmer of hope for MS in the consumer space. You had mentioned the abysmal state of Microsoft services outside the US. I wonder if you or your staff could analyze this oversight further. What has MS or even other competing organizations done in the past when globalizing their products and services, and is this really different from what they have done before?
  • "What has MS or even other competing organizations done in the past when globalizing their products and services, and is this really different from what they have done before?"
    Thanks, and yeah, it's a great question. Hard to crack on, but will try to dig deeper on the sort of issues that come up to prevent these things from going wider faster.
  • To be fair, Nokia was the best at globalizing their software services, heck! even Here was better than Google maps at a point in India, but now I believe Google is doing an amazing job with the Indian market, and other markets too! But Microsoft does have an ambitious vision that I am crooning over! They are the company that makes me drool over products that are priced 2x over their competitors (Surface Pro with a similar config is 2x more than a MacBook Air with the same config). Obviously Surface is better, but not at 2x the price.
  • Unfortunately named "Here WeGo" (nee "Here Maps") is still head and shoulders above Google Maps outside of North America and (to some degree) Western Europe.
  • As a fellow Indian brother you've spoke my mind. I don't like Google but I hate to admit that they are doing a great job here in India.
  • For perspective, let me say that I've been burnt by several of Microsoft's dropped balls (looks over at HDDVD drive and broken MS Band). I've learned not to trust new projects from MS with them potentially going away. Still, I find they are doing remarkable things. Even with those soul crushing defeats, they keep swinging. I do admire that. The Xbox is one segment of the company that I think all divisions should be using as a standard. They stuck with it through thick and thin (think RROD as I sent back 3 boxes). My family and I have gotten significant entertainment value out of our Xbox spending. I love my Xbox One X. Sure, they'll come out with a new model at some point, but I will have gotten my moneys worth by then. Already have actually. Phil Spencer never seems to get too rattled. They guy is amazing and he genuinely seems to love the consumers. I think the company is trending in the right direction and I'm hopefully they are promoting people like Phil.
  • Major success despite what immature haters report...
    ......
    I'm telling you that I see TONS of Surface devices everyday at the airport. I'm talking real business people getting stuff done... That goes for Surface Pros, and Surface Books. It's quite amazing, and if it weren't for marketing this would not be happening.
  • That's an enterprise gain. Not a consumer gain.
  • Oh, I forgot those people using all those Surfaces were robots with only company issued devices.
    .....
    Enterprise consumers, are consumers, nonetheless.
  • By that very definition, all iOS and Android users are enterprise users, therefore, Apple and Google are the ones dominating the enterprise world instead of Microsoft.
  • Nice try, but your comment doesn't correlate with itself. Even if it did how is there being more iDroid users in enterprise even relevant to the discussion? Stay on topic, and stop fishing for points.
  • You should stay on topic and stop smoking whatever fanboy crap you are on. His point was valid, but desperate delusional fanbabies like you will always argue.
  • Surface doesn't sell that well. You do see them around airports and coffee shops, but that hasn't really driven impressive sales numbers. It certainly isn't enough to get developers attention, likely not even breaking a million units per quarter. What Android sells in hours.
  • "That's an enterprise gain. Not a consumer gain."
    Surfaces are far from a pure enterprise play. If you want enterprise and business you get an Dell Latitude 7490, or an HP ProBook, or Lenovo ThinkPad 480. Those are what are deployed in business because they're cheap, configurable, upgradable, and rugged as hell. Those companies also have global presence with on-site, next-day support. Microsoft cannot match that because it's what HP/Dell/Lenovo do. Surfaces are reserved for executives and hit EliteBook 1000, or ThinkPad X1 lines. But those are much smaller deployments. No IT department is like "50 Surface Book 2's for the staff!" This is just economics and knowledge of IT and anyone in that business will tell you that. IT and enterprise is a numbers game, not a halo-device that costs $2K one. No, the people who buy Surfaces tend to be professionals: artists, engineers, scientists, creators, photographers, bloggers, media, students, the exact opposite of the suit-types in enterprise. Surface is a device for professionals, not enterprise. If you used an HP EliteBook and saw the security and BIOS protection software that came with it you'd see that.
  • I think the exact list of people you say are buying Surfaces (I'm assuming you're chiefly referring to the Pro, possibly also the Book) ARE the "suit-types in the enterprise". I say this because those are the people who becoming the movers and shakers IN successful enterprises...yes, even in government. As a long-time Surface Pro owner, I can confidently say IF I see someone carrying a device other than their smartphone--counting myself as the outlier--they will either be carrying an iPad (consumers) or a Surface/Surface-like device (for work). That's what I see where I work and in my community. In my workplace and in other work places I deal with you can't distinguish the "professionals, artists, engineers, scientists, etc." from they place they work. But even THAT is changing. iPhones are handed out to our division chiefs and iPads are being used for managing tech manuals for aircraft or handling customer traffic or developing marketing products. I think we are watching the erosion of their hold on the enterprise with their de-emphasizing of Windows and focus more on Azure and Office. I think we're seeing them "trying things out" in a number of arenas to see if they can get traction in any of them.
  • Well, I can tell you that at the location I work I'm one of two people who use a Surface Pro (non-issued) during the day. I know of about 14 people who are using their own iPads in the same fashion. Overwhelmingly, though, they're using either an Android phone (majority) or iPhone.
  • I work in an organisation of 6000+ employees and as of the last year or so they've switched to surface pros over laptops and iPads for staff that require mobility between offices. Surprised the hell out of me as we're traditionally a slow cautious adopter of technology, but something happened as they're everywhere now. It's to the point where a lot of our 'hot desk' areas have surface docs installed. Interested to see where this goes but we generally enter into multi year procurement arrangements.
  • They are not turning it around and I don't think they want to, they have settled with what they know best the enterprise market... They have a consumer presence in the gaming world both on PC and Xbox... Windows as a consumer platform is finished... We've all jumped ship and they encouraged us to go...
  • Could you at least then address why all the consumer-y stuff they have done to the Store in the last 6 months that I cite in the article? Why do that at all? Why release even more Surface devices and PCs? What else would the rumored 10-inch Surface be for if not consumers?
  • Small businesses? :D
  • Small business and FLW are always a part of the conversation when it comes to light computing. Same with education and elementary schools. But the idea that the rumored return of Surface 10-inch is driven by "small business" is a bit hilarious imo.
  • You could say that :D
  • It was also not a serious reply :)
  • I would argue this still shows Microsoft is grasping. It wouldn't be the first time Microsoft has done things more to hide what's really going on, only to admit, "aw, sorry, we just feel we need to go a different direction". I don't see the "consumery" stuff as anything to place any confidence in. Clearly you do, and that's fine. I'm not saying Microsoft hasn't done anything that I like--heck, I'm sticking with them even still. But for every good thing they've done, I can pick out two things I think were stupid or certainly not confidence-building. And I think there are somethings you might consider consumer-focused that I don't.
  • I'm disappointed in how Windows phone turned out, but in a way I don't really see how it could have gone differently. Maybe they could have squeezed a few more viable years out of the OS for the fans, but as things are, with a very saturated phone market full of some truly excellent devices (loving my Pixel 2), I don't think in the long run they could have gained much traction by putting out similar hardware but with Windows software. I'm pleased to see that they're starting to polish what they already do well, and with new hardware categories possible with evolving processors, maybe this time they'll be in a better position to capitalize on something unique. They've shown themselves very invested in the Surface line and I would certainly be willing to invest further in it myself if they expanded it to the mobile phone (ish) category with Andromeda.
  • > Even Skype, everyone's favorite app to hate, is getting a redesign for Windows 10 built on React Native and the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) – and so far, it's excellent. For me, in the last 4-6 months Skype (as in service, not application) was deteriorating severely: dropped voice calls, undelivered messages (with no indication to the sender), lack of synchronization between audio and video. This is across W10, macOS, iOS and Android. Most of my Skype contacts are elderly, if I have to train them to use different interface, I will use this pain to switch them to something else. > Next to Skype, Microsoft's Cortana is the next favorite app that people are expecting Microsoft to kill.
    There are two of those on Android (standalone and part of Microsoft Launcher). Hopefully, Microsoft would kill one of those.
  • "There are two of those on Android (standalone and part of Microsoft Launcher). Hopefully, Microsoft would kill one of those."
    But why? Some don't want Microsoft Launcher, so they can still have Cortana. Some want to use Launcher, but not have a separate app for Cortana. It's about choice and meeting the customer where they want to be, not forcing them to be where you want them.
  • > But why?
    Wrong choice of words on my part: I guess, "unify" would have been better. Right now, for example, you can set default map application in one but not the other. There are other differences not (obviously) related to the packaging.
  • Oh, true. I spoke to MS about that and it's still and issue with teams. Launcher put in Cortana, but Launcher team is not on the Cortana team, hence different design language bits (which I wrote about) and functionality. They do need to get on the same page though.
  • Once again, it just shows that Microsoft can't be consistent in anything. You can't convince me having Cortana exist in two different forms on the same device makes any sense. And the experience of using Cortana in either app is inconsistent. Which is a bigger problem that they have with Cortana across the board. Microsoft is just doing everything half-way. They are directionless and they don't follow through. It's that simple.