Microsoft's Surface and AI event: A massive blunder and missed opportunity

Microsoft announces Copilot at Surface and AI event
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella takes the stage to talk about the future of AI. (Image credit: Future)

Yesterday, Microsoft held its special Surface and AI event in New York City, inviting media and influencers worldwide to see them announce big new things on stage. However, most of the announcements made during the event weren’t significant at all. Much of the “announcements” were a rehash of features already announced.

And for the actual new stuff, much of it fell flat. The keynote opened with the announcement that Microsoft’s many Copilots, announced throughout the year, were being rebranded as a single “Copilot.” I’m not kidding. Microsoft invited people worldwide to tell them that Windows Copilot is now just Copilot.

It did get a fancy new logo, but all of the functionality demoed was stuff we already knew Microsoft’s chatbot could do. Features such as controlling system settings and integrating third-party apps were already announced in May. Nothing about the Microsoft Copilot is new from a functional perspective.

Microsoft's Yusuf Mehdi takes the stage to talk about Copilot in NYC on September 21, 2023. (Image credit: Future)

Microsoft's sneaky Windows 11 updates

Microsoft then went on to announce the next big Windows 11 update, which, up until now, was being tested as the Windows 11 23H2 release. However, Microsoft didn’t announce Windows 11 23H2 during the event. Instead, it announced another moment update coming to Windows 11 version 22H2, which just so happens to include most (if not all) of the 23H2 features. 

What the heck?

I have asked some sources about this, and it looks like Microsoft has decided to ship many of 23H2’s new features as part of a 22H2 moment update instead. The reason for this? Moment updates are not optional. The annual XXH2 release is always optional, so you don’t have to install it as an end-user if you don’t want to.

Microsoft is shipping the fall update as a 'moment,' so you can't skip the new Copilot feature.

If Microsoft kept all the new features exclusive to 23H2, users could just say no and not get Copilot. Of course, Microsoft doesn’t want this, so it’s shipping it in a Moment update instead first, so you can’t avoid it. The 23H2 release is still planned for this fall and will primarily serve as a support cycle clock reset and jumping on point for OEMs and enterprises to preload onto new hardware.

Microsoft 365: Just a rehash of old news?

Moving on, Microsoft also announced some Microsoft 365 and Bing Chat features for enterprises, all of which were a rehash of previous announcements. Microsoft 365 Chat was unveiled in March and is functionally identical, but now has a new name. Microsoft 365 Copilot (which is now just Microsoft Copilot? Microsoft is inconsistent about this) finally got a release date for enterprises: November 1. Worthy of an event? Meh.

Microsoft also discussed Designer and Bing Image Creator getting a DALL-E 3 upgrade under the hood. That’s good to see, but is it worthy of an event?

With no Panay to present and a weak lineup Microsoft's hardware has been boring this year. (Image credit: Future)

Microsoft's major 2023 Surface flub

Lastly, we have the Surface stuff, which might be the worst Surface event to date. Microsoft unveiled just two products on stage, even though it’s launching four this fall. Microsoft spent 10 minutes talking about the Surface Laptop Go 3, which is identical to the first two but now has an outdated Intel 12th-Gen processor and 8GB RAM, for a higher $799 starting price. Remember when Surface Laptop Go was $549?

Then, we had the Surface Laptop Studio 2, which really is a significant upgrade. It has more ports, a powerful Intel processor and NVIDIA GPU, a dedicated NPU for Windows AI features, and a new haptic touchpad. It’s a neat upgrade and worthy of some time on stage.

But it’s what wasn’t announced that makes this Surface segment so disappointing.

The Surface Go 4 and Surface Hub 3 weren’t even mentioned on stage, likely because they are commercial-only products. The Surface Hub I get, but why is the Surface Go commercial only? I would love to buy one as a consumer, but Microsoft doesn’t care.

It’s that experimental stuff that makes Surface exciting!

This is all overshadowed by the fact that Panos Panay is leaving Microsoft, and by the sounds of it, not on entirely good terms. Panay reportedly decided to leave after cutbacks and leadership decisions, which led to Microsoft being unable to ship new Surface form factors. Now, Microsoft wants Surface to focus only on its core products, not the experimental stuff.

But it’s that experimental stuff that makes Surface exciting, and without it, I’m not sure what any of us are doing spending time on Surface hardware. You can almost always find a better PC for less money, with similar or better build quality from HP, Dell, and Lenovo. The only things that make Surface a viable brand are the experimental form factors and unique devices you can't find anywhere else.

(Image credit: Windows Central)

Microsoft's disappointing trail: Heading into 2024 with letdowns

Overall, Microsoft’s special event was a big miss, in my opinion. The company clearly thought it had some exciting stuff to talk about… but none of it was exciting. Microsoft Copilot was exciting 7 months ago when it was first unveiled as Bing Chat. But we’re over it now, Microsoft. Let’s see some progress, and we don’t need a rehash of the same thing we saw 7 months ago.

And for the hardware? This fall’s lineup is disappointing. 2023 is the first time Microsoft didn’t ship new Surface hardware in the spring, and the lineup this fall consists of just two consumer-facing products, one of which is $799 and doesn’t even have a backlit keyboard.

This event should have been a forward-looking moment for the company. It’s already unveiled Microsoft Copilot, and now it needs to show us why Microsoft Copilot is something we’re going to want to use day-to-day. I’ve had Copilot sitting in my Taskbar since it went into preview a few months ago, and I’ve opened it maybe 5 times at most. I just don’t need it, and I think most people feel the same.

Microsoft should have teased the next version of Windows, which we know will be enthused with AI in much more meaningful ways. This would help build up a lot of hype for Microsoft’s continued AI efforts and keep them in the news longer as we lead into 2024.

Of course, for long-time Microsoft followers, unfortunately, this week's news is all familiar territory and likely unsurprising.

Anyway, let me know in the comments if you agree or disagree, as well as your predictions for Microsoft in 2024 (especially around Surface).

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter and Threads

  • Iamdumbguy
    Some of the AI demos seemed impressive, but they are completely manufactured. Almost nothing shown was real-time. There's NO WAY it works like they showed. And people will get that the first time they use it.
  • spicypadthai
    Agreed, total snooze fest, and it's sad that in the last 12+ months, Microsoft lost whatever soul it had remaining after doing a pretty good job reclaiming a chunk of it the prior 10 years. While understandable, after all, shareholders don't care about anything except the financial bottom line, it's still disappointing.
  • naddy69
    "With Surface declining and a tricky Windows 11 update, Microsoft's speical event was anything but."

    Apparently the spell check in Windows 11 is not too special either. :)

    But this is really bad timing. A "Surface Event" after it became clear Surface was being cut back AND the former head of Surface suddenly leaving.

    I would ordinarily say at this point that 2024 can't get worse, but...
  • davepete
    This consumer would have loved a new Surface with Nuvia Oryon chips, but I'm guessing Qualcomm's designs are still sluggish in comparison to Apple's. Maybe they're switching to RISC-V and starting over.
  • Jcmg62
    2019. That was the last time Microsoft had a good hardware launch.

    Microsoft have struggled to define themselves for over 15 years. They're like a nerdy IBM that wants to hang out with the cool Apple gang.

    They never recovered from missing the start of the mobile race.

    They had the tools, the software, the hardware and the cash to absolutely own the smartphone market. But either arrogance, ignorance or just plain lack of foresight cost them their share.

    They'll never get that time back, and it'll be a long time before another technological revolution similar to the smartphone comes around. AR isn't it. VR isn't it. Wearables aren't it. And laptops/tablets aren't it.

    Microsoft will forever be judged as that company that scoffed at the iPhone, because they were simply too dumb to know what they were looking at.
  • Christian Jesperson
    I think Microsoft has lived up to its name. Flaccid.
    I say this as a multi-Windows Phone owner (Lumia 920, 640, and 1520 as well as 950xl), 2 time Surface Duo purchaser, and a former Surface RT, and Surface Pro 3 owner as well as a former Microsoft employee at the first Store in Scottsdale.

    They didn't listen to my ideas about having a better "Geek Squad-like" "Tech Advisor" external tech mobile business arm that focused purely on Microsoft devices and software, as that was in high demand in retire-land Scottsdale. They only listened to and promoted internal butt kissers and lacked true vision, so I lost all interest in that company and decided to pursue my own journey.

    Better off now and good riddance. Sadly, I'm still an investor, so I hope they will pull something out of their ass eventually: and I don't mean their idea of a crypto-currency mining system powered by biological human movement #060606 Patent to promote better health and turn us into cattle.
  • naddy69
    "Microsoft will forever be judged as that company that scoffed at the iPhone, because they were simply too dumb to know what they were looking at."


    "They'll never get that time back, and it'll be a long time before another technological revolution similar to the smartphone comes around. AR isn't it. VR isn't it. Wearables aren't it. And laptops/tablets aren't it. "

    And it's a safe bet that if/when the next technological revolution comes, MS will STILL be trying to force desktop Windows into it. Because square pegs fit so nicely into round holes.
  • Jeffery L
    I totally don't get why the Surface Go 4 is commercial only. The Surface Go's form factor best facilitates using Windows as a tablet better than any other Surface, and better than any other device on the market. When I learned Surface Go 4 was going to be commercial only, I looked to see what other devices on the market were like the Surface Go. I'm looking for 11" or less screen and something that weighs around a pound. I couldn't find anything. I know there is the Surface Pro 9, but I think the Surface Pro 9 is just a bit too big and heavy to make a good tablet. The same with the 2-in-1 laptop market; they are too heavy to make a good tablet. Windows is vastly superior to iPadOS for productive workflows. I can hook up two 2K monitors to my existing Surface Go and get a full desktop experience; plus I don't have to jump through hoops to move files in and out of apps from my OneDrive. I just don't get why Microsoft doesn't really push Windows as a tablet. The Surface Go is hyper portable and can be a full desktop with connected peripherals. And finally, they put a decent chip in the Surface Go and then sell it only to commercial market??? The Surface Go is sooo cool and they are burying it. And to all the device reviewers (Zac not included in this group) that compare Surface Go (which is small and cheap) to high end laptops and say it doesn't have good performance, those reviewers are dumb. They miss the form factor advantage of small and light.
  • Iamdumbguy
    davepete said:
    This consumer would have loved a new Surface with Nuvia Oryon chips, but I'm guessing Qualcomm's designs are still sluggish in comparison to Apple's. Maybe they're switching to RISC-V and starting over.
    I don't think any major mfg is going to seriously take up RISC-V. It's as much of a boondoggle as ReactOS was. I believe the core designs are all from ARM. What Apple, Qualcomm, Samsung, Mediatek, etc do is package (and tweak) those cores with other elements into a system on a chip. I think Apple might make their own GPU chips. Also, a lot of the Apple performance has to do with software. APIs like Metal and UIKit were created specifically for these kinds of chips while MS has been sitting on ancient APIs and relying on the .NET runtime that sits on top of Windows.
  • Arun Topez
    I agree with everything said, Zac! 👏
    Worst Microsoft event to date. Microsoft has officially lost what their fans truly loved about them, at least with regards to Surface and Windows.

    The other confusing this is WHO is this event for? It used to be a consumer event, then a mixed event, then business with a hint of consumer, and this event also was primarily business with an even smaller hint of consumer.... yet they couldn't even mention the Go or Hub? And the 2 devices they DID announce, barely got any time - and the guy who presented it was the complete opposite of Panos, he didn't even seem interested.

    Microsoft has become exactly what they're pushing for with AI - Artificial and Lifeless. And on brand, they kill everything we love about the company.

    Time to start looking at alternatives. Apple may have boring devices and events, but they at least have their crap together and ensure their customers are happy.