A video producer was tasked with creating a sizzle reel to help introduce the new Surface tablet, which was hidden inside window-free rooms at Microsoft's headquarters. The kickstand, the ports, and the keyboard cover were all required to be filmed. He wanted to film the components individually so he began to disassemble the unit. It turned out to be a problem.
Ralf Groene, head of Windows and devices research and design, said in an interview that the bottom of the Surface RT batteries were glue on. He pierces the battery with a screwdriver, and it pops. There was a lot of smoke. The entire building was closed down.
The Surface lineup is 10 years old this month and Microsoft is releasing new PCs. The Surface Pro 9 looks a lot like the device that blew up in a secret room in Redmond in 2012 Apple's iPad is one of a lot of devices that look like that. The standard format for a 2-in-1 is now 10 years old, and it was an odd bet for Microsoft. Microsoft did a good job.
The Surface team sometimes pushes too far in its quest to design the next category- defining product. The company started a new trail a decade ago. Even though there are some messy results, it is still searching for something.
There will be different form factors for everyone, and there won't be a single form factor that wins.
A collection of Surface devices will demonstrate why Surface exists. Thanks to a choice between Arm or Intel chips, the Surface Pro 9 is a mix of the Surface Pro and Surface Pro from a decade ago.
The display is bigger, the body is more refined, and the keyboard and stylus are better, but the basics of a kickstand, keyboard, and touchscreen tablet remain. It is a reliable all-purpose computing device that is refined every year.
The Surface Laptop 5, Microsoft's latest take on the classic laptop form factor, is powered by the latest components but still has a wow factor with its 28-inch display that can move and float between desktop and drawing. Ten years ago, the Surface team wanted to launch a trio of devices.
In an interview with The Verge, Microsoft's Surface and Windows chief said that they would have a laptop and a desktop. The original idea of Surface was to bring Windows 8 to life with devices that were compatible with the new interface. Two of the ones had unique twists to Windows 8. We bit off more than we were able to chew.
A decade ago, PCs were at a turning point. Windows tablets weren't really a thing after the arrival of Touchscreens. There was no idea how Windows would work on tablets. The pressure was on for Microsoft to respond to the new iPad.
The formula was created by the Surface team. Microsoft wasn't just trying to bring its own hardware to life, it was also trying to make Windows on Arm a reality, adopting the battery friendly mobile-style processors that Apple had proven could work in a larger form factor.
We were learning to build hardware at a very young age. We had a lot of things, but this was a new level. Over the past decade, the click-in keyboard has defined the device and the Surface team went through hundreds of concepts for a device without it. None of the models had the click-in concept.
The goal was to get Microsoft Office running on a tablets. One of the most important things people do is work in the office. Let's get after it differently.
The combo of keyboard cover, kickstand, and touch screen was created. The Surface line clicked a couple years later with the Surface Pro 3. The lapability of the first two Surface Pro models was debated by reviewers and commentators, but Pro 3 answered the question with a thin and lightweight form factor. The surface made sense.
Microsoft's Surface has been a hit. The line did more than $6 billion in revenue in the last fiscal year, and revenue jumped 13 percent in the most recent quarter. Along the way, the Surface team has sought to define what a next- generation formula might look like for other devices, too: laptops, phones, all-in-ones. The result has been some clever creations but also some mistakes.
The very first product is the beginning. In October 2012 the Surface RT was launched as a showcase for a new touch-friendly version of Windows. It became clear that the bet on Arm wasn't enough. There were performance issues, a lack of tablets, and a special version of Windows that you couldn't do much with in the early reviews.
A $1 billion write-down was the start of Microsoft's Surface efforts.
Around six months after its launch, Microsoft took a $1 billion hit due to the number of devices it couldn't sell. It was a big problem for the project.
After the news of the $1 billion write-down made headlines around the world, the Surface team of around 300 people stood in a lab in the middle of a building. It was a tense moment for the team when they were called to an all- hands meeting.
I told everyone to stand up and move forward. He said they did, we all did together. I told them to stay in the boat and row their oars. We are going to make it there. Stick with the plan.
The Surface team was in the same situation after two years. The Surface Mini was going to be a part of the Surface Pro 3. The company had made thousands of them, but just weeks before launch, Microsoft's new CEO didn't think the Surface Mini should launch
"Saty's leadership helped us through that time period." The Surface Mini was supposed to be a notepad-like device, but it wasn't enough. The end-to-end value was not present.
Just 18 months after the write-down, the team was dealt another blow. The team was told of the decision to scrap the Surface Mini just weeks before it was supposed to launch. The message was similar to the one written down. Let's grab your oars. The tears need to be wiped. Make sure you check your goals. Let's leave.
Over time, Microsoft has had success beyond the tablets. The Surface Studio is an all-in-one PC that has a hinge that allows you to push the display down into a drawing mode. The classic laptop is Microsoft's take on it. There are some smaller Surface tablets, more affordable laptops, a giant Surface Hub interactive touchscreen, and even a host of accessories to complement the main hardware.
Microsoft's designs have stumbled as often as they've impressed, when the Surface team reaches further to define what a category can look like. The approach to the Surface Book was never mainstream. We are waiting to see if the rest of the industry will copy the design of the laptop studio.
The Surface Duo and Surface Neo are Microsoft's most ambitious attempts to define next- generation devices. Microsoft has a plan for the future of mobile devices. There are still improvements that need to be made, but the combination of software and hardware has already improved. The third generation could be where it suddenly clicks for everyone if it follows the path of the Surface Pro3.
The Surface Neo promised to change the way Windows works. After the Pandemic hit, Microsoft put the dual-screen product on hold and focused on traditional PCs and laptops. The surface neo is alive and well. It is still inside the room. There is a future for it or something like that.
There is still a future for dual screen, foldable, or rollable devices.
"I think these are realities to the future of products being made, no doubt." It's a rollable screen. I don't know if it's something I've decided on, but how do we serve the form factor that's going to adapt to the person I think is the way to think about it?
Microsoft got something out of it. Windows 10X was a lightweight version of the operating system that was designed for dual-screen hardware and went on to become Windows 11.
Carmen Zlateff, who was the engineering lead on Windows, said that they were able to envision 10X through the lens of Surface Neo, which allowed them to not bring forward the 20 years of the Windows history. After the project was paused, we looked at it and said, "This is what customers want anyway."
In the times I have spoken to him, he has always refused to discuss future Surface products, but he will occasionally give a hint. "My favorite part of meeting with Tom Warren is he'll always ask me what the next product is." I want to see what Microsoft can do for PC gaming, but I don't think it's about Surface hardware.
The future of Surface looks Arm-powered according to the team at Microsoft. Microsoft has struggled to adapt Windows to Arm over the past decade, but the company seems confident enough to market the Surface Pro 9 as a single device where you can pick to have either an Intel chip or Microsoft's Arm-based SQ3 processor inside.
Arm is at a point where it is just another chip to choose from. I don't think it's about on Arm anymore. We are at this point where it is just Windows and which device you need.
Microsoft has been working with artificial intelligence on its Arm-powered Surface devices. There are a number of features on the Surface Pro 9 that aren't available on the Intel side.
Groene says that they are at the point where all their lives they have been trying to learn the computer. At a point, we are at a tipping point. It will be vastly different. It is similar to moving from a typewriter to a computer. You still write letters but what you do is different.
There have been rumors that Microsoft is building its own Arm chips for Surface PCs. The Surface Pro 9 ships with a Neural Processing Unit that powers experiences Microsoft believes will transform PCs in the future.
Steven Bathiche is the head of Microsoft's applied sciences group and he says that artificial intelligence will have a profound impact on how you use your computer. Microsoft is interested in building new hardware to take advantage of artificial intelligence. The Surface smart camera is one of the best examples of that.
There were a lot of people who didn't think Microsoft could succeed with Surface. The convergence of tablets and laptops was described by Tim Cook as forced. Cook said that the things that are likely not going to be pleasing to the user are a toast and a fridge.
What should the doubters expect from the man?
Panay thanked you for motivating them and for being on the journey now. There is a team here that has a bit of a chip, but it is quickly buried in what is next. We believe, and we still do.
There is a belief that will lead to more Surface hardware that we can't see coming.
I call it the five senses: keyboard, mouse, touch, voice and pen. Those signals and how they are coming together, where you can do whatever you want with a camera, is an important aspect of how we are going to be creating in the future.
The Surface could look a lot different in the future.
Do you think about the kickstand? The need to create will be the thing that will be here in a decade. The kickstand might be here, but it's more about how a product adjusts to you.