Ten Years On, Surface Becomes The Best Stage For Microsoft
This week, Microsoft held its Microsoft Ignite conference and just before kicking that off, it held what has become the traditional Surface Fall event. This year, Surface turns ten, and it is fascinating to see how far it has come in this time, not so much on the hardware, which was already ahead of the market but on its comprehensive vision and goal of becoming the best implementation of Microsoft.
Opening the event, Panos Panay, EVP and Chief Product Officer, said:
“We challenged conventional form factors to remove barriers for you. And together with Windows over the past ten years, we transformed the industry and, on our journey, connected with people like you. Now we’re at another inflection point.… We’re asking ourselves again .… what’s the next wave of innovation for the Windows PC? What can we do to push that even further? Because it’s not about how we replace it. It’s about how we expand it. How do we tap into the full power of the technology? All that technology that’s available to make it even better.”
The answer became quite evident by the end of the presentation. Expanding the reach of the Windows PC and maintaining the engagement we have seen with PCs during the pandemic really depends on how hardware, silicon, software platform, cloud and apps are all coming together. In this next phase, there is no question that Surface is the best showcase of Microsoft’s offering.
If you had attended previous Surface events, you would have noticed a difference in focus during this week’s presentation. While the Surface Laptop 5, Surface Pro 9, both on Intel and Qualcomm and, finally, the Surface Studio 2+ were the stars of the show, they were part of a bigger story, not the main story. As users look more to buy an experience, that bigger story becomes more important. Yet, I could not help but feel that Surface got a little bit lost in the process, and I think that is a shame. I have not been shy over the years to share how much I love the Surface hardware, and I know I am not alone in that. Our data has shown how users see Surface as the best of what the Windows ecosystem offers and the best alternative to a Mac if someone ever wants to change the ecosystem. Our research also shows that part of the reason why users feel that way is because of the tight integration with Microsoft, but this is only second to the quality of the hardware.
Microsoft has been playing a balancing game for years, especially since Panos Panay took over the Windows leadership. It is no easy task to balance lifting the Surface brand so it can live up to its full potential without aggravating the OEM partners. I feel the pendulum has always swung toward the OEMs. Over these past ten years, that could have been ok, but I strongly believe that now is not the time to be shy. Surface’s success is the success of Windows and Microsoft and with that of any player within the ecosystem, including the OEMs, because the common competitor, especially in the high-end, that everybody should be focused on fencing off is Apple.
Talking about Apple, it was interesting to hear that Windows is making progress in addressing the needs of the many iPhone users who have a PC. To start, iCloud Photo will be integrated into the Windows 11 Photos app taking away all the friction a user has today having to import photos from the iCloud app. In the future, photos taken with an iPhone will appear automatically in Photos. Also, Apple Music and the Apple TV apps will launch on Windows next year while they are now both available on Xbox. I know I am getting ahead of myself, but I hope the collaboration with Apple will continue with other apps like AirDrop and iMessage. Given the current pressure from Android on RCS and the continued scrutiny from governments and regulators, offering a more basic version of iMessage on Windows PCs might actually be good for Apple. I also feel that those who benefit from the move are iPhone users directly rather than Android users who communicate with iPhone users.
The Surface team’s focus on putting users first by looking at how they want to use their computing devices has been as revolutionary as the design of the first Surface Pro. Yet, in order for that vision to come to fruition, Surface has had to wait for Windows and, to some extent, Microsoft’s apps to catch up. Now all the pieces are coming together, and having Panos Panay drive Windows means that the future will see an even tighter integration of hardware and software for the whole ecosystem to take advantage of. Just look at the capabilities around audio and video on the new ARM-based Surface Pro 9 as a great example of how the Windows ecosystem can get as close as it has ever been to deliver an end-to-end experience that many think possible only on an Apple device. Windows still has work to do, but I am excited by what I have seen this week and encouraged by the direction the team is taking for the next phase of Windows PCs.