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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

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Thoughts on the Microsoft Surface event

I’m pretty excited for Microsoft. I’ve been excited for what they’ve been doing as a company, on several fronts, for a few years now.

I won’t rehash all of the nice things I’ve been writing about them, but I can link to how I feel about Satya, the work they’ve been doing in open source and for developers, Surface, and Windows 10.

Yesterday’s Surface event was very good. I really like how Panos makes everything so dramatic. It is just more fun than how so many other tech companies present things. I totally understand if others don’t feel the same way. But I don’t think anyone has ever accused him of being disingenuous.

The updates to the Surface hardware were excellent. I think the 15″ laptop looks very, very good. And while I wish the Surface Pro was more of a direct competitor to iPad*, I don’t have any other wishes for their hardware. It is all very good.

The Neo and Duo products, both coming late 2020, are fascinating products. I have no idea if they will be successful or be hits – but I’m very glad Microsoft decided to make them.

Though I have to agree with John Gruber, they overshadowed the rest of the products that are available today a little. They likely knew they would though. So perhaps they are ok with it.

I have two quick I told ya sos, if I may.

In July Windows Central said they hoped someone at Microsoft was working on a phone, but if they were, they should keep expectations low. I vehemently disagreed with that sentiment. I wrote:

Microsoft was recently valued as the most valuable company to ever exist on planet earth. (Alongside Amazon and Apple.) Keep expectations low? Don’t make a huge bet?

[…]

I say Microsoft should swing for the fences. They should come out with Windows Phone again, base it on Android, call it a Surface Phone and set expectations at Panos Panay levels.

Guess which way they decided to go with Surface Duo?

I was wrong, though, they didn’t call it a Surface Phone. They are avoiding the word phone, which I think we all should as well. My Pixel is no more a phone than it is a book, but I can read and make phone calls on it.

And did they ever swing for the fences! A completely new form-factor, category of product, operating system based on Android. SWING!!!

The only thing Windows Phone was missing, you’ll remember, was apps. And now it will have that. Well, not Windows Phone. Android. Which I think is the right call.

I’d love to get one of these Duo devices, only to support bold vision and the stones to put them out into the world.

A few other random observations

  • Windows 10 X looks interesting. Could that be the new tablet mode?
  • The EarBuds look like a miss.
  • The way the Neo keyboard interacts with the device reminds me of the dial you can purchase with the Surface Studio. Microsoft should double down on this sort of thing. It really makes these devices truly like surfaces that you do stuff on. So, by next year we’ll have a Pen, Dial, and Keyboard. I say make a ton more of them.
  • I sort of think they could allow Android apps to run on Windows, this way Duo could still be a Windows computer. But there must be reasons that I don’t know about why they wouldn’t do this. Or perhaps it is still coming.
  • I think both the Neo and Duo will be very different by launch time. They don’t even have outward facing cameras on them yet.
  • Panos’ analogy of flow using his daughter at the piano is apt. When I’m in flow, it could be while I’m writing this blog post, writing code, editing a photo or video, etc I do feel like everything just disappears.

* Windows 10 tablet mode is simply no competitor to iPadOS in a tablet form factor. I’d go so far as to say it sucks in comparison. But, I’ve seen rumors that they’re working hard on this. So, we’ll see.

On a Microsoft Surface Phone

Zac Bowden:

It’s fair to say that in 2019, Microsoft is “all-in” on the Android platform thanks to its efforts like the Microsoft Launcher, Edge, and Office, all first-class experiences on Android smartphones around the world.

I’m glad Bowden wrote this post. I’ve been wanting to.

Longtime readers of my blog will know that I liked Windows Phone very much. I bought a Lumia for testing and immediately fell in love with the device and OS. If only it had apps! It was the only thing holding it back.

Today, if Microsoft decided to do what Bowden is suggesting, that wouldn’t be an issue. Android has tons of apps. And so many of Microsoft’s own apps are already first-class citizens on Android (as well as built to be cross platform from the ground up).

Bowden points out Launcher, Edge, and Office as Microsoft’s strongest efforts on Android. But that isn’t all of them. Your Phone, which he mentions later in his post, is also a big piece. Not to mention OneDrive, Skype, and a myriad of apps. They are all very good experiences on Android already.

Bowden says…

I wouldn’t be surprised if there are people internally at Microsoft thinking about this very idea right now, weighing up whether it’s worth trying. Does Microsoft want to put money into researching and developing a new smartphone, while also maintaining its own Android ROM, updates, and paying Google for a Play Store license?

This is a given. They have already been doing this for years. Microsoft R&D is one of the largest, most expensive R&D departments in the world. Has been for decades. They shed off billions of dollars per year in R&D. And they aren’t slowing down.

Also, do you think Panos Panay hasn’t already prototyped 10 or 20 or 50 different designs of Surface Phone by now? Of course he has!

One other area I will disagree with Bowden. He writes:

This isn’t a bad thing, but an Android smartphone wouldn’t be the worst idea Microsoft has ever had, especially if it keeps expectations low and doesn’t make any huge bets on it.

Microsoft was recently valued as the most valuable company to ever exist on planet earth. (Alongside Amazon and Apple.) Keep expectations low? Don’t make a huge bet?

Steve Jobs passed away 10 years ago. Jony Ive is leaving Apple. Huawei has regulatory issues I can’t even dream of. Samsung’s devices are months behind on Android updates and one of their recent models exploded in people’s hands. And Google’s Pixel has yet to have a foothold.

I say Microsoft should swing for the fences. They should come out with Windows Phone again, base it on Android, call it a Surface Phone and set expectations at Panos Panay levels. That is; pumped.

My opinion of Microsoft Surface, 6 years later

Me, in 2012, writing about the first time I saw a Surface device:

I could have played with it longer. But I wouldn’t want to. The Surface is terrible. Even if you’ve never picked up an iPad or an Android-powered tablet you would think the Surface is pretty slow, hard to use, and heavy; three things a tablet device should probably never have said about it.

I’m writing this on a borrowed Surface Pro (using it until my Dell XPS comes in) and last year I spent a lot of time on a Surface Book (a review that I wrote 2,100 words on and never published).

Today I’d be willing to say that the Surface line from Microsoft is very good and only getting better. The Pro, Laptop, Studio, and now Go are excellent computers, well-built, and worth investigating as your next computer.

A lot can change in 6 years. I wrote this paragraph 2 years ago already:

I’m keeping an extremely close eye on all things Microsoft lately. I’ve even stated, publicly, that I think if they continue on their current course they are going to be beating Apple on several fronts within half a decade.

They are well on their way.

NFL and the Surface

Dan Thorp-Lancaster for Windows Central:

Under the deal, the NFL will continue to use Microsoft Surface tablets for referee video reviews through the end of the 2018/2019 season, SportsPro reports. Coaches and players will also continue to use Surface tablets to review footage during games.

I’m glad MSFT is sticking with this. You’ll recall this gaff, perhaps. But I think that is fading. People know what a Surface is now. And, I think both the Surface hardware and Windows 10 are getting so much better that they need to keep pushing this brand in front of people. It is a great product.

I honestly believe one of Microsoft’s biggest challenge is marketing. See also this rant.

Microsoft holding Surface Keynote in October

Tom Warren for The Verge:

Microsoft’s Surface chief will hold a keynote speech in London at the end of October. The software giant is holding its annual Future Decoded event in London from October 31st to November 1st, and Microsoft revealed to The Verge today that Panos Panay will be speaking. Microsoft typically launches new Surface devices in October, and sources familiar with the company’s plans tell us to expect at least one new device at the event.

I sincerely hope they launch a Surface Phone. I want more pressure on Apple and I’d love to see Windows Phone (which I thought was fantastic) return to the battle of mobile OSes.

However, I don’t think it will happen. If this was a possibility I think (knowing Microsoft) they would have tried to build up more hype around this event than they are. They likely wouldn’t hold the event in London either. But, I can hope.

People are switching from Macs to Surface

Brian Hall at Microsoft:

More people are switching from Macs to Surface than ever before. Our trade-in program for MacBooks was our best ever, and the combination of excitement for the innovation of Surface coupled with the disappointment of the new MacBook Pro – especially among professionals – is leading more and more people to make the switch to Surface, like this. It seems like a new review recommending Surface over MacBook comes out daily. This makes our team so proud, because it means we’re doing good work.

I see tweets every single day from known Mac users that picked up a Surface product. Just last night I saw Sebastian de With, a well-known designer and Mac user, tweet repeatedly about his Surface Studio. He seems to like it.

Apple fans, myself included, cannot ignore this. However, Apple may. As I’ve written, and said, their move away from the pro user seems intentional and may be a very good move for their bottom line.

How Surface changed Microsoft

Jason Ward, writing for Windows Central:

Windows devices once perceived as low-end bargain basement devices are now seen as expensive cutting-edge hardware that rivals or exceeds Apple’s long-standing high-end market position.

I make this same point in my forthcoming review of the Surface Book and Windows 10. I’m so sorry it is taking so long to finish up this review. I didn’t want the review to be based only on first impressions but rather real world every day use.