Microsoft recently revealed its new Surface Lineup for the upcoming year. The new devices are the Surface Pro 7, Surface Pro X, Surface Laptop 3, the Surface Neo and the Surface Duo. While the Pro 7 and the Laptop 3 are spec refreshes with a few other changes, those do not contribute to the point of this article. Both of these are pretty “traditional” devices, in the sense that these would be pretty comfortable to people used to the current tablets/laptops. The two devices that intrigued me a lot are the Neo and the Duo. These devices are actually unique: there is literally no other device that mimics what these devices are/do and these devices bring into focus Microsoft’s heart and vision for the future of mobile, on-the-go computing. Interestingly, it was Apple who asked the somewhat ridiculous question a few years earlier in video commercials for the iPad -
“What is a computer?”
Mind you, there was no proper mouse or keyboard support in iPadOS back then. Given the state of things, the question was a really bold one. Essentially, Apple was asking you to give the iPad a try: replace your computer with an iPad and give it a shot. Well, many people did, and it was decided unanimously that we were not there yet: Laptops and PCs were there to stay. Fast forwarding to present-day, we have a somewhat similar situation. Laptops are the one-stop solution for on-the-go computing, and no other device, no phone, no tablet, no form factor is even close to replacing them. After the Surface Launch Event on Oct 4, I believe a change might be coming. Microsoft has been trying for quite some years to popularize the “2-in-one” form factor:
- The laptop that can turn into a tablet by detaching the screen, the Surface Book
- The tablet that can turn into a laptop by attaching a keyboard, the Surface Pro
- A large-screen desktop PC with a touch screen, the Surface Studio
While these are beautiful, mesmerizing products, these are, at the same time “something-new”, all while retaining the flavor of the past. A Surface Book could still be compared to a MacBook Pro, and a Surface Pro to an iPad, but these are entirely different things. Absolutely, and profoundly different ideas. This may not be visible on the Surface (pun intended), but when we dig deeper, when we unpack Microsoft’s vision for the future, when we ponder on what Microsoft revealed in the Oct 4 event, does the picture become clear. These are not new devices. These are new form factors. These are new ways of computing. These are attempts to define the future computer. I, for one, squealed with joy when I saw the Surface Neo and Duo being revealed. Not because I thought these were “the next best thing” or because I want Microsoft to do well, but because it was just that much refreshing to see a company so big, do something new and take some risks. Microsoft could easily have played it safe: Refresh the Surface Laptop, the Pro, maybe the Book and call it a day, but they didn’t. They thought about innovating, creating something new, taking some risks, pushing their vision forward. They even swallowed their pride and used Android as the OS for Duo! Imagine that! A tech giant accepting its failure and partnering with another tech giant to benefit everyone. There are people who are unhappy with a Surface running on Android and I want to remind them: Microsoft tried. They really tried to make a new OS for the mobile platform. Remember Lumia? It died because of lack of app support, and I can only begin to fathom the pain of killing such a promising new OS, something developed and refined by spending millions of dollars in R&D. Microsoft decided to learn from experience and made an android device this time around. You just cannot blame this line of thought. It was the only logical decision. Android is what is ruling the handheld category in today’s world, and instead of fighting that, Microsoft has embraced it. I really don’t know if the foldable-device-with-two-screens is the form factor of the future or not. All I know is that Microsoft has been bold enough to think that it could be and actually has the will to act on it. The Surface is not a line of windows devices. It represents Microsoft’s vision for the future and I couldn’t be happier.