Last week Microsoft hosted an event in New York, and while many of us hoped the company would show off a range of new Surface devices that could take on Apple and its MacBooks, what we got instead was a bit… boring. But is that a bad thing?
Well, for fans of Microsoft’s Surface devices (there must be some of you out there), the event was certainly disappointing. While rumors had hinted at a range of new products, Microsoft only showed off the Surface Laptop Go 3, a budget laptop that got a slight specs bump and a higher price tag, and the Surface Laptop Studio 2, an interesting laptop aimed at creative professionals, but not a mainstream device (basically, don't expect it to appear on our best laptops list).
As far as new Surface products shown on stage, that was it. Weirdly, Microsoft also sneaked out press releases unveiling the Surface Hub 3 (a big, interactive whiteboard, essentially), and the Surface Go 4, an affordable 2-in-1 tablet that, weirdly, is only being made available for business customers. The much-rumored Surface Pro 10, the flagship follow-up to Microsoft’s premium tablet lineup, was nowhere to be seen.
Anyone hoping this event would usher in a new, exciting, era for Surface devices, probably left the event wondering if Microsoft is even interested in hardware anymore. This feeling wasn’t helped by the high-profile departure of Panos Panay, who for years was essentially the face and driving force behind Surface products.
In the end, despite many people assuming the event would be a Surface showcase, only the last 20 minutes or so were actually about the new hardware. The majority of the presentation was instead focused on Copilot, Microsoft’s AI (Artificial Intelligence) tool that’s coming to Windows 11, as well as various services and software from the company.
Back to its roots
Microsoft’s focus on software over hardware at its latest event is a major hint that the company could be returning to its roots. It’s often been remarked that Microsoft’s current CEO, Satya Nadella, is more of a software enthusiast than hardware – his career at Microsoft before ascending to CEO saw him working mainly in Microsoft’s cloud computing and online services teams.
If Nadella is indeed repositioning Microsoft as a software-first company, I think this is a wise move that plays to the company’s historic strengths. Sure, Windows 11 isn’t perfect, but there’s a reason why Windows remains the most-used desktop operating system in the world.
Microsoft Office also remains an important part of its business, and its foray into AI, including integrating it into Bing search and its Edge web browser, has scored it some rare positive coverage.
Meanwhile, its hardware hasn’t taken off the way many had hoped. Its Surface lineup of devices have often been impressive, but they appear to have struggled to gain mind- and market-share compared to arch rival Apple and its MacBooks.
Many of the more innovative Surface products, such as the Surface Earbuds and Surface Duo foldable phone, have been dropped after poor sales. When Surface devices were first pitched, they were supposed to be examples of what Windows devices could be capable of – and inspire other device makers to push the envelope as well.
With Panay, one of the biggest cheerleaders at Microsoft for producing innovative, yet unloved, Surface products, gone, we could be in for a future where Surface products are rather bland.
However, if this means that Microsoft spends more time on improving its software products, especially Windows, then I think this is a sacrifice worth making.
Rumors suggest that Windows 12 could be here as soon as 2024, and this is an ideal opportunity for Microsoft to overhaul its operating system and come up with something truly unique and innovative. With no hardware distractions, it could go back to basics and take the fight to Apple and Google on the software front – where it has an advantage.
If the price we pay for an ambitious Windows 12 is the death of Surface, I don’t think I’d mind at all.
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Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Core Tech, looking after computing and mobile technology. Having written for a number of publications such as PC Plus, PC Format, T3 and Linux Format, there's no aspect of technology that Matt isn't passionate about, especially computing and PC gaming. Ever since he got an Amiga A500+ for Christmas in 1991, he's loved using (and playing on) computers, and will talk endlessly about how The Secret of Monkey Island is the best game ever made.