The PC market needs another reinvention – is Microsoft Surface ready for it again?

It’s easy to forget now, but Microsoft’s first Surface was a big risk. Diving into the personal computer market, Microsoft competed with its Windows partners. By combining a laptop and a tablet, I was trying to create an entirely new category of device. And in designing new software for Windows PCs with Arma, I made a bet that the mobile age would change the way laptops work and the way people use them.

Microsoft didn’t quite hit the nail on the head, and it took a few years for the Surface line to really hit its stride. But a decade later, you can’t argue with the results: Surface worked. Not only has the idea of ​​”plug a keyboard into your tablet and it’s now a laptop” become common across the industry, the Surface has also become a big deal for Microsoft. The Surface Studio remains one of the most ambitious desktops ever made, and even the most basic Surface Laptop is a winner. The Surface Pro 8 is a little more expensive, but it’s one of the best Windows computers you can buy.

A decade later, you can’t argue with the results: the surface worked

Microsoft is expected to announce a line of new Surface products tomorrow to celebrate the product’s 10th anniversary. Rumors and leaks suggest that we could see a new Surface Studio and Surface Laptop 5 and Surface Pro 9 with some performance improvements. They will certainly be good devices and worthy competitors in the ever crowded Windows market.

The timing of this event is awful and tempting for Microsoft. Terrible because the PC market is getting worse after a lot of pressure from the pandemic – everyone bought new PCs in 2020 and 2021, it seems, and so far they’re not looking for another upgrade). Tempting because the market once again needs a big idea about how computers should work. Microsoft reinvented them once; can you repeat that

In recent years, Microsoft has shown off several devices that might fit the bill. In 2019, it gave dual-screen and foldable devices a big push with the Surface Pro X, Surface Neo, and Surface Duo. The Surface Neo died before it hit the market, while the Surface Duo just got better and better over the last few years.

The Surface Pro X was the most interesting announcement from the event – ​​a great high-end PC, thinner and cooler and powered by Arma – but it couldn’t avoid issues with app compatibility and performance. Microsoft has been interested in these types of devices since at least the days of the Courier, and as foldable phones continue to improve and gain popularity, we likely haven’t seen the last of Microsoft’s efforts here.

Another device Microsoft has yet to reveal is the Surface Go, the smallest, lightest and cheapest model in the range. The Go could, and perhaps should, be Microsoft’s best answer to the iPad and Chromebook — a truly tablet-like tablet with all the added productivity that comes with Windows. Even the third-generation Surface Go was hampered by its high price and poor battery life. Microsoft just hasn’t found the right balance between performance, portability and price.

a:hover]:text-black [&>a]:shadow-underline-gray-63 [&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-black text-gray-63″>Photo by Becca Farsace / The Verge

For Microsoft to push the boundaries of the PC market again, it will have to figure out how to make Arma-equipped Windows PCs work. It needs to keep working on devices like the Pro X because that’s where the future is going. The gap between phones and computers is closing, and people want laptops that run faster, last longer, and work anywhere. As Arm processors work more efficiently and communicate with mobile connections, Arm devices can come in all sorts of thinner, lighter and more interesting forms. But of course, nobody cares if those devices don’t work. That means fixing battery life issues, it means improving overall Windows performance on these lower-powered chips, and most of all, it means fixing app compatibility.

It obviously didn’t escape Microsoft – it’s just that the company didn’t do it very well. The company has been working on various “Windows on Arm” projects for years, even creating a native version of Arm from Visual Studio and a “Project Volterra” developer kit that developers can use to test their applications on Arm systems. Microsoft also tried several times to make a “lighter” version of Windows: first it was Windows RT, then Windows 10X, but none of them succeeded without a better application ecosystem.

Windows 11 brought some of those mellow vibes to the overall OS, and the latest OS update improves things further. The Windows Store also continues to grow. You’d never confuse Windows with something like iPadOS or ChromeOS when it comes to simplicity and efficiency, but Microsoft is going in the right direction here.

What the market needs from Microsoft – what it has needed for years – is a true flagship Arm device. One that gets it right, combines performance and battery life and makes it clear that the era of the ultra-mobile, ultra-functional PC has indeed arrived. This is what would encourage developers to run their applications on these devices, manufacturers to really invest in Arm devices, and users to rethink the way their laptops fit into their lives.

It’s hard to say whether the hardware, software or chips are ready for that leap. But that’s where things go. And if Microsoft wants its second Surface decade to be even bigger and more important than its first, that’s where it needs to go.

What if that device had two screens or folded in some radical new way? I wouldn’t complain about that either.

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