A Short Take On: The Future of the Surface Brand

In a few short hours Microsoft’s latest Surface devices, the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book, will go on sale. The release of the devices coincides with the release of HALO 5: Guardians and its first flagship store in Manhattan, New York. The devices got decent reviews. The Surface Book, a 13.5 inch laptop with detachable screen, was the surprise of Microsoft’s recent Windows 10 devices event.

It is amazing that four years ago the Surface line was revealed in a surprise event in Hollywood. Then there was the Surface lineup came in both ARM (Surface RT) and Intel (Surface Pro) models. Over the years the line has faced challenges with a $900 million write down of the Surface RT devices; along with grumblings from PC makers upset with Microsoft getting into hardware. Reviewers liked the devices but felt Windows RT and Windows 8 held them back. Analysts looked at the devices as a diversion for the software company and urged them to quit.

I mean what did Microsoft think it could do against the iPad?

Apparently build up a small hardware business that, on the heels of the Surface Pro 3, became a small billion dollar enterprise for Microsoft and a brand.

With the Pro 4 and Book the Surface team is refining their product and moving into new fields. Now the question becomes what next.

In the immediate future I think the next Surface device will be a refresh of the base, entry level Surface. Last year the Surface 3 was announced midway into 2015 as the successor to the Surface Arm based tablets. The Surface 3 updated the entry level model to reflect the Pro 3 and created something that was closer to the iPad. The Surface 4 could be similar to the Pro 4 with the removal of the Windows logo and reduced bezels. My hope is the Surface team also take cues from the Surface Book’s thin and lightweight design. I also hope if there is a Surface 4 is coming that the focus is on creating a thin device and redesigning the tablet with a new design.

Another immediate future device is the next version of the Surface Book. Taking in the early reviews, I imagine a Book 2 will work on reducing the screen wobbling along with improving the hinge mechanism. I also expect the Book 2 to improve battery life for the tablet half which currently runs only for 3 hours. Of course the Book 2 will be thinner and they reduce the hinge size to close the  gap.

Beyond the obvious updates, what’s in store for the Surface brand?

At the beginning of its life Surface was about priming the pump for the PC market; it was about being a standard bearer. That hasn’t changed. But one of the other aspects to Surface is about rethinking device categories, and this is where I think the next devices will come from.

In my mind I see Microsoft working on either a variation of the mini PC or an All in One.

The All in One I see mainly as something that works for both Windows Mobile devices and as a possible alternative to the Surface Dock. Now for those that don’t know newer Windows Mobile devices such as the upcoming Lumia 950 and 950 XL have backed in something called Continuum. Continuum is Microsoft’s way of transitioning Windows devices between various modes. This means on tablets and PCs running Windows 10 can switch between the desktop and tablet, and on phones provide a PC like experience. Now Continuum for phones can be done both wireless and through devices like the $99 dollar Display dock built for the 950s. So imagine a device that allows a user to walk up with their Lumia or Surface and send their screen to an All in One in their house. Something that is similar to the large screen Surface Hub but built for your desk or or office.

Now the second device I think may be in the mind of the Surface team is a mini PC. Now this is a black horse largely due to a device like this would really step on their hardware partners toes. But imagine a thin and light box that was co-designed by the Xbox team that was built with that Surface fit and finish.

Or maybe we may finally see that Surface Mini (now that Panos has outed it in a Wired article).

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