Microsoft Surface Needs a Fresh Start (PC World)

PC world seems to be in opine mode of late, perhaps due to the dearth (pendemic related) of new products to talk about. CES 2023 was the thinnest I can recall IMHO.

Anyway, we often talk here about MS is or isn’t doing with the Surface Line (give us the darn NEO in some configuration) and I find some of his thoughts at least worth considering.

Microsoft’s Surface needs a fresh start. Here’s how to fix it | PCWorld


My fear is the following quote will come back to haunt MS:

" Microsoft knows this. Its fourth-quarter earnings report detailed problems launching Surface devices, and executives said that falling device sales would actually accelerate into this quarter. Meanwhile, chief executive Satya Nadella said that “changes to our hardware portfolio” would be coming in a layoff memo he authored."

“Change our hardware portfolio” in a layoff memo is code for “reduce the number of lines” along with the unfortunate loss of jobs for 10,000 families…


The article also hints at something I’ve long thought about MS generally which is that they have produced some genuinely innovative out of the box thinking products and then done one of two things. (xbox, Windows 8, surface pro etc.)

If it’s successful they then minimally incrementally update it. If it get’s a bad reception they run the other direction from it as Windows 8 stands as a perfect example of.


To be fair, Apple basically does the same thing. The original iPad and the 9th version look for all intents and purposes identical. Even the newer squared off look is only marginally different design wise. In reality, the only difference is a lack of home button, slight changes to aesthetics aside. The Macbooks all look the same generation to generation, with minor changes. The touchbar was poorly received, so it was quickly abandoned. Though admittedly, Apple is more willing to dig its heels into some changes that are poorly received, unlike MS, such as the still awful notch.

I agree to a point especially when it comes to external physical design. There is an argument I’ve often heard made that Apple’s redesigns when they do appear are more fully realized than the PC market generally. The new MacBook Air being a very good example of that.

As to the iPad, I think they are somewhat limited by the (highly successful) form factor. You could make the same argument about Samsung tablets over last 5 years or so.

I mean the epitome of that to me is the Tab S6 Lite which essentially got a processor and OS bump, but even kept the same name, only appending a 2022 to it.

I do subscribe to the idea that genuine innovation is extremely difficult and that it also involves significant element of risk and today’s shareholder driven monolith corporations are almost allergic to risk especially with a successful product line.

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And I’m not giving Apple a pass by any means. It’s ridiculous that the iPad Pros still have front facing cameras on the top vertical edge of the screen in 2023.

And they most certainly continue on with obvious failures for too long such as the butterfly keyboards in previous MacBook Pros.

PS: and the point about the vertical oriented front camera has really been brought home to me by my purchase of the 12.9 which IMHO lends itself much more to landscape use than any other tablet.


I typed up a really long, rambling screed, which I then thought better of — here are the parts which I think make sense and contribute to the discussion:

<lots of different form-factors have been tried, but only simpler, more straight-forward, easily explained by sales people designs have stuck in the marketplace — it’s neat to see a bunch of new designs, but I don’t think any have any real staying power, though I’d love to be wrong about the dual-screen folding laptop concept, and desperately want one w/ Wacom EMR on both screens>

So, going forward, let’s say Apple doubles down on pairing MacBooks and iPads — where does that leave Microsoft? What are the strengths of a single device?

  • easier management/single point of control
  • allows for a larger investment in better hardware by the user than dividing between two purchases

Is that enough? Maybe Microsoft thinks so?

Are we at a point where technology enables trying some new options? If so, what are they and what would be simple enough, and advantageous enough to sell well to the general public? That’s what the Microsoft Surface division has to puzzle out, and while it’s easy for me to dream about devices which will never be made, the bottom line is the Surface line stopped being interesting to me when MS bought NTrig. The only thing which might tempt me away from my multiple devices all using current generation Wacom EMR would be another line of devices w/ a better stylus option across the board. I don’t see MS doing a phone which uses the NTrig digitizer anytime soon.

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Generally agree. And it’s not like an innovative breakthrough reimagining of the tablet needs to come from Apple. Not just Samsung, but Xiaomi, Huawei, and smaller companies can and do try different things. But the Plain Jane iPad look and feel (as we see it now, many years after the innovation) is what works, what sells, and what people seem to want with current technology. How many different ways are there to design a handheld tablet, after all?

Folding or scrolling screen tablets might eventually become the norm when the tech improves (lighter, thinner, cheaper). Dual screen devices are books, not tablets. :grin:

That’s spot on for the Duo Uno and Duex, but one has to wonder if the single folding screen approach solves more of the “Is it a tablet or is it a phone?” conundrum. What if Neo Nouveau were a 2mm thicker teardrop single screen foldable? Would that count as “fresh start” in this category?

Or is the answer “more of the same” as I contemplate the three device solution (again) of a laptop, tablet, and phone, and there are no more advances to come until we can do all our computing in AR with regular glasses?

There you go Panos - the real answer - Windows 12 Halospecs that look just like EyeMartExpress.


I agree with your general thoughts here, and on NTrig, though I also think that the slightly more complex dual screen is not a bad option with NTrig type pens because it’s not something that caters to artists, who need the precision and abilities of Wacom. At least, I can’t really see myself wanting something like the Neo as my art device when the screen is split in the middle, effectively making my drawing area only one of the two screens. But as a productivity device, where I could take notes and such on one screen while using the other as reference and such for said notes, or other things, that’s where the innovation might be ideal. But, to your point, can that be simply explained and bought into? I don’t know. Probably not.

For everything other than art, this would be the dream solution for me. Really just interconnectable AR glasses in general as a screen would be fantastic both for at my desk, and through my phone on the go. It’s the true holy grail in my opinion. It could even make laptops much more portable if the screen weren’t part of the design anymore. Your keyboard as your computer would be great. I’m suddenly reminded of William Gibson’s vision of it in his Neuromancer series. Customized decks that you hook up to to do all your computer in VR. I can see a whole world opening up of innovation of keyboard computers to connect to your AR/Mixed AR/VR headset. I’d love to carry my split keyboard everywhere, for instance, but it’s so bulky and requires an adapter to carry it with my MBP or iPP. But if it were my computer and I just had a headset to connect to via bluetooth, simple and functional.

I’d still want something like an iPP for art, but not everyone would need that in this situation.

Ok, I’m done dreaming.

Not fully on board with that but OTOH I can’t think of anything better at the moment :slight_smile:

And to follow that idea, then the Galaxy Fold is the paperback version…

I go back to my favorite engineering professor who was always shy of using analogies as he felt that as soon as you classified something with “it’s like…” that inherently limited your thinking about the problem at hand.

So more specifically, the “book” idea is part of the problem as it leads either to the need for a second external screen when it’s closed like the Fold and what was for me one of the most limiting and annoying aspects of using it.

Or the Duo where unlike the crease in the Fold, the hinge never “disappears” from view with regular use.

To me what is the long term best solution is a folding display that can fold outward versus the inward fold we have now. From what display designers have told me though, it is "magnitudes on top of magnitudes " more difficult to build a display like that.

I also have hope that software is still in the early stages and for example I’d make the argument that the desktop metaphor of Windows only really hit it’s stride with Windows 95 and with Mac OSX. So maybe it’s still very early days.

PS: That all being said I continue to be impressed with some of the software tricks MS has made with the Duo to make the dual screen truly productive, and they have come much farther than Samsung has come since the original fold. Again IMHO

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Okay, my ideal device would have 3 screens and two hinges:

  • e-ink which was tied to tablet-like usage w/ a hinge to the middle panel which would allow it to be on the outside
  • a pair of LCDs which would have a second hinge for the two displays to close on each other

Usage modes:

  • fully-folded — e-ink tablet/e-reader possibly using a secondary OS
  • open w/ the e-ink display serving as keyboard/trackpad, one LCD visible, second folded back in tent mode, either off or as a mirrored display for presentations
  • open w/ both LCDs open as dual-monitors, and e-ink screen/keyboard/trackpad supporting things
  • all three displays open and in portrait mode w/ an external keyboard which also functions as a stand/case
  • all three displays open for stylus mode usage on a suitably large work area



Yeah, it ain’t never going to happen.

I’m trying to resist the dual-screen Lenovo Yogabook 9i — maybe if I try one out in a store I won’t be able to resist — has Wacom AES gotten any better since my Toshiba Encore 2 Write 10?

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Yeah, if anything, the latest turn in events today where I unhappily discovered Microsoft has discontinued Advanced Exchange for Microsoft Complete shows they are making Surface a red-headed stepchild. Keep that up and the line of business will be gone for good, which could very well be the end goal with their long-term revenue goal being cloud computing anyway. Still, Surface Pro 9’s ARM SKUs offer a good counterargument with Nuvia likely lined up on the horizon for Surface Pro 10 that suggest that Surface is still to stay. ARM-based Surface could be the end goal and that because ARM’s improved battery life best serves Microsoft’s cloud computing mission.

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This is a bit of the reading of the tea leaves, but Intel saw huge drops in Q4 (one third of their datacenter business, their fallback business to client computing business, and one third of their client computer business simply evaporated in Q4 2022 compared to Q4 2021) while Qualcomm is delivering record gains (see Q3 2022 notes: Qualcomm Delivers Record Revenues Amid Challenging Macro Environment - Counterpoint Research. In fact, Qualcomm is getting very close now to overtaking Intel in revenue: $11.395 billion with Intel at $14.042 billion. Maybe with Qualcomm becoming the new hit silicon and especially so with Nuvia just a year away, Microsoft is lining up to simplify to just a limited scope of Qualcomm-only Surface devices?