The Surface Prototype That Started it All

Posted on December 31, 2018 by Brad Sams in Hardware with 16 Comments

In 2018, Microsoft released the new Surface Go, Headphones, and updated several of their products. While it wasn’t a perfect year for the brand, it was far more positive than negative.

Even though one analyst thought Microsoft would exit the hardware business in 2019, that’s simply not the case. The company has a number of announcements lined up for 2019 and the brand is stronger than ever.

On Instagram earlier today, Panos Panay shared an image of one of the first prototypes of the Surface Pro. The device isn’t really a device at all, but pieces of plastic and cardboard taped together.

Panay writes:

This is the first Surface model the team envisioned seven years ago. We had plastic, cardboard, duct tape, and a vision for something great. We didn’t know exactly where this vision would take us, but we believed.

We often forget that the release of the first generation Pro was a disaster for Microsoft but because of the resilience of the Surface team to overcome internal and external conflict, this helped them build the hero of the PC industry. If you are interested in the backstory of how the company built the billion-dollar brand, I wrote a book detailing the history.

As we march towards and into 2019, look for Surface to explore adding more peripherals to the lineup and of course, updating their current products as well. While the past may have been uncertain at times, with the hardware nearly being re-branded twice, the future is looking bright as the company has finally found the right formula for hardware and software.

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Comments (16)

16 responses to “The Surface Prototype That Started it All”

  1. mebby

    Hey the photo looks like what my SP4 looks like! (… not really)

  2. jaredthegeek

    its funny because MS has been trying to get slates to work for years and years. I had friends with Fujitsu slates that were heavy and bulky. The first Surface flopping was not a surprise as MS was unproven in the area and MS on slates up until then had not been great. I used Windows CE PDA's and they still had a similar interface to full windows. They continue to make some of the same mistakes but the Surface brand has been successful in spite of it.


    Recently I have gone back and looked at Surface 3 reviews to compare to Surface Go. The reviews were much more positive for that machine than it is for the Go even though numeric scoring on some sites is the same. Its funny how MS has made us expect so much more and have drug the market along kicking and screaming.

  3. glenn8878

    Microsoft is never short on cash to burn. What if they actually forced their divisions to make profits instead of allowing them to whither and die. If Surface was any other company, they wouldn’t be able to overcome a $1 Billion loss.

    • MikeGalos

      In reply to glenn8878:

      Windows lost over $100,000,000 before it made a profit. And that was at a time when Microsoft's gross sales were less than a billion dollars per year. Bill Gates actually had to win a board of directors fight to keep developing it when it was costing the company huge percentages of their profits.


      His decision seems to have worked out for them.


      Sometimes you need to overcome startup losses when you have a good product.

  4. docpaul

    I'll just throw this out again that I loved the book!

  5. Bats

    Hero of the PC industry? Hero? At 4%? After 6 years? LOL.....4%......6 years.....and it's the "HERO" of the PC industry? If I am not mistaken isn't that 4% only counts for shipping and not actual sales? I remember a year or two ago, Sony revealed how many PS4s were sold. Microsoft's response was that was how many Xbox Ones were shipped.


    All of that....and Microsoft is the "HERO" of the PC Industry that is still declining? LOL...is Brad Samms on the other side of the world where New Years already happened and he's drunk?


    As for Microsoft exiting the Surface line,.....didn't Sony do that with Vaio a few years ago? The Vaio brand still exists, if I am not mistaken, but owned by another company? I remember IBM were still refreshing their Thinkpad line of laptops before they sold it to Lenovo. IMO, the some analysts see a loser for Microsoft with Surface. The fact is, their marketshare in the PC Industry is so small, that it's practically almost invisible. I guess their thinking is (or was), why would Microsoft split their resouces over a (for the lack of a better word) loser when they can focus on their bread and butter....the cloud?

    • jbinaz

      In reply to Bats:

      To address the substance of your comments:

      • Surface devices were never meant to be a hero device, at least not in the sense that it was expected to sell in high volume. It was designed to inspire PC makers to get creative and come up with designs besides bland, boring laptops in black and silver cases. It was also meant to showcase features of Windows such as Windows Hello.
      • Sure, Microsoft could spin off their hardware, but that would defeat the purpose of #1.


      I could be wrong on the above, but they're not really my original thoughts. I believe I've heard Paul and/or Brad say most of the first bullet point, either written or on a podcast. I gladly welcome them to correct me if I've incorrectly put words in their mouth.


      Moving beyond the substance of your comments: since it's still 2018 as I write this, the below won't break my New Year resolution for 2019 of being less of an a**hole on the internet. Are you sure you're not drunk?

      • You misspelled Brad's name. It's Sams, not Samms. Seriously, just look at the top; it's not that hard.
      • An ellipsis has three periods, not four. You even have one with five. You're an overachiever. Also, you overuse them.
      • You have a comma with an ellipsis ("...Surface line,.....didn't Sony...").


  6. mclark2112

    Looks like they wanted a 3:2 or 4:3 aspect ratio from the beginning. Too bad the first few designs had that horrible widescreen layout.

  7. tmslayton

    The Surface Pro is a great machine, you should try it out. My work gave me a SP4 a couple of years ago and I liked it so much that I finally replaced my personal aging iPad Pro and MacBook Pro with a new SP6. It is a fantastic device and replaced two of my other machines. I certainly hope Microsoft stays in the game because I'll be buying these devices for the foreseeable future!

  8. bbold

    I love all of the Surface products. My only want is to have USB-C on all devices by end of 2019 and for a Surface Laptop 3 that will allow its screen to flip around 360 degrees like an HP x360. Otherwise, the Surface Book 2 still stands as my fave, with the Surface Go coming in second. Excited to see what MS brings us in the new year!

  9. brettscoast

    Have to hand it to Panay despite everything that happened with surface he seems completely dedicated to the brand, when considering the journey he has been on is amazing dedication

  10. Perry Reed

    I still have my original Surface Pro. It still runs great and I use it often. Although I finally got a new machine for Christmas, a Surface Go, so my use of the older machine will probably drop.

  11. Stoicjim

    I was first in line at the Orlando store when the SP1 was released and bought two, one for my daughter in Japan and one for me. I held on to that up until the SP3 release and would have kept it still if not for a sweet upgrade deal I got at the store. I imagine the Surface Go has much of the same qualities and I would get the latter if not for the fact that I have a relatively new Surface Pro LTE.

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