As the euphoria surrounding yesterday’s Surface Laptop announcement dies down, I’ve received a number of pointed questions about this new device. Key among them: Since Surface Laptop doesn’t create a new form factor, how does it fit within Microsoft’s Surface strategy? Why on earth would Microsoft create a … laptop?
I know the answer. And it’s a better answer than you probably believe.
Quickly, consider what Microsoft has done with Surface so far: It has created a family of market-defining products that have inspired PC makers to pursue these new form factors for themselves. In doing so, Microsoft has improved the PC market enormously, for it, for its partners, and for its customers.
Surface Pro, of course, is the tablet that can replace your laptop. It wasn’t the first 2-in-1 PC, but it did formalize the design, and today we are awash in a sea of Surface Pro clones.
Surface Book is the ultimate laptop because it, too, is a 2-in-1 device, but with a different emphasis than Surface Pro: This form factor addresses the more common usage scenario where touch and pen are only occasionally needed.
Surface Studio? It redefines the All-In-One PC. And Surface Hub is a new kind of collaboration PC aimed at ad-hoc teams, not individuals.
Each of these PCs—and many Surface peripherals—are all innovative from a hardware and usage perspective. They aren’t different to be different; they’re different to be better, and to demonstrate to others that the PC is still the most versatile personal computing device on the market.
But Surface devices have one other commonality: Each was designed to the perfect stage for Windows. The original Surface devices sought to prove that Windows 8 made sense in a touch-first, pen-enabled world. More recent Surface devices take advantage of unique Windows 10 features like Windows Hello, Continuum, and Cortana.
Surface Laptop does this for Windows 10 S.
For the first time, Microsoft is differentiating one of its Surface hardware products purely by the software it runs, and not by the form factor. So Surface Laptop doesn’t break any new ground from a form factor perspective, it’s just another premium laptop. But it’s also the first, and so far only, premium laptop running Windows 10 S. And in releasing this product, Microsoft hopes to inspire other PC makers to similarly adopt this streamlined Windows offering in their own premium PCs.
Let that sink in, because it’s important.
I’ve stated repeatedly that Windows 10 S is not aimed solely at Chromebooks and low-end PCs, that it would also be made available on premium PCs. I’ve also stated repeatedly that Windows 10 S is nothing less than the future of Windows.
This, then, is the lofty aim of Surface Laptop, and the real reason this device exists. It’s not for students, per se, or for education, though it will no doubt find some success with that audience. But Surface Laptop is much bigger than that.
Surface Laptop is a peek at our collective future, a decisive step towards ridding us of the pain of the Win32 desktop mess that has been holding back Windows for years. Surface Laptop isn’t a me-too knockoff, just another laptop. It is the opening salvo in the most important battle that Terry Myerson’s Windows business will fight in the years ahead.
Is it good enough to be aspirational to customers and PC makers alike? The next several months will be telling. And while we may never see the results, we all know that Microsoft will be watching its telemetry data very carefully to see how many Surface Laptop buyers take advantage of the temporary free upgrade offer to Windows 10 Pro. And that they have established some number, some percentage, to a ranking system by which they will determine if the Windows 10 S value proposition is working, or whether they need to make further tweaks.
(Worried about the lack of USB-C/Thunderbolt 3? That’s Microsoft throwing a bone to PC makers, I bet.)
Surface Laptop doesn’t just make sense as a Surface. It makes more sense than any Surface device that Microsoft has ever released.