A recent report from Digitimes claims that Microsoft is prepping a Surface-branded all-in-one (AIO) PC. I think this is an excellent idea. And while I can’t speak directly to the veracity of the rumors, I do have some ideas about how Microsoft can—and should—make a difference in this market.
That Microsoft might make a Surface AIO is of course plausible: Surface is all about inventing—really, refining—product categories so that the rest of the industry can jump on board with their own similar designs. They did this with the 2-in-1, of course, to great success. And they’re trying to repeat that success now with laptops. And I believe they’re going to try to do it with phones as well.
But an AIO? Now, that’s smart.
And its smart on multiple levels. It’s smart because PC makers are starting to carve out growth sub-markets in the otherwise shrinking PC market. And it’s smart because Microsoft can add real value to the AIO form factor, formalize what it means to be a Windows AIO, and then inspire its PC maker partners to jump on in.
Brad and I were in a meeting when we first heard about the Digitimes report, and my initial knee-jerk reaction was that Microsoft had to make the iMac look silly by comparison. That’s a high bar. But think about the possibilities here: Virtually everything Microsoft needs is already in place.
A few thoughts.
Not a big Surface, but a small Surface Hub. This is the big conceptual leap here, I think. That is, a Surface AIO is still a PC for an individual, of course, but it should take its design cues from the professional-looking black Surface Hub and lose the dull gray color. Surface build quality is understood.
Display matters. While I could see Microsoft entering this market with just a single sized device, I think two models are in order, with 23-inch(ish) and 27-inch(ish) PixelSense multi-touch displays. The big question, of course, is whether the screen is detachable: I can’t see Microsoft avoiding that design choice, but current detachable AIO designs aren’t great. And I think this should be the ultimate desktop PC, not a gigantic tablet. A secondary question is aspect ratio: Surface-standard 3:2 or a widescreen display like we see on Surface Hub?
Function over form. Unlike the iMac, the Surface AIO should feature a base with ports, and not hide them away behind the screen, a terrible design. It could and should resemble the current Surface Dock, in fact, but with USB-C added to the mix. The screen should be tiltable all the way down to nearly level in front of the user, allowing them to draw and write on the screen. The question here is whether such a device uses the Surface Pen or Surface Hub’s larger pen.
Power and performance. The Surface AIO should follow the Surface Book model and provide both base Intel Core i5 and i7 chips with integrated graphics as well as higher-end processor options with discrete graphics. In fact, a high-end version should be both gaming- and VR-capable.
Keyboard and mouse. Microsoft is on to something truly special with the Surface Book keyboard, and it’s not hard to imagine that forming the basis of a desktop keyboard. Desktop PC users will expect a real mouse, however, and not a trackpad, and Surfacizing an existing Microsoft mouse would be simple enough.
A Surface AIO could be the perfect Surface device: A premium PC that targets growth markets and generates some excitement in a product category that has been dominated by a pretty boring and rarely updated iMac for too long.
Microsoft, makes this happen. This device makes a lot more sense than a Surface phone.