All posts in “Windows 10”

Microsoft won’t launch new Surface Pro until there are ‘meaningful’ upgrades

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 06 2015: Microsoft Corporate Vice President Panos Panay introduces a new tablet titled the Microsoft Surface Pro 4
NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 06 2015: Microsoft Corporate Vice President Panos Panay introduces a new tablet titled the Microsoft Surface Pro 4

Image: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Don’t hold your breath for a Surface Pro 5.

Panos Panay, Microsoft’s energetic Surface devices chief, says, “There’s no such thing as a Pro 5.”

Speaking with CNET, Panay essentially admits the company’s letting the nearly two-year-old Surface Pro 4 languish. He believes the Surface Pro 4, outdated as it is in terms of specs, will still be solid for another five years. “If people don’t want to buy our Pro 4 at this time, that’s OK.”

Rather than follow the usual PC cycle with minor refreshes to the internals, Panos says Microsoft will put out a new Surface Pro when there are enough “meaningful” changes such as significantly improved battery life or serious weight reduction.

“Meaningful change isn’t necessarily a hardware change, which is what a lot of people look for. They’re like, ‘Where’s the latest processor?’ I’m looking for an experiential change that makes a huge difference in product line,” Panos says.

Panos’ logic mirrors another tech giant’s hardware philosophy: Apple’s. Though Apple used to update its Macs frequently to accommodate new chipsets, it has now basically moved to a “whenever” schedule. Before the new MacBook Pros were released last October, the MacBook Pros went un-updated for over a year. The iMac was last updated in October 2015 and the Mac Mini in October 2014.

The Surface Pro is more of an aspiration reference design for PC makers.

In a way, it kind of makes sense for Microsoft to hold off on releasing a new Surface Pro. People just don’t replace their PCs very often. In fact, people are hanging onto their PCs even longer than ever before.

“[The] replacement cycle for the PC has extended,” Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said last year. “Four years was the average, now it has moved to about five to six years.”

Moreover, the Surface Pro (and the rest of the Surface lineup, for that matter) was never meant to be the flagship of the PC world. The Surface Pro is more of an aspiration reference design for which other PC makers could model their own devices after. And model they have — there are now tons of respectable Surface clones available from the likes of Samsung, Lenovo, Acer and more. If you want a new Surface Pro-like device with the latest chips and features, there are plenty to pick from that aren’t from Microsoft.

Rumors have suggested Microsoft might announce the Surface Pro 5 at Microsoft Build this week or at its event in Shanghai on May 23, but it’s looking more likely that’s not going to happen. But if not a new Surface Pro, then what new hardware will Microsoft unveil? And would you be happy if it just trots out an updated Surface Pro 4 with new guts?

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Harman Kardon’s Cortana-powered speaker leaks ahead of launch


Microsoft wants in on the Google Home and Amazon Echo party. This Echo-lookalike is made by Harman Kardon and it’s powered by Microsoft’s Cortana voice platform. The device apparently launches this fall and could be officially revealed later this week.

Update: Microsoft and Harman Kardon have now confirmed this. The device will go on sale in the fall of 2017.

Called the Invoke, the product page for the unannounced product was discovered by Thurrott.com before it was pulled. According to Thurrott’s report the cylinder speaker has a light ring on top, 360 degree sound and supports Skype calling and the ability to ask Cortana questions.

If the device launches as advertised, Skype calling could be Microsoft’s big ticket. Neither the Google Home or Amazon Echo currently supports voice calls in any fashion though there have been rumors that the Echo would eventually gain the ability.

It’s highly likely that Microsoft will reveal the full feature set of this platform later this week at its developer’s conference, Build. There’s also a good chance that other hardware partners are on board and the Invoke will launch alongside other Cortana-powered speakers later this year.

With the Surface Laptop, Microsoft leads the PC industry back into the light

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Microsoft’s new Surface Laptop isn’t the $300 education system we were expecting, but then that’s not Microsoft’s role in the PC industry.

It’s the hero of this story.

A decade or more of darkness. Average products. Poor builds. The computer as a commodity. Once dominant computer manufacturers couldn’t figure out how to make eye-catching products that weren’t more form than function. 

This was, in part, Microsoft’s own fault. It built the Windows operating system and basically handed it to OEMs with a “Do with this what you will.” Obviously, there’s always been collaboration between Microsoft and hardware partners, but the OEMs always led the way on system design and, I guess, Microsoft always hoped for something better.

In the meantime, Apple’s Steve Jobs and then CEO Tim Cook tried to usher the world into the Post-PC era, even as that company built and sold its own personal computers.

The PC industry and, quite honestly, the PC, felt dead.

As we know, hardware revival came from an unlikely source.

Microsoft took its partners and really the entire Windows PC industry by the hand and showed them the way. A computer could be beautiful and functional. Design elements could serve capabilities. And what started with the Surface computer five years ago, a computer that straddled the line between tablet and ultra-portable, has culminated in this, the Surface Laptop, Microsoft’s first true clamshell computer, which Microsoft unveiled on Tuesday in New York City (along with the education-friendly Windows 10 S).

Like all the Surface computers that have come before it – Surface Pro, Surface Book, Surface Studio – the $999 Surface Laptop seeks to redefine a category with brash and unusual design choices, like a 3.6 mm-thin touch screen and a fabric-covered keyboard, that combine to make the portable more, not less, functional. My only quibble is that the wedge design makes the screen can’t fold all the way over onto the system’s back, which would, obviously, make it a convertible.

And to understand why today, a day in which Microsoft did not wow the world with a sub-$300 education laptop, is still a win for Microsoft, you need to know what Microsoft is doing in the PC space in the first place.

Form and Function

Microsoft’s plan with the Surface brand is not to, so to speak, flood the zone, covering every possible permutation of the venerable PC. Its all-in-one Surface Studio only arrived last year and it’s literally taken them years to build a non-convertible version of a laptop.

It’s also not building systems purely as a technology showcase. Yes, the Surface Book’s dynamic fulcrum hinge was unusual, but it was designed to help balance a system that split the battery and, in some cases, the discrete graphics and core CPU (and other components) into two slabs.

What Microsoft’s Surface design choices prove is that Microsoft focuses as much attention on industrial design as Apple does on each generation of the iPhone. Part of this is to show consumers and partners what’s possible, but most of it is to inspire current and future Windows customers. 

Microsoft has never had an issue with operating system name recognition. Everyone knows, if not loves or likes, Windows. Microsoft has never had a recognizable hardware brand — until Surface.

A fabric-covered keyboard is a better idea than you think it is.

A fabric-covered keyboard is a better idea than you think it is.

Image: lili sams/mashable

Surface is now as well known as Dell, Acer and Asus. But like the Apple brand, it carries a certain cachet. One that Microsoft won’t trade to fill a “value” niche, even if it’s trying to attract education buyers. Doing so would only harm the brand and its design leadership position.

Much of this became clear to me as I peppered the Surface Laptop design team with questions about the keyboard and mostly screw-free design. 

Easily the mostly startling aspect of the Surface Laptop is the keyboard. It’s a one-of-a-kind melding of aluminum, plastic and nylon.

As good as it looked, I couldn’t help but think that Microsoft has unnecessarily carpeted a computer.

“Why fabric?” I asked Microsoft Senior Designer Rachael Bell.

“First, why not?” said Bell, adding that a fabric-like material on keyboards has long been part of the Surface identity. While similar to Surface Touch Keyboard fabric, this material is different. I’d call it “feltier” but Bell told me it’s a non-woven, pressed nylon with a special polyurethane covering for durability, including water and chemical resistance.

Bell also reminded me that it’s “soft and beautiful to interact with,” and I had to admit that it felt good to the touch and comfortable when my palms rested on the spaces adjacent to the spacious touch pad.

That's a clean edge.

That’s a clean edge.

Image: lili sams/mashable

However, she added, there’s utility and value here, too. A fabric covering allows Microsoft to hide the speaker under the keyboard. Yes, there are precision holes cut in the fabric for the speaker grill, but you really can’t see them. If the keyboard cover were plastic, you’d see the holes.

Still, I worried about how the covering would hold up to wear and tear. What if it peeled off?

Mechanical engineer Mohammad Haq explained that Microsoft developed a lamination process, using heat, pressure and a specially formulated adhesive, to bind the fabric to the chassis.

As I held the Surface Laptop in my hands, I examined that bond, looking for a lip, a place where some middle-school kid could gain purchase and peel the fabric right off. I couldn’t find one. 

That perfect cut comes by way of an optical laser. The fabric cover starts out larger than the keyboard and then the laser trims away the excess leaving what looked like a one, clean edge.

During the Surface Laptop unveiling Microsoft Corporate VP Panos Panay said “When you hold the Surface Laptop, you will find no reference to how these parts came together.”

It’s true. I couldn’t see a screw anywhere. How did Microsoft do it? What’s holding this laptop together?

Where are the screws?

Where are the screws?

Image: lili sams/mashable

“There’s a considerable amount of adhesive, including heat activated pressure sensitive and liquid dispense (or hot melt),” said Haq. 

The only place you’d find screws are in the three-element hinge and on the motherboard.

All this attention to detail comes together in a laptop that I could literally open and close with a fingertip.

It’s not a $200 or $300 laptop and that’s by design. Microsoft has poured an insane amount of detail and expertise into crafting its perfect ideal of a traditional laptop. It’s a product consumers will probably want and partners can learn from. 

Ultimately, Microsoft will leave it to OEMs to build systems at the prices and variety consumers, especially education customers, demand, while it focuses attention on lust-worthy devices that remind people that Windows can live in cool hardware, too.

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Microsoft’s unveils new Surface Laptop with crazy battery life

Meet the newest member of the Surface family.

Along with the new Windows 10 S, Microsoft also introduced the Surface Laptop on Tuesday at its education-focused event in New York City. 

The Surface Laptop is Microsoft’s first Surface computer with a traditional clamshell design that’s not a detachable 2-in-1. Until now, Microsoft pushed the Surface Pro 4 (tablet that’s powerful enough to replace a laptop) and the Surface Book (laptop that detaches into a powerful tablet).

Its design is a departure for Microsoft and kind an affirmation that students don’t really need tablets—they need a rock solid laptop that’s affordable and can take a beating.

Available in four colors, Surface Laptop is lightweight at 2.76 pounds and thin at 14.5mm. It’s got a 13.5-inch PixelSense touchscreen display and the keyboard is covered in an “Alcantara” fabric material Microsoft’s used on Surface Pro 4 keyboards before. The backlit keys have a 1.5mm travel and never feel cold when you type on them says Microsoft’s Panos Panay.

The Surface Laptop comes with the latest seventh-generation Intel Core i5 or i7 processor, up to 1TB of PCIe SSD storage, and up to 14.5 hours of battery life. Panay says it’s 50 percent faster than the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro and lasts longer, too (MacBook Air only gets up to 13 hours of battery life and MacBook Pro up to to 10 hours).

As for ports, it’s got a single USB 3.0 port, Mini DisplayPort, and headphone jack on the left side, as well as a lone SD card slot on the right side. See that Apple? Even Microsoft’s low-cost Surface Laptop has an SD card slot. There’s no excuse the MacBook Pro doesn’t.

The Surface Laptop starts at $999 and launches on June 15. Pre-orders are available immediately.

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