For a while in recent times, Microsoft’s devices weren’t something that mattered. Windows 8 wasn’t a horrible operating system, but tiles on devices that weren’t touch screens or tablets takes away from a user’s experience. I owned a touch screen laptop with Windows 8.1 and found myself rarely using the function. It was easier to continue using the trackpad or a wireless mouse. Laptops never were tablets and tablets were never laptops, but there was a feeling there had to be a way to combine the two.
Microsoft’s first Surface devices with Windows 8/8.1 didn’t gain the company many new fans. Apple was moving away from Microsoft, with their devices and operating system being designed to work together seamlessly. Apple had an advantage that it made the devices and the operating system that could perform like Microsoft operating systems couldn’t. Windows 8/8.1 and the first few generations of Surface tablets feel like it was the company still testing and learning about the user, their experience and how to make devices perform to the standards of users.
Panos Panay is Corporate Vice President in charge of all Microsoft’s devices, and he knew that Microsoft wasn’t a leader anymore. Instead, Microsoft were playing catch up. The digital world had moved beyond desktop and laptop operating systems. People were using mobile devices more and often had multiple devices. Panay wanted to reinvent the laptop, to make it something new again. There was a drive to reinvent the wheel, and this meant that new thinking was needed.
The first prototype for the designed Panay thought was awful. The design looked “like a book” and Panay was not a fan. Despite the initial reaction, “like a book” became the founding metaphor for the project. The idea was to build the best laptop possible, and so a large number of prototypes were made from sketches. The aim was to create a device that made you feel that this was the one you wanted because it had all you wanted inside. Then, to show you something new, unexpected that you didn’t know you wanted.
The new Surface Book is a laptop first and a tablet second, unlike the Surface Pros. There’s a button that needs to be held down for a second and the screen detaches. Panay and the team wanted the feel of the detaching to feel like a real feature, not just a gimmick. Microsoft has just released the Surface Book to the public. If there is an argument to be made to call the Surface Book the best laptop ever, it’ll be the users who will decide. This is an important device for Microsoft, as it’s one that could shape their future for better or worse.