Microsoft becomes a form factor trend setter

Microsoft becomes a form factor trend setter

I am not sure anyone could have predicted the design influence that Microsoft’s Surface hardware would have on the form factor of devices built by other companies.

When Surface first arrived on the scene in the Fall of 2012 it was a new hybrid style of device that was part-time tablet and part-time laptop when you added the optional keyboard.

Apple's CEO Tim Cook, when asked about the Surface announcement in October of 2012, could not have been less flattering:

"I haven't personally played with the Surface yet, but what we're reading about it that it's a fairly compromised, confusing product."

Although, many read and made assumptions about Surface and Windows 8 during those early days without ever trying out the products themselves, it was surprising to see the same thing done by the leader of a major tech company.

However, Microsoft continued forward with their ideas around Surface and its design. In less than three years they iterated its flagship hardware device through five cycles of development. Each step of the way they worked to improve its capabilities and address any shortcomings in its design. Next week, on 06 October in New York City, the Redmond company is expected to announce Surface Pro 4 which will be the sixth version of the device.

At the beginning of September, I wrote that Microsoft built Surface to show hardware partners what was possible with PC form factors. Even Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, has stated on several occasions that the companies first party hardware such as Surface was meant to light up the capabilities of Microsoft’s apps, services and operating system.

It also does not hurt that Surface, after a shaky start that resulted in a write down of nearly $1 billion dollars, has now become a billion-dollar business for Microsoft.

The success of Surface has also resulted in a widening design influence that we are seeing from other manufacturers as they have announced new hardware over the last few weeks.

This week it was the Pixel C which was announced by Google at a large hardware event of their own.

Google Pixel C

On September 9th it was the iPad Pro from Apple.

Apple iPad Pro

Earlier in September at IFA 2015 in Berlin it was the Miix 700 from Lenovo.

Lenovo Miix 700

There have also been rumors of HP and Dell working on their own Surface clones which are expected to enter the market soon.

You can even go back to CES 2015 in January of this year when a team of ex Google engineers announced the Remix Ultra tablet – an Android based device that was the first in this line of Surface clones.

Jide Remix Ultra

I imagine Microsoft’s Panos Panay must be sitting in his office at Microsoft just basking in the flattery of these companies adopting his team’s design.

For a device that was described by some in the tech press as confusing, shaky, heartbreaking, undercooked, possessing a split personality and mediocre it is high praise indeed to have major companies embracing the concept and deciding to field their own versions of the Surface design.

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