When Microsoft launched the Surface product line, it was positioned as the company's way to bring together the software and hardware to create the best possible experiences for productivity by workers at all levels. Based on first looks at the upcoming Surface hardware, here are the areas that should be on the radars of enterprise IT managers when considering hardware upgrades and purchases.
How the Surface Upgrade Experience Will Change
Surface has lagged other OEM hardware in the area of repairability. Past versions of Surface Pro and Surface Laptop have always scored low on the repairability index from sites who look into this area of hardware such as ifixit.com.
Surface Laptop 3
Those scores should improve somewhat for the new Surface Laptop 3, because this latest iteration of the classic clamshell laptop can now be opened up to remove/upgrade the internal Solid-State Drive (SSD) and potentially make other repairs on the main board and components. Although Microsoft says special tools would be needed to remove the keyboard deck to gain access to the interior of the device, it's notable that the deck is now attached with special screws and magnets instead of being glued, as the past two generations of Surface Laptop has been built.
Surface Pro X
Although you can not get into the main case of the new Surface Pro X, there is a spot on the backside of the device underneath the kickstand that provides access to a Micro-SIM card slot and the devices main SSD.
Microsoft did not clarify if the SSD is user upgradeable or not, but it does appear to be a proprietary piece of hardware that would need to be acquired ahead of replacement.
The other benefit of the Surface Pro X is that it will release with LTE capabilities. This is the first time Microsoft has done a day 1 release of a new hardware device with LTE integrated. For enterprise customers, that feature along with all-day battery life on the new Surface SQ1 ARM-based processor that was built by Microsoft and Qualcomm should make a very positive impact on productivity for an on-the-go workforce.
How New Hardware Could Boost Productivity
Microsoft has always worked hard to integrate features into Surface hardware that helps increase a worker’s productivity. Most of that focus is between the hardware, Windows 10, and Microsoft Office. With that in mind, Microsoft launched its new Surface Earbuds this week with a focus on end-user productivity.
The wireless earbuds include touch and voice controls for whatever you might be listening to on the job including business calls on Skype and Microsoft Teams. There are also touch controls to give you access to services in Office 365 such as your Outlook calendar, email, and to-do list. They can also be connected to not only Cortana as a digital assistant but also the other available assistants such as those from Apple and Google.
Finally, if you are in a pinch and need to control a PowerPoint presentation, you can use a swiping finger gesture on the earbuds control surface to advance your slide deck without the need of a separate clicker.
Another area of productivity that coincided with the hardware announcements include new features for Microsoft Excel that adds inking and dictation support when preparing data and spreadsheets.
Form Factor Changes Could Boost Productivity
Any enterprise-level manager will always be looking forward for opportunities to provide employees tools that will increase their ability to stay connected and be productive in a multitude of scenarios. Microsoft provided some food for thought in this area by providing a look at two new devices that will be available late next year.
Microsoft is bucking the trend to have plastic flexible screens on folding devices and instead will hinge together two individual screens to create a portable workspace with multiple configurations or postures as Microsoft called them. Although the devices were under very strict physical control during the showcase portion of the Surface hardware event, we did learn a few details about the upcoming device.
- Two 9-inch screens that fold open to create a 13-inch combined screen
- 360-degree hinge
- Touch, pen, and magnetic/Bluetooth keyboard support
- Windows 10X operating system designed and optimized for dual-screen and folding devices
This is Microsoft's re-entry into the phone market although they are not calling this smaller device a phone. However, Surface Chief Panos Panay did refer to it as a communications device during the unveiling and discussed its ability to get more done than just on a single screened phone.
Just like its bigger sibling the Surface Neo, not many details were provided on this pre-release hardware but there are a few items that were shared:
- Two 5.6-inch screens that will open to an 8.3-inch combined screen
- 360 degree hinge similar to that on the Surface Neo above
- Touch support but no specific mentions about Pen compatibility
- Will run a custom version of Android which Microsoft has been working with Google on however, it will use the new Microsoft Launcher as the default UI
This is the first time Microsoft has ever shown off pre-production Surface devices. The main reason was to set awareness of the potential for dual-screen devices and to put developers on alert about the coming changes and opportunities. This makes Microsoft BUILD 2020 a very interesting event because that will likely be the venue that Microsoft uses to educate developers further about the new programming interfaces in Windows 10X and this custom version of Android.
It is always interesting to get an early look at these types of devices that can potentially establish entirely new categories of hardware however, it leaves a lot of questions that can't quite be answered yet.