Microsoft's Panos Panay is a veritable Santa Claus. Once a year he appears with magical creations that he and his Surface team have been producing in their labs in Redmond, Washington. Later today, Microsoft's Santa Claus is expected to deliver his latest gift: a Surface PC. Panay has a history of leading a team whose focus is reinventing and redefining what our expectations of a computer should be. This will be no different.
Microsoft's Surface team has successfully refined the Surface Pro into a tablet and laptop hybrid that is inspiring other PC makers, including Google and Apple, into creating their own versions. It might not be the perfect laptop or the perfect tablet, but it's fair to say that Microsoft has managed to reinvent the ideas of what a tablet and a laptop should be.
Panay jumped on stage last October to unveil the Surface Book, Microsoft's take on the laptop. Microsoft hasn't created tablets or laptops in the way you'd expect, and the Surface Book's detachable display is a great example of that. It surprised the crowds at Microsoft's event last year, and many will now be expecting a similar wow moment at today's event.
A Surface Studio for work and play
The Surface all-in-one PC that Microsoft is expected to unveil will transform a desk into a creative work studio. At a time when most consumers are buying laptops or tablets instead of big desktop PCs, it will be a challenge for Microsoft to convince the world why they might need a full Surface PC.
Microsoft could achieve this in a number of ways. Perhaps this Surface PC might turn out to be just a touchscreen monitor with a powerful GPU inside that works particularly well with docking Surface devices into it, and with every other laptop on the market. It could then turn every laptop into a gaming PC, much like Razer's Core accessory, to play the latest Xbox Play Anywhere titles, or power intense 3D graphics applications. Microsoft's Major Nelson is attending today's event, and Surface chief Panos Panay tweeted and deleted that he couldn't wait to play Gears of War 4 on his Surface. No current Surface devices are capable of running Gears of War 4 properly, and it would make sense that a desktop Surface PC would be powerful enough.
Either way, Microsoft's challenge to convince people that the desktop PC still matters will need to move beyond just gaming. Microsoft appears to be meeting that challenge with a focus on creativity and 3D. Microsoft has hinted several times that today's event will be aimed at creatives, and its recent Surface commercials have all targeted the Mac by featuring different ways you can create content using a keyboard, touchscreen, and stylus. Additional leaks have pointed towards a focus on a new 3D Paint app, alongside 3D additions to Microsoft Office and Windows itself.
If Microsoft follows its traditional path of reinventing hardware product categories, then today's Surface PC will need to blur together software and hardware in a unique way. Microsoft has had years of experience from building the original Surface table product, all the way up to the new giant Surface Hub screens. A desktop PC will have to blend the best aspects of both of those products in a meaningful way.
Microsoft is now focusing heavily on its future. After admitting mobile defeat, Microsoft sees its future in artificial intelligence and augmented reality. "Every walk of life, and every part of human activity, will be transformed by augmented reality," said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, speaking at this week's Wall Street Journal D Live conference. Microsoft's focus on HoloLens, and Windows Holographic, will need to be an important part of Windows itself and hardware like the Surface PC if it truly believes mixed reality is the future.
Augmented reality is part of Microsoft's future
If Microsoft wants to reinvent the PC for a 3D future and aim its new hardware at creatives, then it will need to show today why regular Windows 10 users will want to experiment and use 3D objects, applications, and mixed reality devices on a desktop PC.Virtual reality and augmented reality headsets are still in their infancy, but Microsoft is bringing its full virtual Windows Holographic experience to Windows 10. We haven't seen exactly how that will work in practice, but today's event will need to combine all of these loose threads into a reinvention of the PC.