Sitting second row for Microsoft’s unveiling of their new hardware line up, the WiFi is already slaughtered, and cell phone networks are melting down. It’s frustrating being detached from the wider social media world, but the buzz surrounding this event makes sense. Microsoft has never put together such a complete line up of products and services to show off before.
Chatting with others around me, everyone seems to be here for a different product category. Lumia fans, Surface fans, XBox Fans, Band fans, Microsoft has a lot riding on bringing these various teams together. Not just internally, as their company wide reorganization seems to be working, and we’ve recently seen a bit more product synergy between departments which used to feud. We’re looking at a company now trying to bring their diverse customer base together. Taking individuals who might turn to Microsoft for a single service or solution, and exposing them to a more comprehensive ecosystem.
They’ve made a lot of progress recently in re-establishing their reputation as a services company, providing apps on every platform. That doesn’t unseat the need for Microsoft and partners to find opportunities to continue pressuring the hardware market. While Windows is the dominate force in PC sales, they represent a much smaller slice of the mobile market. The timing on this event actually works in their favor, as tablet sales for Android and iOS are starting to cool off, Windows slates are in a good spot for consumers to replace both laptops and tablets with a single purchase. To continue moving towards one unified operating system environment, Windows needs to blur the lines between phones and tablets, as much as they did between tablets and PC’s.
One of the first major announcements to follow that theme came from Facebook, building out a new suite of universal apps for the entire Windows 10 platform.
Windows 10 will be making it’s way to the XBox in time for the holidays, alongside a slate of limited edition consoles to match new AA titles like Fallout and Halo. We’re also going to see a new pro contoller compatible with XBox and other Windows 10 PC’s.
The HoloLens team was on hand to show off a demo of mixed reality game play. Augmented reality game play which uses the real contours of your home for enemies to interact with. Moving forward from demos, Microsoft is finally ready to offer up a proper developer kit. Starting Q1 2016, developers will be able to go hands on with HoloLens for $3000.
Microsoft’s second generation Band features sleeker and more contoured hardware. Listening to customer feedback, they’ve eliminated edges, and the screen features more of a curve to taper around the wrist. The core smartwatch features remain, and there’s improved support for Cortna voice actions. The new Band also includes a barometer for folks who want to see their elevation.
Improved sensors and software will benefit hardcore althetes and normal folks looking for better data, tracking heart rate, estimating your max oxygen utilization, and even providing you feedback on your golf swing. Band will be available to pre-order later today, and is expected to ship around Oct. 30th for $249.
LUMIA 950 & 950XL
Surface is now a $3 billion dollar a year brand, and Microsoft is hoping to bring some of that magic to their Lumia line.
The first steps in re-introducing Windows phones to consumers are the Lumia 95o and 950XL. New antennas will automatically shift signal reception depending on how you hold the phone, and Microsoft is utilizing a liquid cooling process to help manage Qualcomms 810 thermals for higher performance.
The rumors were spot on for screen sizes, the 950 will sport a 5.2″ QHD OLED, and the 950XL will move up to a 5.7″ display. The new Glance features will focus on richer notifications and alerts while using very little power to activate pixels on the screen.
The camera is refined, featuring a triple LED flash primed for better skin tone representation and reducing red eye. New optical image stabilization should improve on longer shutter speeds and smoother video. Happily for me, the 950’s will continue to include dedicated hardware camera shutter buttons.
These flagships will start with 32GB of storage and include MicroSD card expansion. USB Type-C includes support for fast charging, allowing 50% charge in 30 minutes. This hardware combo, with the faster data throughput of USB Type C, means that as we get more universal apps, Continuum will provide an almost feature complete Windows 10 desktop experience when plugged into a larger screen. Microsoft will be offering a Type C dock that splits the connector into additional USB 3 ports and dual montitor outputs. Live tiles on your home screen will become the apps docked in your start menu, and this UI includes the same taskbar and app switcher found in the PC version of Windows, while your phone continues using the mobile UI at the same time.
The Lumia 950 will start at $549, the 950XL for $649, both should be available in November.
Surface Pro 4
Surface Pro continues to blur the line between tablet and PC. The fourth generation slate brings a thinner design than the Pro 3, and a faster Intel processor than what’s found in the new MacBook. The screen size increases from 12″ to 12.3″ without changing the form factor, thanks to thinner bezels. That screen incorporates thinner Gorilla Glass 4, and the thinnest overall hardware. Their PixelSense technology provides a stylus interaction closer to the fluidity of pen on paper.
Microsoft’s new Pen now includes an easer on the back, has year long battery life, 1024 points of pressure, and magnetic attachment to the tablet. Single click brings OneNote to the forefront, double clicking will grab a screenshot, and holding the pen button down will intiate a Cortana prompt for voice actions. Microsoft taking some clear shots at Apple’s Pencil, and now the Surface pen will come in five different colors with the option for interchangeable pen tips custom built for specific applications like drawing or notetaking.
Surface Pro 4 will now offer up to 1TB of storage with options up including 16GB of RAM, and the team stopped at an 8.4mm thickness simply to include the full sized USB port.
A new Surface Dock (backwards compatible with the Pro 3) will include Ethernet, four USB 3 ports, and dual display outputs capable of driving a pair of 4K monitors.
The new type cover is lighter and thinner, but includes a better scissor key design for improved touch typing feedback, has a 40% larger touch pad, and is also backwards compatible with the Pro 3. A fingerprint scanner is now included for biometric security. Surface Pro 4 users can expect enterprise grade face recognition thanks to a newly improved front facing camera.
Surface Pro 4 will start at $899, is available for pre-order now, and will ship starting Oct. 26.
In addition to the Pro 4 tablet , Microsoft showed off the new Surface Book, the first laptop ever built by Microsoft directly, and following the trends of most new Windows 10 devices, this is a mutli mode PC where the screen can detach from the keyboard.
A 13.5″ screen with a 267 PPI with the same touch and PixelSense experience found on the tablet. The keyboard is built on a 20 year history of hardware keyboards, and thelarge touchpad is glass with 5 points of touch.
The Surface Book incorporates a dedicated NVIDIA GPU located in the keyboard dock for improved graphics and rendering performance. With new Intel hardware, Microsft is claiming the Surface Book will be twice as powerful as a McBook Pro, but even with a more powerful CPU & GPU combo, battery life is extimated to run for up to 12 hours.
Microsoft is heavily emphasizing not only power, but design and aesthetics, with seams lined up down to 10 microns and a newly designed flexing hinge. That hinge has a new sensor designed to measure force on the screen. In normal use it’s locked into the keyboard dock, but applying specific force to pull the screen will allow the screen to pop offf easily without the need for additional latches. For durability, the entire chasis is built out Magnesium like the smaller tablet.
Surface Book will be available Oct 26 starting at $1499.
It’s a Microsoft executing a more unified vision across their various product lines. They still face significant pressure in the mobile arena, but this keynote showed a company building on recent successes to deliver more competive solutions.