“There’s no such thing as a Pro 5.”
That’s what Microsoft’s devices chief Panos Panay said just last week it in an interview with CNET when the company was out showing off its new product: the Surface Laptop. We’ve gotten a new Surface Pro each year since the product line was first unveiled back in 2013—that is, until now.
It’s been about a year and a half since the Surface Pro 4 came out. In other words, we’re due for an update. While Panay didn’t say the Surface Pro was dead, neither did he sound like the Pro 5 was in the pipeline.
In the past year and a half, we’ve seen Microsoft expand its Surface line of products greatly. First came the updated Surface Book, then the updated Surface Book with Performance Base, then came the all-in-one Surface Studio desktop—and more recently, the Surface Laptop. It seems Microsoft seems intent on stretching its new hardware brand across every possible form factor—and most fans and critics are delighted by what we’ve been getting.
The “Surface Laptop”https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2017/05/5-things-you-need-to-know-about-the-new-surface-la.html, for example, is a terrific-looking new product. It’s rare that a company’s first traditional laptop feels like such a fresh breath of air in a form factor that has been done to death. It’s not a MacBook imitator like so many other Windows PCs, nor does strive to be different for the sake of being different. It’s just a high-quality, well-designed product with its own sense of style. If nothing else, if feels like Microsoft is flexing its design and manufacturing muscles with the Surface Laptop.
Despite how good the Surface Laptop may be, it’s just not the updated Surface Pro that fans have been waiting for. Not only can it not be used as a tablet, it’s been limited to run Windows 10 S, which only supports Windows Store apps. What’s more, at a $999 price point, the Surface Laptop sits uncomfortably right in the middle of the Surface Pro’s territory.
They’ve even gone to the point of saying that they’re not worried about selling Surface Pro 4’s at this point:
“If people don’t want to buy our Pro 4 at this time, that’s OK,” Panay said in that same interview. “What I’m super, super sure of is that the people using a Pro 4 have a product that’s going to be competitive for five years.”
We all know what happened when Apple launched the iPad Pro at the same price point as the beloved MacBook Air. I’m not saying that the Surface Pro will suffer the same fate, but at least for the near future, Microsoft definitely seems to have turned its focus. The same thing happened to the underpowered Surface, which seems to have petered out at its third generation back in 2015. We haven’t seen an update since and don’t expect to see one anytime soon.
So what’s the deal? Outside of the Xbox, the Surface Pro has been the only successful hardware Microsoft has ever made from the ground up. Why would Microsoft ignore the product that put the entire Surface line in business?
We can’t know for sure, but with the direction Microsoft has moved with Windows 10, the idea of a complete 2-in-1 feels more and more like a thing of the past. Let’s not forget that under the leadership of former-CEO Steve Ballmer, the company bravely moved away from its legacy users with Windows 8 at the helm. The Surface and Surface Pro products were at the very heart of that desire to merge the smartphone/tablet world with the laptop. But we all know how that went.
The result has been a re-shifting toward traditional form factors and legacy users. Windows 10, the Surface Studio, and the Surface Laptop are all admissions of failure to unite the mobile and desktop worlds in a single operating system. I’m not being down on Microsoft—after all, they’re the only company that has ever tried. But where it stands today, the odd Surface Pro doesn’t exactly fit into the company’s humble return to familiar form factors and compartmentalized computing systems.
“When it’s meaningful and the change is right, we’ll put it on market,” said Panay. “I’m looking for an experiential change that makes a huge difference in product line. You’ll see that same meaningful impact when Pro 5, or Pro Next hits the market.”
So no—the Surface Pro probably isn’t dead. However, Microsoft is playing it safe with its hardware and until it finds a real solution to the problem the Surface Pro tried to solve, we won’t be seeing its return anytime soon. By the time we do get the next Surface Pro, it’ll probably be quite different than the product people have come to appreciate.