Yesterday in Shanghai, Microsoft announced the new Surface Pro, a successor to the Surface Pro 4. Yes, Microsoft chopped the number off completely from the new version.
DISCLAIMER: I Spy Technology has not gotten its information directly from the keynote livestream due to there not being an English version. We are relying on information provided by credible sources who were present at the keynote.
Microsoft released the Surface Pro 4 a long time ago. October 6, 2015 to be precise. Since then, things have changed. Intel released their new Kaby Lake CPUs, which while providing modest performance gains over the previous version, brought with it hardware encoding as well as better power efficiency. And almost every laptop out there these days ship with Intel Kaby Lake processors.
But CPU generations aside, there have been a lot of changes in technology. One of the most notable among them being the influx of USB-C and Thunderbolt 3. And while those still aren’t ubiquitous, a lot of devices are using them since Apple announced the MacBook Pro.
And a lot of the major PC manufacturers are bringing Surface clones to the market with the newer Kaby Lake CPUs and Thunderbolt 3.
A lot of fans were expecting the next Surface Pro, which was appropriately rumored to be called the Surface Pro 5, to feature new innovations. One of the rumors suggested that Microsoft might actually fit a quad-core i7 in the new Surface. Another rumor suggested that the new Surface would feature a 4k display. And of course, a rumor even suggested that Microsoft would include not one, but two Thunderbolt 3 ports.
But in March, a rumor dropped that the new Surface would actually be a minor refresh. This was complimented by an official statement from Panos Panay, Microsoft’s head of Surface devices, that “there is no such thing as Surface Pro 5”.
A disappointing refresh
I will admit that Microsoft could have done better. If they were going to refresh a product after 19 months, they could have done something that would capture more hearts. Something different, something innovative.
Don’t get me wrong. I do appreciate Microsoft getting on board the Kaby Lake ship. I appreciate Microsoft removing the fan on the i5 model. Adding LTE capability will appeal to a lot of travelers. And adding a new coprocessor to reduce pen latency and adding Surface Dial on-screen capability is welcome. Lastly, the improved pen with 3 times more degrees of pressure, and tilt sensitivity is awesome.
But Microsoft missed a huge opportunity which they could have taken advantage of: Thunderbolt 3, or at least USB-C. Let me explain this in more detail.
When Microsoft unveiled the Surface Laptop earlier this month, they were asked about not including USB-C. As the Surface Laptop was targeted towards college students, they said that USB-C wasn’t as ubiquitous and that their target cliental used standard USB devices such as storage devices.
I totally understand their point of view. But at the same time, I disagree.
Apple received a lot of criticism over including only Thunderbolt 3 ports in its new MacBook Pro. Which makes sense, because you need dongles to connect legacy ports. But what people must understand is that we are in a transition period. And Apple doing this reminds me of what they did with the MacBook Air back in 2008. At the time, having a laptop thinner than an iPhone and having such power was a revolution. And it actually pushed the industry to an extent where every OEM these days is making thin and ultraportable devices.
Similarly, with the launch of the new MacBook Pro, Apple inevitably pushed the industry forward. A lot of OEMs are including Thunderbolt 3 ports in their devices and a lot of accessory makers are making Thunderbolt 3 compatible devices. Thunderbolt 3 also allows us to do things that weren’t possible before, such as connecting external GPUs to notebooks.
What I am trying to say is, that Thunderbolt 3 is now not-so ubiquitous, however within the next 2 years, it will become mainstream. And that is where OEMs will benefit: future-proofing.
I am very disappointed that Microsoft skipped the opportunity to future proof their devices, especially at the rate in which the technology is blooming.
In case you can’t tell already, this post is more of a rant on Microsoft skipping USB-C. Thunderbolt 3 has a lot of advantages and the world is going towards that route. Who knows, one day VR headsets such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive will also connect with just one Thunderbolt cable.
I really hope that Microsoft includes Thunderbolt 3. or at-least USB-C on their next Surface. By then, hopefully, it would have gotten even more mainstream and more accessible to others. If Microsoft wants to stay in the devices circle, it will have to embrace new technologies as they emerge and not waiting for them to become mainstream. And I am a huge Surface fan and hope that they fix this flaw sooner than later.