Yesterday’s Surface event in New York was pretty special, for a couple of reasons. First of all, it was pretty late in the afternoon, when the news cycle is already slowing down. There was also no livestream, which is too bad since Surface head Panos Panay is probably one of the most charismatic speakers in the tech industry.
Microsoft choosing a smaller audience for its latest Surface event may have been disappointing for Surface fans, but the truth is the company didn’t really have a lot to showcase. As expected, the Surface Pro 6 and Surface Laptop 2 are iterative updates, and while the new Surface headphones sound interesting on paper, the $349 pricing seems to be something as absurd as a $199 Cortana-powered speaker.
The main highlight from yesterday’s event was probably the new black color option for the Surface Pro 6 and Surface Laptop 2, which is seems to be what Microsoft wanted to focus on its marketing materials. As you may know, the first Surface Pro and Surface RT tablets were only available in black, and early-adopters may find something to like about this homage to the past. But unfortunately, it's quite hard to be excited about the new Surface mobile devices, and Microsoft skipping USB-C once again is another missed opportunity for the company.
After Microsoft added the new port to the Surface Book 2 last year, and then to the Surface Go earlier this year, more consistency across the Surface family seemed like an obvious thing to do this Fall. And actually, a Surface Laptop prototype with two USB-C ports was revealed in a promotional video last year.
As you may know, the Surface team has a complicated history with USB-C: Surface head Panos Panay previously said in several interviews that the reversible port wasn’t ready for mainstream adoption, though Microsoft has since released several types of USB-C dongles to appease Surface users looking for more flexibility. Moreover, for the Surface devices that do have an USB-C port like the Surface Book 2 or the Surface Studio 2, these ports lack support for Intel’s versatile Thunderbolt 3 protocol, which is really disappointing on devices that are quite expensive.
It’s not exactly clear why Microsoft didn’t replace the inferior Mini-DisplayPort port (which also requires a dongle for video-out) on the Surface Pro 6 with more versatile USB-C ports. The Surface Pro remains the most popular form factor in the Surface family of devices, and most consumers hearing the word "Surface" will probably think first about the 2-in-1 tablet. As a result, the Surface Pro 6 should definitely come with the latest and greatest technology, and just be the best representation of Microsoft's forward-looking approach with Surface.
Well, what we got instead yesterday was a minor spec bump with an unoriginal new black color option, and that's really too bad, especially since Microsoft did have prototype devices with USB-C ports. This is something that Microsoft privately confirmed yesterday according to Thurrott.com:
What we found out at the event, with a little prying, was that Microsoft did, in fact, test versions of both PCs with USB-C ports. And while I'm not sure how or when the go/no-go decision on that took place, I was told two things. One, that Microsoft is responding to the market confusion and debate around USB-C. And that USB-C is happening on future models of these PCs.
A previous report from ZDNet also said that Microsoft was planning a "heavily redesigned” Surface Pro tablet for next year, and we hope that this time Microsoft will include an USB-C port with Thunderbolt 3 support. For now, though, the company will be shooting itself in the foot with new Surface headphones that use, you guessed it, USB-C for charging. It's not clear what type of cable will be included in the box, but we wouldn't need to ask ourselves this question if the latest Surface devices all came with USB-C ports.
Another disappointment about the Surface Pro 6 is that the consumer version will ship with Windows 10 Home instead of Windows 10 Pro. The latter will be reserved to the business version of the device, which costs $100 more That's pretty surprising for a product using the "Pro" moniker, and all previous Surface Pro models since the 2013 Surface Pro shipped with a "Pro" version of Windows. This year though, the Surface Pro 6 has been put on the same level as the more affordable Surface Go, despite a $500 difference. We hope that this is something Microsoft will reverse with the next version of the Surface Pro, though we're not holding our breath.
Have you also been disappointed by the Surface Pro 6 reveal, and do you think the absence of USB-C ports is starting to tarnish a brand that is often associated with futuristic, top-of-the-line products? Sound off in the comments below.