Last week Microsoft delighted the tech community with its announcement of the Surface Studio. While Microsoft’s all new All-in-One paradigm is a relatively well-known quantity in the computing space, with comparable PC manufacturers producing similar products over the past few years, the company’s presentation may have trumped most industry expectations.
The reveal of the Surface Studio was paired with a passionate speech from Microsoft’s head of hardware Panos Panay and a remixed version of Pure Imagination by Stephanie Tarling and has left a pretty impressive impression on the computing community.
However, with a few days of digestion and the smoke and mirrors removed, the team over at The Verge is presenting a deep dive into how the Surface Studio came to be and the thought process behind the Surface brand evolution.
During the interview, several Surface engineers speak to why the Surface brand exist and sum up concisely the feel behind their products with “we’re here to make awesome products.”
“There is a tradition of us getting funding with pretty crappy prototypes,” admits Ralf Groene, Microsoft’s head of industrial design, as he sits proudly next to the Surface Studio during its launch event in New York City last week. Those “crappy prototypes” include the original Surface RT concept, that was an acrylic sheet with a piece of string attached. Microsoft started with the basic concept of propping up a tablet on a table and typing, and the first prototype went to Panos Panay, head of Microsoft’s Surface devices, to approve. “In those crappy prototypes, the idea is pure because it’s easy to make good-looking design models with all chrome and details, and it kind of hides away from what it actually is at its core.”
Other details from the interview include how the engineers solved a hinge problem they created in an attempt to provide added functionality to a seemingly stagnate computing device as they have done with the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book before.
Solving the Surface Studio hinge problem relied on what Microsoft wanted the product to be. Microsoft started with the idea of having a device you could move the screen into a drawing mode, and it took some time to get to the final product that Microsoft unveiled last week. “We built these working contraptions where you’d grab the device and there was a capacitive sensor behind the screen and it would unlock a mechanism and it would go CRSSSH,” explains Groene, excitedly making the machine’s sounds. “Then you’d move it and let go and it would go CHERRRK.” Although it sounds, in more ways than one, like an interesting mechanism, the team ultimately decided it was “too robotic.
One prototype’s clutch mechanism stopped working, and using it without the clutch made the Surface team focus on balancing the screen and the weight with the arms to make it feel weightless. “We really engineered everything to fit Tetris-like together,” explains Groene. “It’s actually pretty similar [to a desk lamp]. The inside is actually a four-bar hinge, many desk lamps have these two parallel beams that are connected, and that’s exactly what is in here, that keeps the upper in correspondence to wherever the lower is.” You’ll find desk lamps with similar hinges everywhere, and the Surface Studio’s works in a similar way.”
The interview continues, where Groene explains why the screen of the Surface Studio doesn’t lay completely flat and that the main reason was due to real world examples seen at Disney drawing tables.
The Verge uses some added editorial to draw comparisons between the shifting philosophies between two of the industry’s largest tech companies in Apple and Microsoft. Groene leans into the comparisons by offering his take on the competition with, “That’s important to us, it might not be that important to Apple because the way they look at the world is different, and that’s just totally fine. They brought out the Pencil; we have a Pen; it’s fine. It’s good. Honestly, competition is great.”
The entire interview is wrapped up with Groene explaining that the Surface team won’t be following Apple in some of its design choices because the company feels it needs to “do something crazy.”
While being sold on store shelves, the Surface brand is evolving into an aspirational product line. Priced out of most competition and taking bold design steps (for better or for worse), Surface is becoming a moniker for Microsoft’s real vision of its future.
We encourage readers interested in the behind-the-scenes development of the Surface Studio to head over to The Verge to read the entirety of the Surface interview.