Microsoft Surface chief: Consumers were first, but focus is shifting to business

Surface chief Panos Panay at the launch of Surface in October 2012. Credit: IDGNS

The head of Microsoft’s Surface unit said to expect updates to the Surface line that will make them more appealing to business users.

“We did design them to get consumers first… No question,” said Panos Panay, corporate vice president for Surface at Microsoft. He spoke briefly this week during Microsoft’s annual CIO Summit.

But he said that the company also had businesses in mind when building the Surface and that Microsoft is “right on the cusp” of the products being in the position to target business customers.

The company only recently started letting business customers buy Surface tablets in bulk.

Panay vaguely hinted at what else might come to make Surface more appealing to mobile workers.

He showed a touch cover in a bright teal color with suede on the back that he said isn’t available to the public. “They’ll be customized for organizations in the future,” he said. “You’ll start to see these get customized and transformed.”

It wasn’t clear if he was only referring to the touch covers or to the Surface units themselves.

So far, the Surface is available in the RT version, which doesn’t run full versions of Office, and Pro, which runs everything possible on Windows 8. Both are 10-inch tablets. But with market demand trending toward smaller size devices, there’s pressure on Microsoft to allow partners the flexibility to build smaller tablets. It’s also possible that Microsoft will do so itself.

Ed Bott recently noticed that Microsoft changed the resolution requirements for Windows 8 devices, opening the door for smaller tablets. He suggests that this could mean Microsoft is working on a smaller tablet, possibly in collaboration with partner Barnes & Noble that would also serve as a Nook reader.

Around a year ago Microsoft took a $300 million stake in a new subsidiary company it formed with Barnes & Noble made up of the book seller’s digital and college businesses. An ereader made in collaboration with Barnes & Noble would be targeted at consumers, but if it runs Windows 8 could also be suitable for business users.

Microsoft has made other improvements to the current Surface products, Panay said. It recently pushed out updates for Windows 8 apps including Mail, OneNote, Xbox SmartGlass, and Music. Other updates for Surface RT have improved Wi-Fi performance and battery life, he said.

As a side note, Panay also said that Microsoft had the largest facility in the world for molding magnesium, in China. It's used to create the Surface tablets.

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