Microsoft (MSFT -0.54%) has steadily shifted its focus under CEO Satya Nadella, becoming a more dynamic company that possesses the ability to surprise customers and the media. Heading into its Oct. 26 press conference, speculation ran rampant with predictions for what it would reveal, ranging from some ho-hum Windows improvements to the release of an all-in-one Surface desktop.
Nadella has given his company the type of sexy sheen previously afforded only to flashier rivals like Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL). Now, even though the Microsoft CEO has been more of a steady change agent than a leader who blows things up, every Microsoft event brings anticipation.
The CEO did not appear until late in the event, really just adding a cherry on top by sharing his thoughts to close the event. But his team delivered in his stead and while there may not have been a drop-the-mic moment, there were lots of surprises.
It starts with Windows
After a video built around the tag line "We don't build Windows for all of us, we build Windows for each of us," Windows boss Terry Myerson took the stage. He began by laying out how varied people are and the place of technology in each individual life, offering examples of how various Microsoft products fit in.
"Windows is your kitchen table where everything just gets done," he said, noting that the company now has 400 million users for the Windows 10 operating system (OS). Myerson then announced a new version of Windows 10 that will ship for free for existing users this spring. Called the "Windows 10 Creators Update," the executive shared three key innovations that will drive the release:
- Empowering everyone to be a 3D creator.
- A focus on gaming.
- Letting everyone connect with friends and family.
For 3D, the new Windows will let people capture video in three dimensions using any mobile platform. The company showed that off in a video where a Windows phone was used to make a 3D rendering of a sand castle, later bringing it into its own Paint program, and introducing a website, remix3d.com, where people can share their 3D creations (including ones created in Minecraft). Myerson also said a number of Microsoft partners will be releasing immersive 3D headsets that will start at under $200.
In gaming, Myerson started by going into the popularity of e-sports among millennials. He said that the new Windows would be built around being able to share and broadcast games and a demo showed that it was possible to start a broadcast with just a few button pushes. This should give Windows/Xbox players a reason to broadcast directly on Microsoft's platform rather than using a service like Twitch.
For the final area, helping people connect, Windows executive Allison O'Mahoney took the stage to talk about "stronger human connections through technology." She noted that what started with the simplicity of email has "grown into a patchwork of applications and services." She then introduced a new feature called "Your People," which lets users connect more easily with "a few key people."
This includes offering simplified sharing tools built into Windows. In addition, the new Windows will combine Skype, Mail, SMS Relay, Xbox Live, and Skype for Business, along with third-party apps allowing users to more easily sort through communications from their most important contacts.
"Our goal for Windows 10 is to have the effect of the Guttenberg press on the next generation of computing," Myerson said. He noted that preview builds are now available for Windows Insiders.
Meet the new Surface products
After a preamble built around the idea that "people want more," Surface boss Panos Panay introduced an improved version of the Surface Book laptop/tablet hybrid. The Surface Book i7 offers 30% more battery life and twice the graphics performance for the previous model, he said.
The new machine offers 16 hours of battery life, Panay said. Pre-orders will be accepted at Microsoft.com with orders shipping in November.
Panay then teased the crowd, saying, "Do you want to hear about a new product? ... It's going to seem familiar, but it's gonna feel different." He then introduced the new Surface desktop computer called Surface Studio.
The executive showed off the device's aluminum enclosure and its 1.33-millimeter-thick touchscreen, which Myerson said was the thinnest desktop monitor ever created. He also noted that the device has a screen that is notably better than 4K, which can display over a billion colors.
Panay also showed off another new product, Surface Dial, a wireless controller that works with various Surface models. It's an interface targeting designers, artists, and other creative types that integrates with the machines' touchscreen. The small, handheld device works a bit like an enhanced mouse, allowing for direct interaction with Surface Studio and earlier Surface products.
Both Studio, which starts at $3,000, and Dial are available for pre-order today and will ship in November.
Nadella's final thought
"At Microsoft our mission is to empower every person and every organization to achieve more," said the CEO. "As we pursue our ambition to bring more personal computing into our lives, we're building Windows for each of us... With Surface we're creating a new category that transforms your desk into a creative studio."