In the weeks before the first Surface tablet was announced, at a time when the secret new device was still hidden inside window-free rooms at Microsoft’s headquarters, a video producer was tasked with creating a sizzle reel to help introduce the new tablet. He needed to film everything: the kickstand, the ports, and the all-important keyboard cover. And for some extra flair, he wanted to film the components of the tablet individually, so he started to take the unit apart. That proved to be a problem.
“The bottom of Surface RT batteries were glued onto the magnesium chassis,” Ralf Groene, head of Windows and devices research and design, recalled in an interview with The Verge. “So he takes a screwdriver and pries the battery open and then he pierces it and it pops!” There was smoke, fire. The whole building got shut down.
This month, the Surface lineup turns 10 years old, and Microsoft is releasing its latest generation of PCs. That includes a tablet, the Surface Pro 9, that looks a whole lot like the one that blew up in a secret room in Redmond back in 2012. In fact, a whole lot of devices look like that tablet these days: Apple’s iPad, Dell’s XPS 13 2-in-1, Asus’ ExpertBook, and many more. What 10 years ago was an oddball bet for Microsoft, often laughed at with concerns around “lapability” and reliability, is now the standard format for a 2-in-1. Microsoft got it right.
But much like that early fiery incident, the Surface team occasionally pushes too far in its quest to design the next category-defining product. Ten years ago, the company blazed a new trail. It’s still searching for what comes next — even through some messy results.