BEAUTY MEETS BRAINS
The latest Microsoft Surface Pro’s design is a glimpse into where the future of tech is heading: products that are far more versatile and personalised than ever before. Idealog chats to Microsoft NZ director of marketing and operations Frazer Scott about the rationale behind some of the changes, the increased focus on aesthetics and its unexpected links to Louis Vuitton handbags. Five years ago, the Surface Pro made its debut as ‘the tablet that can replace your laptop’. The slim, portable design meant the device was a hybrid between a traditional computer and something not yet seen before.
Since then, its features have been honed and its usability tested to create the latest version. It was released in May and the new device shook off its tablet origins, touting itself instead as ‘the most versatile laptop’.
Microsoft NZ director of marketing and operations Frazer Scott says the evolution of the Surface Pro has caused some quibbling over semantics and what defines a laptop versus a tablet, but its design has now arrived at a place where it can comfortably act as either.
“There was always going to be a circular reference in its design. It was a tablet first and foremost because before the Surface, that didn’t exist, but now that they’re an accepted design style it’s become more flexible.”
The technical changes from the last model are subtle, but important, such as the new Core M and i5 processor allowing it to run more quietly and efficiently with next to no fan noise.
What does stand out, however, is the increased flexibility, which acknowledges the continuing changes to our working environments and the need for different tools that fit with our modern lifestyle.
Globally, about half a million people are estimated to be located in co-working spaces and that number is expected to increase to one million by the end of 2017, making it one of the biggest global trends in commercial property.
Many factors have contributed to this rise, such as the different needs and wants of Millennials entering the workforce, changes in the way people work due to new technology, the
increased number of freelance workers (who are expected to outnumber fixed employees by 2020 in the US) and a desire for increased collaboration and community.
A recent report by real estate firm Bayleys found Auckland’s co-working spaces have grown from three operators taking up around 1,400 square metres of space in 2011 to 13 operators running 13,800 square metres of space in 2016. This number will have grown even more by the end of 2017, with GridAKL expanding to include two new buildings leased by co-working space provider Generator, as well as BizDojo’s new coworking site in Takapuna, its site in development in Ponsonby and the just announced Sylvia Park site, which will be open in mid-2018.
It’s not just demand for co-working spaces that’s on the rise, either. Advances in hardware and software mean we can now work almost anywhere and employees increasingly want flexible working conditions. In 2016, 43 percent of employed Americans said they were working remotely and, in New Zealand, the 2012 Survey of Working Life found almost a third of all employees had spent time working at home over the four weeks prior to being surveyed.
Scott says he remembers the first time he saw a Surface Pro being used as he walked through an Air New Zealand Koru Lounge, but now he says it’s common to see them while traveling domestically and further afield.
“People don’t have fixed desks anymore: We work at home, in the office, on the aeroplane,” he says. “This is a device that’s designed to give you ultimate flexibility, be it on a couch, cramped in an economy class seat on a plane, presenting, or typing up meeting minutes – it really comes to life.”
And he would know. The Microsoft New Zealand team embraces hot-desking, so there’s no fixed desks for staff, and Scott says they find the Surface Pro’s design well-suited to the fluidity of this arrangement.
Better in every way
While Microsoft’s products have always been known for their technical prowess, arguably one area they dipped behind on was the beautiful aesthetics that today’s consumers crave from their hi-tech objects.
However, the Surface Pro’s latest design reflects an increased focus on premium look and feel, as well as a change in direction for the brand. The best example of this shift is Microsoft forgoing the typical cold, steely technology experience and introducing a material called Alcantara – a stain-resistant material usually reserved for Louis Vuitton handbags and cars – to the Surface Pro’s keyboard. The Surface Pro keyboards are available in platinum, as well as the attentiongrabbing shades of cobalt blue or burgundy.
And though there have been concerns raised about keeping the material clean, a specialised polyurethane coating on top of the fabric offers some solid defence.
Scott says the use of different materials shows Microsoft experimenting with and pioneering new areas of product design.
“I think the whole idea behind the Surface pedigree is we’re trying new things, and as much as the Surface Pro was a new point in design, we’re now introducing Alcantara into our line up,” he says. “There’s a bunch of different reasons for using it. For one, it actually makes for quite a comfortable typing experience. But let’s be honest, it looks awesome. It’s a point of difference with the tactile experience and when you’re sitting in a room with it, people take notice and say, ‘what is that?’”
More broadly, Scott says Microsoft’s branding has undergone a bit of a renaissance in recent years, which is clearly demonstrated in the new Surface Pro.
“Every single aspect, from the brand look and feel to the box in which it’s packaged … all of these moments have been carefully cultivated to get the most premium experience.”
Looking ahead to where its product design might go in the future, Scott says Microsoft wants to set the benchmarks on what is possible with technology, flexibility and customisation.
“We’re looking at how you can maximise the device so it’s not just a monochromatic experience and instead, it reflects your individuality, whether you’re in a creative space, in a small business, or are the CEO of a large company,” he says. Looking for more information about Surface Pro, or want to get your hands on one? www.surface.com/business
There’s a bunch of different reasons for using Alcantara. For one, i t actually makes for quite a comfortable typing experience. But l et’s be honest, i t l ooks awesome. It’s a point of difference with the tactile experience and when you’re sitting in a room with i t, people take notice and say, ‘what is that?’ Frazer Scott