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.sur­­ness

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

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