At 9 a.m. local time on Tuesday, 150 tech journalists queued in the shadow of New York’s iconic Empire State Building.
We were there to gain access to Microsoft’s Windows 10 devices launch which was being held at the former US Post Office building which at one time was used to process over 70% of the country’s mail.
Shortly after 10 o’clock the presentation got under way and for the next 90 minutes the company rolled out the announcement and demonstration of device after device.
Prior to the event the rumour mill had been active. Leaks had primed us to expect some of the products – the launch of two or three new Lumia phones, a new Surface Pro 4., perhaps an update to the Band wearable. However on at least two occasions expectations were exceded.
The first big hit was a live video game demonstration of the mixed reality Hololens headset. If the Project X-ray demonstration of robots climbing out of the walls was accurate (and there may have been some enhancement for theatrical purposes) in the near future gamers will be using their own rooms as canvases for gameplay.
Yet it was the announcement of a laptop that really got the crowd excited.
Head of devices Panos Panay relished in the big stage reveal of the Microsoft Surface Book, first introducing the “most powerful laptop ever” with a sizzle real of its main features.
But he then asked for the video to be replayed, and we saw a crucial piece of information that was missing in the first video clip – the screen can be detached with the press of an electronic key. It was nice, it was smart and if the calls of “oh my god” in front of me were anything to be believed, it was well received.
So, not only has Microsoft moved into the premium laptop business (look out Apple) they have introduced an innovative feature that allows users to detach the laptop screen and pass it around. Other manufacturers have had similar ideas about detachability (the Asus Transformer Book springs to mind) but this is not a hybrid device, it is a powerful, premium laptop first and foremost.
When I got my hands on one after the presentation I was struck by how solid and substantial it felt, not to mention how beautiful that detachable screen looked up close. The mechanism for detaching and reattaching is simple and intuitive. Like the Surface Pro range the keyboard magnetically seems to “grab” the screen and pull it into the lock position. It will be a hit with power users who prefer Windows over other systems.
While the Surface Book took the headlines, each of the other announcements were significant in their own right.
The Surface Pro 4 is the next generation of the transformative tablet device that can replace a traditional laptop. Thinner, lighter and 30% more powerful than before, the Surface Pro 4 pen also attaches to the pc magnetically.
The Lumia 950 and 950 XL are two new flagship phones that run Windows 10 and can quite literally replace your computer for many of the main apps. When connected to a monitor through an optional Continuum box these phones will run full versions of “Universal Apps” designed for Windows 10 such as Powerpoint and Outlook.
Microsoft also announced that more and more high-end companies were producing apps specifically for the Windows 10 platform, specifically Facebook who were creating apps for Facebook, Messenger and Instagram.
No doubt these partners were taking notice of the fact that Windows 10 now has more than 110 million active installs after 10 weeks. That rate is twice as fast as windows 7 uptake. It must give good heart to CEO Satya Nadella who said when he took the stage, “we want to see people move from needing Windows to wanting Windows to loving Windows.”
Microsoft also demonstrated advancements in it’s digital personal assistant Cortana and Windows Hello, the biometric login system that recognises facial characteristics and announced Windows 10 would be available on Xbox One from December, allowing Xbox 360 games to be played on the console.
I’ll add more information on each of the products when they make their NZ debut, at this stage prices and availability have not yet been announced.
Declaration: John traveled to New York for the event as a guest of Microsoft.