Microsoft Surface Go: rethinking the millennial laptop/tablet and creating an IT bridge product

This week Microsoft (disclosure: Microsoft is a client of the author) announced the Microsoft Surface Go. This is an original iPad sized Surface product with a base price of just under $400 that uses a Pentium processor and has 9 hours of battery life. While the iPad is clearly the competitive target, particularly in education, you can also see it as a hedge against the Chromebook which has been making inroads in education and in a lot of trials, but few (if any yet) successful deployments in the enterprise market. 

This is really the first product that appears to be specifically designed for the unique and still emerging millennial market.  It could form the new baseline for what new employees entering the market will carry.  

Let me explain. 

What we know about millennials

The surveys I’ve reviewed over the last several years have highlighted that millennials really don’t like the products that are currently in market and have little loyalty to them when it comes to traditional PCs. Surveys in schools have shown that often they don’t even want PCs, they want to live off their cell phones and that their work product is far more collaborative and connected then the age groups that came before them. 

They grew up with Smartphones almost glued to their hands and have been heavy users of social media and streaming services like YouTube. They are avoiding traditional cable companies, increasingly choosing to use services like Uber and Lyft rather than buying cars and appear to have unusually high mental health problems when entering the workforce due to a clear mismatch of expectations. Part of this is that the tools they must use were often conceived long before they even chose a career let alone entered the workforce. 

We also know that these millennials will often factor in the hardware they will be given into what companies they choose to work for. Given the existing labor shortage particularly in high profile technology areas having the right hardware for them could make an enormous difference in attracting the best employees.  

This means it is likely more important than we realize to design hardware for millennials but, until now, the industry hasn’t really embraced this group. Likely part of the problem is that millennials really don’t know what they do want they are just specific on what they don’t want. They don’t want their parents’ PCs. 

Setting a millennial specification

You’d start with a smartphone/tablet design, light, portable and always connected. Microsoft had three technologies that would lend themselves to this. Their Surface Line, their Always Connected PC initiative and Continuum which was their effort to bridge smartphones and PCs. You’d then execute an Apple like marketing campaign to convince millennials that the resulting offering is their ideal and that it represents millennial thinking. Ideally, you’d highlight it was designed for and by millennials. 

Surface Go

Surface Go is a tablet design that pulls from the Surface line and design language and is in the 10” class along with the original iPad. It doesn’t use the Always Connected PC ARM based platform which is a shame but will get LTE support in a couple of months which should help close that gap.  It isn’t a Continuum product but with a 10” screen and 4K monitor support it likely doesn’t need to be as it won’t really have to scale the screen as dramatically as a Smartphone would.  It does support the full Windows stack so that means full Office and full Windows app support which is critical to interfacing in Business which has been slow to adapt the Chrome OS and in education where the Chrome OS has done reasonably well. I expect the use of Intel Pentium rather than ARM was the result of having education as a primary target and not wanting to try to get a non-x86 platform through related qualifications and approvals.  Still, I expect to see an Always Connected version of this device to eventually make it to market because that could double battery life and be far more ideal as a millennial targeted product.

As a result, the Microsoft Surface Go, while not yet fully perfected for millennials, is likely the closest we have in market so far to a product that could bridge what millennials seem to want with what IT still needs. With the right marketing campaign, which I haven’t seen yet, this could become a significant milestone on the path to the perfect millennial traditional PC alternative.  

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