The Latest

22 October 2021: Microsoft recently unveiled the latest versions of its Surface line of devices with versatile form factors to cater to different use cases. Highlights include the redesigned 13-inch Surface Pro 8 tablet with 11th generation Intel processor, the portable Surface Go 3, the laptop/tablet Surface Pro 7+, the pocket-sized Surface Duo 2, and the highly anticipated Surface Laptop Studio.

Why it’s Important

Microsoft released its redesigned Surface lineup form factor alongside its rollout of Windows 11 earlier this month. While there are plenty of improvements in the new lineup, most are best described as evolutionary: more computing power, refinement of form factors, etc. 

However, two products stand out as potential new niche market makers: the Duo 2 and the Surface Laptop Studio.

The Duo 2: Win-Win or Double-Trouble?

IBRS has obtained a Surface Duo 2 and finds it fits somewhere between a smartphone and a tablet… yet not quite matching either role. While Samsung found some success with its Galaxy Z Fold device as a smartphone, the Duo 2 tends more towards the tablet end of the market.

If the Duo 2 is to be successful, it will be due to Microsoft defining a new niche for mobile prosumer (professional- level consumers). The success of the device will indicate that there is no single market niche for foldable devices (as they are currently being touted), but several sub-niches tied more to screen size, onscreen keyboard capabilities and photography prowess.

On the flip side (pun intended), first impressions of the Duo 2 suggest it may be a workable alternative to the semi-ruggedised, larger format smartphones which are making inroads against traditional fully-ruggedised tablets. 

The additional screen space and size of the on-screen keyboard, positions the Due 2 slightly above most of the large format phones for field workers. It is even passable (just) for running remote virtual desktop applications. 

Surface Laptop Studio: Solves the problem you didn’t know you had

IBRS has also trialled the Surface Laptop Studio. IBRS believes this device serves a new niche between more traditional laptops (such as the Surface Book) and hybrid devices (such as the Surface Pro).  

The Laptop Studio has a hinge at the back to help set up the device in three versatile constructions: a regular laptop, a ‘stage’ mode where the screen is closed when streaming or engaged in video calls, and the ‘studio’ mode where the screen slides out flat, effectively turning the device into a graphic-intensive tablet.

From observations during ‘digital workspace’ consulting engagements, IBRS has noted that the Surface Pro is often used as a ‘primary desktop’ (meaning, used mostly when seated as a staff-members regular desk and in the home office). The weakness here is that the device is better suited for mobile (nomadic) work.

The Laptop Studio is more geared towards a desk-top experience, while also providing for flexible user configuration. For example, it features more connectivity ports, but less focus on the battery 

Microsoft is not the only company implementing a new form factor to cater to users’ needs for devices that straddle between existing designs. Acer’s ConceptD 3 Ezel and HP’s Spectre Folio also share the same form factor as the Surface Laptop Studio. 

It is likely this ‘desktop oriented yet flexible’ form factor will gain ground as more organisations adapt to the demands of hybrid working. It is not enough to consider someone working between multiple office locations as being a ‘remote worker’. Rather, they are full-time office workers that may wish to move between locations, while gaining the ability to host video conferencing, engage in pen / tablet creative work, and switch back to having a more traditional desktop experience.

Who’s impacted

  • Procurement
  • Digital workspaces / end-user computing teams

What’s Next?

The evolution of end user devices is ongoing - albeit slowly and with more than a few dead-ends. Manufacturers continue to experiment with new market niches, as organisations become more selective with devices that meet specific needs.  

The upshot of this is that care should be taken when developing ‘personas’ for digital workspaces. Keep in mind that a persona is not solely related to a staff member’s ‘job’ (which is really multiple different types of jobs). It needs to factor the environment, the tasks performed in the context of the environment, and the staff's ability to switch between different devices based on needs at any given time.

In addition, when determining mobile force field device needs, do not limit the evaluation to the features of fully rugged products. Instead, consider the lifecycle of the products and software dependencies. Only then should an organisation decide which available devices on the market can best cater to the work contexts and personas you have.

Related IBRS Advisory

  1. Redefining what ruggedised means
  2. The use and abuse of Personas for end-user computing strategies
  3. Examples of Persona Templates
  4. VENDORiQ: Samsung unveils new smartphones