The Surface 3 is a 10.8-inch device with an Intel Atom x7 CPU and a starting price point of $499, which gets you 64GB of storage and 2GB of RAM. However, the main feature of the tablet, and for good reason, may be that it supports Windows 8.1 -- and, in the not-so-distant-future, Windows 10. But there's more to Surface 3 than this (it now charges via micro-USB), and Microsoft hopes that these changes are enough to erase the bittersweet memories left behind by the device's two predecessors, Surface with Windows RT and Surface 2. Aside from that, the Surface 3 now boasts a display with a 3:2 aspect ratio and a 1,920 x 1,280 resolution, as opposed to the 16:9 found on previous models.
In that regard, the third-gen Surface follows in the footsteps of its more powerful sibling, the Surface Pro 3. Groene says that the panels are indeed different, though he wasn't willing to go into detail about what's changed between them. Either way, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see how sharp and colorful that screen is, and we have a hunch most of you will be happy about the new paper-inspired 3:2 aspect ratio. "When we designed the first generation of Surface, the operating system was kind of holed into a 16:9 aspect ratio, and that's why the first Surfaces came out with that aspect ratio," he says. "We then learned that it should be changed for better portrait mode."
On the left, the very first Surface prototype.
"If you want to make better products, at some point you gotta work on a software level."
Hardware, naturally, is only part of the equation, with software being more important than ever in shaping the user experience. Of course, a company that does this well is Apple, which is second to none when it comes to seamlessly integrating its software and hardware. When asked about how closely together the software and hardware groups work during a Surface's development, Groene says that this is an extremely important step for him and everyone on the team -- not that we would expect it to be any other way. Simply put, as the lead designer, he believes that "if you want to make better products, at some point you gotta work on a software level."
As for whether or not he learns anything from successful competitors like Apple, he says, "In general, when we find products that interest us or inspire us -- and this could be a Leica camera -- we take it apart or we take other companies' products and we [try to] understand how are these things made." Groene adds, "How do these people get to certain things, you know, [like] finishes; how did these people figure that one out? ... I think, on multiple levels, we are interested [in competitors]. In a larger sense, we all learn from each other. I mean, it's great that there are other companies pushing the envelope, that have us ask ourselves to find some room to push it the same or even further. I think it's very healthy in that way."
Part of the reason a company like Apple has found success is by designing its products' hardware and software in-house, which is an approach Microsoft started with the first-generation Surface and continues with Surface 3. Groene, who has been with the technology giant for more than eight years, says that's why having this state-of-the-art lab space in Microsoft's headquarters is so essential. Here, they can turn ideas into reality in a matter of minutes thanks to a number of factors, like having everyone who's working on a project close to each other, having access to high-level machinery that mimics the equipment used by Microsoft's manufacturing plants in China and having a room full of professional-grade 3D printers that make it possible to build test parts almost instantly.