Q&A with the Microsoft Surface Team

Microsoft SurfaceThe holidays are coming (whether we’re ready or not) and tablets are sure to be a hot gift again this year – and there sure are plenty of options. The iPad family is expanding to included yet another new iPad along with the iPad mini. Kindle and Nook both have a few HD editions out. But we mostly know about those tablet mainstays. What we don’t know too much about is the new kid on the block, Microsoft Surface.

Luckily, the team that created the Surface (including project general manager Panos Panay) took to Reddit to answer some user questions and give potential buyers some insight into how the Surface works and, more interestingly, how it was tested. Here’s a few of the questions focused on testing, usability and apps.

How did you calculate the 8hr battery life estimate? What were the test conditions?

We conducted testing across a variety of core scenarios such as local and streaming video playback (watching movies!), audio playback, wireless web browsing and productivity scenarios such as using Office and mail. We tested using different Wi-Fi networks with pre-production hardware and software. Hence the battery life numbers started early in the program as a model with calculations and then get verified with actual device HW and SW.

If you flip the cover back, say to rest the tablet flat on a surface or to hold it, is there a mechanism that disables the keyboard so that it’s not randomly typing? (This would be when the cover is flipped to the back of the device)

Yes absolutely. Both TouchCover and TypeCover have sensors that understand orientation relative to Surface… in fact the Type and Touch Covers talk to Surface to figure out their relative position no matter the orientation of gravity of the device (pretty neat!). There are 3 positions modes: Closed (keys and mouse are off), Open to 180 degrees (keyboard and mousepad on), beyond 180 degrees to the back (keys and mouse off). That way you can flip back the covers and feel secure you are not pressing keys by mistake.

What would be your best advice for up and coming computer scientist majors as well as software engineers? I am currently a senior in college and nervous about getting out into the industry

Awesome question. Go into programming that allows you to understand both Software and Hardware. This puts you in the best possible position moving forward. Don’t use programming as a boundary, and think of it as a gateway. Take every chance you have to learn hardware in the process.

Favorite apps so far on your Surface devices?

Me – Strat Logic Game. My 8 yr old – Doodle God. My 5 yr old – Bubble Star. My Wife – Kindle.

I’ve heard so much about the testing and prototyping that went into the Surface. Is this something common among manufacturers that others just don’t talk about? It seems like Microsoft is really going the extra mile to make sure the little things are right. Oh, and are you typing this on the Surface keyboard now? What’s your color?

I would say we have gone an extra 10 miles. We have left no stone unturned and want to make sure that when you use it, it works great and feels great. It is important to us that we miss nothing, so your comment is spot on, we look at every detail. That said, I am switching between both a Blue Touch Cover and a Black Type Cover as I type today… It is great fun to switch off and test both modes.

Can you tell me something that’ll make me want to shift to your platform? I just can’t find a reason. What feature does the Surface have that may not seem like much but makes it amazing to use?

I am not sure what you do on your other devices and can not comment on it… however, I know that on Surface you can get a ton of stuff done. Given, we have a full operating system in Windows, we have the full suite of Office available, and the seamless transitioning in and out of different user states with touch cover… the ability to use it all day, use a USB port when needed to connect millions of devices, ultimately you have a full PC at your disposal…. you find yourself accomplishing a ton.

Check out the rest of the Reddit feed for more consumer-focused questions.

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