It's been nearly a decade since Microsoft surprised the tech industry with its first Surface hybrid tablet featuring a detachable keyboard. Until that moment in 2012, Microsoft had primarily been a software company -- if you don't count its wildly successful entrance into game consoles with the Xbox in 2001 and its failed foray into Windows-based phones in 2010with Microsoft Lumia.
Today, Microsoft is a hardware veteran, making well-regarded Surface tablets, laptops and desktops.
On Oct. 5, the company will begin rolling out Windows 11, its biggest Windows software update in six years. New hardware, announced today, will also arrive Oct. 5. Today, Microsoft unveiled the upcoming changes to its Surface lineup, from the new Surface Laptop Studio to the revamped Surface Duo 2, with a lesser update for the Surface Pro 8 and minor refreshes to the Surface Go 3 (new processors) and Surface Pro X (Wi-Fi). Also unveiled were a new Surface Slim Pen 2 that introduces haptics for the first time in a stylus and the company's first mouse made from ocean-bound plastics, reinforcing its environmental pledges for 2030.Now playing:Watch this: Hands-on with Microsoft's new Surface Pro 8 and Surface...8:16
With a three-position display, a slimmer, sleeker profile and 14-inch size, the Surface Laptop Studio replaces the Surface Book 3 with a complete overhaul. There are things that we don't like, such as the nonremovable memory and service center-only storage upgrades, but it sounds like a very intriguing option.
Read our Surface Laptop Studio preview.
Microsoft's hero Surface device grows to 13 inches and gets the essential component updates for better performance. A new Type Cover (still optional) has a resting place for the new, wirelessly charged Slim Pen 2.
The Surface Pro X now has a Wi-Fi only version, too.
Read our Surface Pro 8 preview.
Microsoft takes a small step toward making the Duo 2 dual-screen phone/tablet hybrid more phone-like by adding a trio of rear cameras. We still think it has more walking to do before it's an appealing product, though.
Read our Surface Duo 2 preview.Now playing:Watch this: Surface Duo 2: Microsoft's two-screen wonder gets another...5:45
The smallest and least expensive Surface has been modestly updated with faster chips. However, its $399 starting price remains unchanged.
Read our Surface Go 3 preview.
Microsoft has updated it Slim Pen in a few notable ways: haptics for a more paper-like feel, a sharper nib, Zero-Force Inking for better responsiveness and wireless charging.
Read Surface Slim Pen 2 preview.Now playing:Watch this: Microsoft introduces Surface Adaptive Kit3:13
Microsoft's making it easier for folks who have trouble navigating standard laptop keyboards and connections with its new Surface Adaptive Kit, a set of bumpy decals and more you can use for tactile identification and operation.
Read our Surface Adaptive Kit preview.
Microsoft launched its first product made with ocean-bound plastics -- a big trend these days -- the Ocean Plastic Mouse, along with promising improvements to its sustainability practices.
Read our Microsoft Ocean Mouse preview.
Our liveblog remains below.
It's been nearly a decade since Microsoft surprised the tech industry with its first Surface hybrid tablet. Until that moment in 2012, Microsoft had primarily been a software company. Fast-forward to 2021, and Microsoft is a hardware veteran, making well-regarded Surface Pro tablets, its Surface Laptops, and Surface Studio desktops too. The company today announced the Surface Pro 8, faster, bigger and cooler and the Surface Go 3. The Surface Adaptive Kit looks really cool for helping folks who have issues with using keyboards and ports and the Surface Duo 2 improves upon its imperfect predecessor. And the Surface Laptop Studio does an articulating display the Microsoft way.
After a brisk 49 minutes, Microsoft concludes its event.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella joined the presentation to talk about how the last 18 months has put so much more attention on PCs.
"Technology for technology's sake serves no one," Nadella said. "We must advance both the frontiers of technology and its impact on the world."
"Ultimately though, we build windows for you," he added. "So you have the tools to dream big and turn those dreams into reality. We are so excited to see what each of you will create with these new devices and how together we will shape the next wave of computing for everyone."
Microsoft replaced its Surface Book laptop with a new design that shifts from it being a laptop to being a "studio"-like device, the Surface Laptop Studio.
So the screen has a kickstand that allows the screen to be put at an angle, like the typical Surface devices. Microsoft says this is "stage mode." And you can fold it down to "studio" mode where the screen is flat like a piece of paper.
Microsoft also includes an Nvidia RTS 3050 GTI GPU, Thunderbolt 4 and an 11th gen Intel chip. It also has an "AI"-enabled camera, which has a face tracker (a popular feature on Apple's iPads, Facebook's Portals and others).
One of the key features of the original Surface Duo was its ability to "span" apps across both its displays, putting an image on one side for example, and editing options on the other. You can also drag and drop items from one screen to the other, taking that photo you were editing for example and dropping it into a Microsoft Teams chat.
"Surface Duo 2 is for the creator in each of us," Microsoft said.
Since it has no outer screen, Microsoft has added a light bar on the hinge to help you tell how many notifications are waiting when the screens are closed. Microsoft said it'll also help you tell battery life, and of course if someone's trying to connect with you through Microsoft Teams.
Microsoft's not-a-phone is official, and promises better cameras, faster chips and 5G wireless.
It also has a light bar on its spine to help get your attention. Microsoft calls it "notifications at a glance."
Microsoft got a lot of accolades for its Xbox Adaptive Controller, which was designed to help disabled gamers play Xbox titles. Now, it's taking that approach to its Surface products with the "Surface Adaptive Kit." The kit adds features to make it easier to use their devices, with glue-on raised keyboard labels. There's also port labels, to make it easier to identify which ports you can plug items into. And there's a stick-on lanyard tab, Microsoft said, which allows someone to more easily pull out the kickstand for their Surface device.
"When you're designing products for someone like me today we're actually building for for our future selves," said one Microsoft employee, born with cerebral palsy.
Microsoft announced a new Ocean Plastic Mouse, which is made of 20% recycled ocean plastic, and the box is 100% recyclable. (Other device makers have also started including ocean plastics in their products, for what it's worth.)
Microsoft says its new Surface Go 3 is 60% faster than before, powered by a 10th Gen Intel processor.
Part of what Microsoft says sets the Slim Pen 2 apart is its custom "G6" processor, which can talk to Windows 11 in interesting ways. Among them, Microsoft said the pen creates "tiny mechanical vibrations that mimic the feel of pen on paper."
Microsoft said the pen tip is also sharper, and it has "ultra low latency."
Microsoft begins by talking about Surface Pro 8, which has a new "Slim Pen 2," Thunderbolt 4 and other features that Microsoft says has 43% more compute power and 75% faster graphics. Microsoft will also offer 32GB of RAM, Dolby Atmos and a high-res 13" display. And it has 16 hours of battery life.
Panay says there's a new Surface Go, Surface Duo 2 and a "transformed Surface Pro lineup," which he said "brings you incredible power in modern design and details throughout this product."
Panay says the company's also got an "ocean plastics" mouse, and an adaptive kit for accessibility.
Microsoft's event begins with Product Chief Panos Panay, who starts by talking about Windows 11. "Windows is a driving force for innovation. It's an enduring platform for each one of us to create," he said. "And it's home for billions to do their jobs, live their dreams, connect with the people they love. Windows 11 gives you a place that feels like home. It's an area of calm, security, openness, and it's designed to be centered around you."A bunch of different companies have Windows 11 devices they're building, but today is about Surface, he said. "Surface has always been a stage for software and hardware to come together," he adds. "For the last 10 years it's been a force for revolution in this industry, creating products that push the boundaries of what's possible."
All these Surface announcements aren't happening in a vacuum. This event is happening less than two weeks before Microsoft begins rolling out Windows 11, its biggest Windows software update in six years. Though Microsoft is focusing on its devices for this launch, many of its partners like Dell, HP and Lenovo have PCs prepped for the big release.
Microsoft's also started an ad campaign around the launch. We don't know how much Microsoft is spending to get the word out, but in the past it's laid out hundreds of millions of dollars as part of its ad blitzes.
Probably the biggest rumors for Microsoft's event suggest the company has an upgrade for the Surface Duo phone-not-a-phone in the works. A leaked image earlier this year pointed to a trio of much better cameras, which was a key complaint of the original device. Whether it'll have 5G is still an open question -- last year, Microsoft made it clear that omitting the wireless technology last year was about tradeoffs of battery life, thickness and other issues.
READ MORE: Here are all the rumors swirling ahead of Microsoft's big Surface event
In nearly a decade since, Microsoft has done a lot more work to make its Surface appealing. In 2013, it announced the Surface Pro, a more performant version of the Surface that's since become what CNET's reviewer Dan Ackerman now says is "the best overall Windows two-in-one tablet."
Microsoft also revamped the Windows software to be more tablet friendly when it released Windows 10 in 2015, and will go even a step further by giving Windows 11 and Apple-like feel when it launches on Oct. 5.
Microsoft's also expanded out its lineup of Surface devices. There's now the Surface Go, a smaller more small-bag-friendly Surface. Ackerman called last year's Surface Go 2 an improvement on the "good-but-not-great" design. He did say that the smaller tablet may become popular though when the pandemic wanes, and people start considering taking their computers to the park, coffee shop or plane.
There's also the Surface Book, a more powerful two-in-one that leans more into being a laptop than a tablet.
Don't forget the Surface Pro X, a two-in-one that's more of a tablet than a laptop, down to the specialized chips inside that are more akin to the innards of a smartphone than a power-sucking laptop.
And I didn't even get into the Surface Duo dual-screen phone-that's-not-a-phone, the unreleased Surface Neo dual-screen tablet and the $3,500 Surface Studio massive-screen computer.
The thing I remember from when Microsoft announced its first Surface tablet devices in 2012 was how upset PC makers were with Microsoft. I was covering the PC industry at the time, and Microsoft gave them little warning about this new device.
Microsoft had been playing with tablet ideas for years, even creating a prototype called the Courier, that lit up the internet when it leaked back in 2009. Microsoft eventually killed the project, in favor of its Windows 8 software and the Surface tablet project.
By the way, if you want to go down memory lane, here's the video demo that leaked:
When the Surface launched in fall of 2012, CNET's Eric Franklin said it was "innovative" in his review at the time, and that its keyboard cover accessories were "the best way to type on a tablet, period." But he also said Windows software wasn't a good match, and that it left users in an "app desert."
It's been interesting to follow Microsoft's hardware ambitions over the years. The company started its Surface line of products back in 2012, ahead of the release of Windows 8.
At the time, the Surface an unusual take on the still burgeoning tablet form factor. Microsoft's surprise announcement wasn't so much the idea of a Windows tablet -- plenty of companies had been trying to sell those -- but rather the keyboard cover. Though some iPad cases had keyboards integrated into them, the Surface largely changed how we thought of tablet accessories. It had so much impact in fact that Apple followed Microsoft's lead, and created its own take on the keyboard cover with the first iPad Pro in 2016.
Well, here we are, ahead of Microsoft's big hardware event for the year. Rumors seem to have settled on the company announcing an updated phone-not-phone Surface Duo 2, in addition to the pretty much expected updates to the Surface Pro, Surface Go and other Surface products.
READ MORE: Microsoft Surface event 2021: All the rumors, predictions and announcements to expect on Sept. 22
Microsoft also teased at least one other change in its announcement for the event, tweeting a profile image of what appears to be a thinner Surface tablet device than it's offered so far. We'll be keeping our eyes peeled.
Microsoft's event will be held entirely online, starting Sept. 22 at 8 a.m. PT, 11 a.m. ET, 4 p.m. BST and Sept. 23 at 1 a.m. in Sydney, Australia.
The event will be livestreamed on Microsoft's website. CNET will cover the event live, as we always have, with real-time updates, insights and analysis you can only find here.
Microsoft's gotten progressively better at holding online events. Despite the glitchy struggles it faced during its Windows 11 reveal, the tech giant's taken a similar tack as companies like Apple, Samsung and Sony, which have put significant resources into creating slickly edited presentations. With the company putting so much effort into its surface line, as well as the recent promotion of product chief Panos Panay to Microsoft's senior leadership team, it's a good sign the presentation will be a worthwhile watch.Tablets Tech Industry Phones MobileWindows 11 MicrosoftNotification on Notification off Laptops