We always expect a risky new product to materialize during Microsoft’s Surface Events. But the 2022 Surface Event, which aired the morning of October 12th, included two of Microsoft’s biggest gambles to date—the company is unequivocally embracing AI image generation and the ARM architecture.
In a surprise move that’s sure to generate controversy, Microsoft is partnering with OpenAI to leverage DALL-E 2 on Windows. The DALL-E 2 generator, which spits out unique images based on written prompts, will find a home in the Office Suite, the Edge browser, and Bing.
This integration comes courtesy of Microsoft Designer, which launches as a free webapp in the coming months. You can ask Designer to produce a “cake for the fall season,” for example, and it will give you a selection of appropriate images.
Designer will also become a dedicated Microsoft 365 app available for free and paid users. Microsoft sees this as a major time-saver—instead of hunting down the perfect image for your homework or slideshow, you can generate one from scratch. And notably, this AI-generated image doesn’t come with concerns about royalties or copyright infringement.
But AI image generation is ethically questionable, especially at this scale. It could devalue art and photography made by actual humans, who need to make money. And because DALL-E 2 is trained using publicly-available images, it can’t create images that are 100% unique. On occasion, artists may recognize their work in an AI-generated image. You may even see watermarks in such images.
Image generators like DALL-E 2 are also vulnerable to unsavory content. They may reproduce depictions of violence, racial bias, or pornography. Microsoft says that it’s implemented safeguards to avoid this problem, but I’ll bet that the company’s lawyers are very uncomfortable right now.
And, of course, anything generated by AI may contribute to misinformation. There’s nothing stopping you from claiming that an AI-generated image is real.
We’re curious to see how Microsoft navigates these controversies. But to be candid, we’re still processing this announcement. We’re not surprised that Microsoft is gambling on AI image generation, but we didn’t expect it to happen so soon.
Microsoft has toyed with Windows on ARM for a very long time. But it has failed to truly embrace the ARM architecture—a failure which has placed Windows laptops behind MacBooks in terms of battery life, thermals, and in many situations, processing power.
The only real Windows on ARM product is the Surface Pro X, a device that costs too much and performs too little. Surface Pro X was supposed to popularize Windows on ARM, but it simply became the black sheep of the Surface product family.
Now, Microsoft is taking a risky new approach to Windows on ARM. It’s offering this technology on its flagship device, the Surface Pro 9.
The all-new Surface Pro 9 is available in x86 and ARM configurations—you can choose a 12th Gen Intel Core CPU or go with the Microsoft SQ3 chipset, which is developed in collaboration with Qualcomm.
And more notably, customers who buy the ARM-equipped Surface Pro 9 get some exclusive features. The Microsoft SQ3 chipset enables 5G connectivity, and it contains a neural engine for AI applications, such as background blurs in video calls.
Outside of this optional ARM chipset, Surface Pro 9 is more of the same. It still uses a 13-inch display with a 120Hz refresh rate, and it retains Thunderbolt 4 support for high-res external displays and speedy data transfer rates.
The Surface Pro 9 starts at a cool $1,000. Unfortunately, the ARM configuration costs $1,300 before you upgrade its RAM or storage, and given the state of Windows on ARM, I wouldn’t call this an amazing offer—you’ll get a better battery life in exchange for limited app support. That said, Microsoft is forcing itself to take ARM seriously, which may lead to rapid advancements in Windows on ARM.
Surface Pro 9
Available in x86 and ARM configurations, the new Surface Pro 9 is Microsoft’s most powerful Windows tablet to date.
Microsoft used its Surface Event to announce some risky ideas. But somewhat ironically, most of Microsoft’s new products feel very safe. The new Surface Laptop 5 and Surface Studio 2+ are iterative updates with only minor improvements over their predecessors—very boring, but not bad.
The Surface Laptop 5, for instance, is basically identical to the Surface Laptop 4. There are just a few notable differences, such as the addition of Thunderbolt 4 support and 12th Gen Intel Core CPUs.
And for some reason, the Surface Laptop 5 isn’t available with an AMD processor. It’s a bit of a disappointment, as the AMD-equipped Surface Laptop 4 offers an excellent battery life. Anyway, the new Surface Laptop 5 starts at $1,000.
The Surface Studio 2+ is also a bit boring. As the name suggests, this is not an overhaul of the Surface Studio. Rather, it’s the same old thing with a couple of small improvements, including three new Thunderbolt 4 ports, 11th Gen Intel Core CPUs, and RTX 3060 GPUs.
Microsoft says that Surface Studio 2+ offers twice the processing power of its predecessor. If that sounds like a major selling point to you, then I guess you can fork over the $4,300 to buy this thing.
But in my opinion, Microsoft should just sell the Surface Studio as a standalone computer monitor. As it stands, you can get a more powerful PC for almost a quarter of the Surface Studio 2+’s price.
Surface Laptop 5
The Surface Laptop 5 gains Thunderbolt 4 ports and powerful new 12th Gen Intel Core CPUs. It’s the most powerful Surface Laptop to date.
Surface Studio 2+
The Surface Studio 2+ combines a flexible and creative form-factor with Thunderbolt 4 support, 11th Gen Intel Core CPUs, and RTX 3060 GPUs.
Microsoft gave us a ton of surprises at the 2022 Surface Event. On the one hand, Microsoft took major risks with AI image generation and the ARM architecture. But it also gave us some pretty boring iterative upgrades for the Surface Laptop and Surface Studio. What a weird event.