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Panos Panay justifies the absence of USB Type-C on the new Surface devices

Microsoft is apparently not keen on providing USB Type-C if it requires sacrificing USB Type-A. (Source: Lance Ulanoff via Medium)
Microsoft is apparently not keen on providing USB Type-C if it requires sacrificing USB Type-A. (Source: Lance Ulanoff via Medium)
Panos Panay opened up on why the Surface Pro 6 and Surface Laptop 2 lack a USB Type-C port while the Surface Studio 2, Surface Go, and even the Surface Headphones have one such port. Panay insisted that USB Type-C will not be at the expense of the traditional USB Type-A port, which still is the connector of choice for most USB devices today. The Type-C connector will eventually make it into future devices but Microsoft is in no hurry to make it happen.

Microsoft made a bevy of announcements to its Surface product lineup including the Surface Studio 2, Surface Pro 6, Surface Laptop 2, Surface Go, and the unexpected, but high-end, Cortana-powered Surface Headphones earlier this week. While most of the changes are just internal with minimal cosmetic makeovers, one aspect continues to annoy potential Surface Pro 6 and Surface Laptop 2 buyers — lack of a USB Type-C port for the second consecutive time.

Microsoft Surface Chief Panos Panay clarified to tech blogger Lance Ulanoff the reason for the obvious omission. According to Panay, adding a USB Type-C port meant that the traditional Type-A port would have to be sacrificed, which is something Microsoft is not too keen on doing at the moment. "I'm not taking that away", said Panay pointing at Ulanoff's Surface Pro 5 or rather, the Surface Pro (2017). USB Type-C might eventually make it in a future Surface iteration but Microsoft is not too keen on adding features 'just to check off a feature box'. 

Microsoft is taking a slow and steady approach to the overall product design as well. The classic Surface design with kickstand, type-cover, and the excellent PixelSense display has become a hallmark of the Surface lineup and Panay is in no mood to change it just for the sake of it. He said,

Because, if we had to redesign the product every year, then obviously, we haven’t made a great product. What would I be chasing?"

Panay may have his own justification but from a consumer standpoint, there is little reason not to embrace USB Type-C in late 2018. However, this issue can be looked at from both angles.

From a consumer perspective —

The mini-DisplayPort connector on these devices could have easily been substituted with USB Type-C for two reasons —

  • You need a mini-DP to HDMI/DP/DVI adapter anyways for hooking up an external monitor so might as well use a USB Type-C dongle instead.
  • A USB Type-C dongle can provide DisplayPort connectivity along with a host of other connector options making it more versatile than mini-DP can ever be.
  • Devices such as the Eve V have a USB 3.1 Type-C, a USB Type-C with Thunderbolt 3, and still have room for 2 more USB 3.0 Type-A ports — all on an Intel Core m3 7Y30 CPU with just 10 PCIe lanes.

Now let's see why Microsoft probably thinks otherwise —

  • A vast majority of devices still use USB Type-A connectors.
  • This is just a refresh so Microsoft would want to reserve the major changes for the next generation of devices.
  • Continuing the existing design would also help in reducing overall development costs.

Of course, no interview of Panay would go without asking the inevitable — when are we seeing the Surface Phone? While Panay did indicate to The Verge that a 'pocketable Surface' is his baby, he also cleared the air to Ulanoff saying,

We’re gonna be methodical, calculated, and take our time, be patient and make sure we’re bringing the right products to market at the right time but also with great quality and innovation."

The new Surface devices are undoubtedly droolworthy but some decisions like these might sway prospective buyers towards other brands. Apparently, Microsoft is not too bothered about it. After all, the Surface lineup exists not just to show off Microsoft's hardware development prowess but also to show other OEMs on how it's done and thereby, boost the overall Windows ecosystem. 

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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > News > News Archive > Newsarchive 2018 10 > Panos Panay justifies the absence of USB Type-C on the new Surface devices
Vaidyanathan Subramaniam, 2018-10- 6 (Update: 2018-10- 6)
Vaidyanathan Subramaniam
Vaidyanathan Subramaniam - News Editor
I am a cell and molecular biologist and computers have been an integral part of my life ever since I laid my hands on my first PC which was based on an Intel Celeron 266 MHz processor, 16 MB RAM and a modest 2 GB hard disk. Since then, I’ve seen my passion for technology evolve with the times. From traditional floppy based storage and running DOS commands for every other task, to the connected cloud and shared social experiences we take for granted today, I consider myself fortunate to have witnessed a sea change in the technology landscape. I honestly feel that the best is yet to come, when things like AI and cloud computing mature further. When I am not out finding the next big cure for cancer, I read and write about a lot of technology related stuff or go about ripping and re-assembling PCs and laptops.