The company shows off its latest devices at a hardware media event in New York. Included in the lineup are new smartphones, the Surface Pro 4 tablet and an updated fitness band.
NEW YORK —
Microsoft is diving deeper into the hardware business, introducing its first laptop in a bid to compete head-on with Apple’s flagship computer.
The new Surface Book was the star of a Microsoft media event Tuesday, one that also unveiled new generations of Microsoft’s Lumia smartphones, fitness tracker and Surface Pro tablet computer.
The event, in front of a few hundred journalists, industry analysts and Microsoft customers in Manhattan, was designed to jump-start interest in devices running Windows 10, the latest version of the Redmond company’s operating system.
Chief Executive Satya Nadella said Tuesday that Microsoft, a software company that traditionally relied on companies such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard to build computers for its products, needs to be in hardware to create seamless experiences that follow users from smartphone to desktop computer and back again.
The history of computers, he said, show’s one thing clearly: “No single device will be a hub of activity forever.”
That’s a particularly salient point for Microsoft, which is struggling to break away from decades of dependence on the personal computer. Its effort to gain a foothold in smartphones led to the disastrous Nokia acquisition, which burned through billions of dollars without budging the share of global smartphones running Windows. Popular culture still largely identifies tablets and smartphones with the sleek devices built by Apple.
The Cupertino, Calif., rival was squarely in Microsoft’s sights when the company unveiled the latest in its Surface line Tuesday.
During a demonstration of the new Surface Pro 4, Microsoft devices executive Panos Panay took a shot at Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook, who once compared the idea behind the Surface devices — tablets that could function as workhorse, portable laptops — to merging a toaster and a refrigerator. A toaster icon was on the screen when Panay booted up one of the devices.
The Surface Pro 4, which boasts a slightly larger screen and more durable keyboard attachment than its predecessor, is 50 percent faster than Apple’s MacBook Air, Panay said. The Surface Book, a 13.5-inch laptop with a detachable screen, is twice as fast as the MacBook Pro.
Both Apple and Google in recent weeks introduced tablets widely seen as imitating features of the Surface, which in Microsoft’s last full year brought in $3.6 billion in sales. “They’re chasing it,” Panay said. “It’s pretty cool.”
The Surface Book will cost $1,499. The Surface Pro 4 will start at $899. Both will be available beginning Oct. 26.
Apple, said Gartner analyst Michael Silver, “is squarely the competitor” for the devices. “You have to give Microsoft credit for some innovation here,” he said. “No one has been able to crack the MacBook mystique. [Microsoft is] realizing they need to promote the total experience like Apple does.”
Tuesday also marked the start of the latest reboot of Microsoft’s smartphone business.
The company introduced the Lumia 950 and 950 XL, the first new smartphones since it announced in July that it would take a $7.6 billion charge erasing the value of the Nokia hardware unit it bought in 2014.
The new devices, with 5.2-inch and 5.7-inch screens, come with the high-end cameras Nokia devices were known for. They also include a full version of Windows 10 that, when connected via an adapter to a monitor, can essentially function as a PC.
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The feature, dubbed continuum, is a bolder step toward blurring the line between smartphone and PC than Microsoft’s rivals have attempted, said Bob O’Donnell, president of TECHnalysis Research. “Microsoft is stretching the boundaries of what computing is.”
It’s unclear whether that will matter to consumers, who have largely ignored Windows smartphones.
Windows-powered devices will account for just 2.5 percent of the smartphones sold this year, Gartner estimates. That’s down from 2.8 percent in 2014. Google Android and Apple’s iOS together account for about 97 percent of estimated sales.
Microsoft has closed most of the factories it acquired in the Nokia deal, ending work at plants from Finland to Hungary and China. This month, Brazilian media reported the company was selling its manufacturing facility in Manaus, Brazil.
The Lumia 950 and 950 XL, available in November, will sell for $549 and $649, respectively. A new budget phone, the Lumia 550, will cost $139.
Earlier Tuesday, Windows and Devices division chief Terry Myerson announced that 110 million PCs and tablets were running Windows 10. The software was released at the end of July as a free upgrade to many users, and the subsequent adoption by consumers was the fastest for an operating system in Microsoft history, Nadella said.
The first device to appear on stage Tuesday was Microsoft’s HoloLens virtual-reality headset, which is expected to make its way to some developers early next year.
Microsoft employees demonstrated a game the company has been working on internally to show the potential for the device in gaming. In the game, dubbed “Project X-ray,” a player battled holographic robots that appeared to be coming through the walls of the room the HoloLens wearer was in.
Myerson said a version of the device for developers would be available in the first three months of 2016 for $3,000. The company will take applications from interested developers starting this week.
Microsoft hasn’t set a date for retail availability of the device.
Meanwhile, the Microsoft Band, a wrist-worn fitness tracker and app platform, got an update, with a sleeker design and a barometer that brings the sensor count on the device to 11, including GPS and a heart rate monitor.
The Microsoft Band 2, which costs $249, will be available Oct. 30.