We love connecting with Microsoft either through Twitter chats, epic videos, or just your standard interview and we really appreciate Microsoft reaching out to the community. Today, we have an interview we conducted with the Microsoft Hardware team where they talk about many different aspects on their line of business.
Take a look at the interview below where you can learn more about the company's hardware products, Skype certification and even a few nuggets about Windows 8.
Over the past 30 years, Microsoft has put out a wide selection of hardware from mice to webcams, what separates Microsoft hardware from the other products on the retail shelves?
Since our inception 30 years ago, Microsoft Hardware has been focused on creating and delivering products that enhance the software experience. Our products are uniquely made for Windows by Windows. For example, The Microsoft Touch Mouse released in July 2011 was designed specifically to work with the added features in Windows 7, with one-, two-, and three-fingered gestures created to let you use Snap, to minimize/maximize windows, switch between tasks and so on. While our products can be used in non-Windows environments, at Microsoft Hardware we are creating a wide range of products that support the best Windows user experience – regardless of device.
When Microsoft decides to create a new product, either an upgrade to an existing product, or a new device from scratch, can you describe how a product goes from concept to sell-able good?
Microsoft Hardware is an end-to-end business, and we handle every piece of the product process—from conception, to design, to manufacturing. The path to product design is an iterative one—it takes a lot of time, and is very craft-oriented. Something that many people don’t realize is that, each product that comes to bear has gone through dozens of iterations sculpted by hand in our model shop—that’s really where all of our products take shape, and why they look the way that they do.
A good example of how products come to fruition is the Mouse 2.0 project, which spawned the Microsoft Touch Mouse. It started out with a general goal - Microsoft Research and the Applied Sciences Group wanting to design the “next level” of human interaction with mice, specifically tough gestures. So the research team embarked on this project, experimenting with various touch sensing techniques, form factors and OS functionality. As a result, the team came up with the concept of a mouse with capacitive touch sensor that could simultaneously detect multiple finger movements. Once that input sensor was decided, the industrial design team, in conjunction with the Research Teams, began work on the form factor – the general shape, size and feel of the mouse. Next the Hardware teams worked with their Windows colleagues to determine which mouse touch gestures should be assigned to best support the features within the OS. Obviously this is an over-simplified version of the hard work that went into creating the mouse over a couple of years, but as you can see, multiple internal teams are involved in the process from start to finish – research, design, software/product, etc.
The mouse has seen many revisions over three decades but the device still functions much like the first iteration. Going forward, are we destined to stay with the mouse as we know it today, or can you see a time when the mouse is truly gone from the PC experience?
While touch and gesture control capabilities are certainly becoming widespread across the industry, both the mouse and keyboard remain the most ergonomic and accurate approach to PC navigation. In terms of ergonomics and productivity, the tools we know and love today, like mice and keyboards, remain important devices for getting tasks done quickly, powerfully and comfortably. And, with peripherals like Microsoft’s Touch Mouse, which enables multi-touch gestures, or the Explorer Touch Mouse which features both horizontal and vertical scrolling, we are working to further the evolution of our peripherals by bringing the touch experience to users even when their primary device may not be touch enabled.
With the acquisition of Skype, Microsoft has now been offering “Skype Certified” hardware; can you explain what types of testing products undergo to achieve this type of credential?
Skype Labs assesses each product candidate’s ‘out of the box’ experience, measuring its video and audio quality as well as its basic aspects of usability. Skype’s high product standards and impartial testing guidelines ensure that all products bearing its blue “Skype Certified” seal deliver a strong Skype experience to its millions of users.
Ergonomics has certainly been a staple of Microsoft hardware and the company has several ergonomic keyboards on the market; will this type of branding or targeted products be carried in to other lines of Microsoft hardware (EX: the mice lineup does not have an “ergonomic” branded device)?
Creating comfortable products for our customers has always been a huge priority. We have a certified ergonomist on staff as well as researchers and engineers who help design, test and approve our ergonomic products so that we can accurately make an ergonomic claim. In terms of ergonomic mouse offerings, our Natural line of products carry our highest form of ergonomic classification—and this includes our Natural Wireless Laser Mouse, which provides a more natural wrist posture and helps to relieve the pressure on your carpal tunnel area while resting your hand on your desk. Outside of this line, all of our mice are designed with comfort and ergonomics in mind. While not all may be specifically branded as “ergonomic” in the title of the product, all of our mice offerings include ergonomic design elements and still go through ergonomic testing – including the Arc Touch mouse designed for people who still want the comfort and productivity of a mouse while on the go and the Touch Mouse which has a contoured shape to fit comfortably in your hand.
Over the past 30 years, in your opinion, what is the most important piece of hardware to come out of the hardware division at Microsoft?
It’s difficult to pinpoint the “most important” product since each product to come out of Microsoft Hardware throughout the past 30 years has been unique in its own right and designed specifically for the ever-evolving technology industry and users’ needs at the time.
For example, the first Microsoft mouse, nicknamed “the green-eyed monster,” was introduced in 1983. It might look like a simple, two-button device, but it was a big deal in microcomputing. Over the years, Microsoft continued to innovate and improve product design. In 1993, after researching the human hand for almost two years, they unveiled the first ergonomic mouse: Microsoft Mouse 2.0. In 1999, they changed the game by introducing the first optical mice. Then, in 2008, Microsoft rolled out an advanced breakthrough in tracking technology, called BlueTrack Technology, allowing people to use their mice on virtually any surface, no mouse pad required. Now, with our touch peripherals, we are focused on delivering a no compromise approach by providing new and engaging ways to interact with evolving technologies (especially Windows 8)—such as horizontal scrolling with our Explorer Touch Mouse, and multi-touch gesture input with our Microsoft Touch Mouse.
Going forward, we’ll continue to modify, create and deliver new products that address the evolving needs of our customers – the examples aforementioned only scratch the surface.
Over the past 30 years, what has Microsoft learned about the hardware segment in terms of understanding the consumers’ needs? Have there been any big surprises that stick with you today or any challenges that those of us on the outside may not ever think about when building these types of products?
At our core, we are a business that is focused on people—and that has been the driver of all our products for the past 30 years. While we always strive to develop products that are visually beautiful, our goal is to listen to our consumers and design products that truly meet their expectations and needs. Above all else, we are diligent in working to create products that genuinely improve the way our consumers work, play and interact with their PCs.
What separates Microsoft’s consumer line of hardware products from those designed for the business environment?
Looking at our various markets, we’ve noticed different needs emerge. For example, within a business environment, the need for ergonomically sound peripherals is higher than ever before given the high costs associated with workplace injuries. At Microsoft Hardware, we’ve kept this need in mind and have designed products specifically for the business environment—such as our Comfort Mice for Business— that place a deep emphasis on ergonomics. While ergonomics are, of course, also integral to our consumer line of products, we’ve noticed another trend in this realm—and that is the move towards using computer peripherals as a form of self-expression. With products such as our artist line of products and our limited edition colors, we are giving our consumers a way to express their style through gadgets that speak to their preferences.
Looking forward, what challenges does Microsoft have in the hardware division that could influence future products? This could be anything from new ways to interact with the PC to new competitors entering the marketplace.
Recently, many have been speculating that an increase in the adoption of touch technology will signal a decline in the demand for computer peripherals. In this era where touch and tablet computing are gaining ground, Microsoft Hardware continues to embrace this evolving landscape through the development of peripherals that complement this experience. In a similar vein, this trend toward mobile computing has shown an even greater need for complementary ergonomic and portable peripherals than ever before.
With Windows 8 on the horizon, will Microsoft create dedicated hardware for the platform to take advantage of the gesture support for those of us with traditional PCs?
While I can’t speak to any products we have yet to announce, I can share that gestures for our Touch Mouse will be fully updated for Windows 8, as its 360 degree scrolling makes it an ideal tool for quickly navigating the Windows 8 Metro-style UI, where horizontal scrolling is a fundamental need. Its sleek design and ergonomic shape combines the classic functionality with its advanced touch gestures, making everyday tasks more fluid and intuitive. Beyond the Touch Mouse, our Explorer Touch Mouse features four-way scrolling, and will therefore also support horizontal scrolling in Windows 8—the easiest way to navigate the Metro UI.
Is there anything else you want us to know about the hardware division at Microsoft?
Know we’ve spoken about this a little bit, but it’s important to note that, since our beginnings, Microsoft Hardware products have been shaped by how people work and play, using ergonomic data, usability experts and others to help develop and deliver products that improve the way people interact with their Windows PC. Microsoft Hardware has consistently brought products – mice, keyboards, headsets and webcams - to bear that enhance comfort, design, control and interaction for its users. The differentiator for Microsoft in the peripheral space is that it’s specifically focused on creating hardware to enhance the software experience.
We would like to thank the Microsoft Hardware team for taking time to answer our questions! Stick around, we have several more interviews lined up over the next three weeks, the fun is only getting started.