Panos Panay is moving on up at Microsoft. The man most associated with the Surface device line was just promoted to executive vice president and added to the company’s senior leadership team, according to Bloomberg. The means he’ll be one of the primary advisers to CEO Satya Nadella.
Panay, who has been with Microsoft since 2004, is generally seen as the ‘father’ of the Surface product family. His passionate product presentations have made him the most well-known of Microsoft employee besides Nadella and Xbox’s Phil Spencer. But until recently, he hasn’t held that much official influnce over the company as a whole — the fact that he wasn’t on the senior leadership team may even come as a surprise to the casual tech enthusiast.
As Microsoft has tightened the connection between its Surface and Windows divisions — joining them under one umbrella in 2020 — Panos has had an increasingly important role in the company’s plans. By now, Panos has become the face of Windows as well as Surface, considering he was the one who announced Windows 11 and that he keeps teasing us with new features.
The fact that Panos will now be reporting directly to Nadella is a big deal — Microsoft hasn’t had someone from Windows on the senior leadership team since 2018′, let alone Surface. At the time the company was all about the cloud. But as the Surface line grows into an increasingly important business — and Microsoft reconsiders the Windows’ future with Windows 11 — the company has had a renewed focus on its consumer-facing products.
As a Surface fan, I’m hoping that Panos’ greater influence is a sign the company has big things planned for its hardware. Unlike Apple, whose hardware has long been central to its business model, Microsoft has often seemed to treat Surface as an experimental branch compared to its various software products.
The company has made some of my favorite PCs throughout the years, but it’s also often felt like it’s been holding back, with few hardware refreshes and specs that were sometimes well behind the competition.. A few years ago, there were even rumors that Microsoft might give up on Surface altogether, joining Zune and Lumia in the company’s hardware graveyard.
But things are changing, and its Surface business is actually making decent money these days. Considering many of the company’s PCs — including the Surface Pro, Laptop, and Book — are due for a design refresh, that’s pretty impressive. Perhaps the lack of fresh designs is because of better things were yet to come; I imagine the company is cooking up some major new hardware to coincide with the launch of Windows 11 later this year.
Panay brings a passionate energy to his product announcements — the closest equivalent Microsoft has had to Steve Jobs. If he brings that same energy to Microsoft’s leadership, there could be some good years ahead for Surface fans.