Panos Panay’s legacy at Microsoft: Expansive Surface line-up complements Windows

A long-time executive at Microsoft, is about to exit the company. Panos Panay, after 19 years at the tech giant, will be departing in the coming weeks. It comes across as a somewhat abrupt departure, the timing of the announcement in particular, just two days ahead of the company’s annual Surface keynote. Panay, who leaves as EVP and Chief Product Officer, was spearheading the Surface computing device efforts for the past many years.

Panay was spearheading the Surface computing device efforts for the past many years. (Microsoft)
Panay was spearheading the Surface computing device efforts for the past many years. (Microsoft)

Yusuf Mehdi, who is Corporate Vice President, Modern Life, Search, and Devices at Microsoft, will take over the role. It will mean getting straight into the thick of the action for Mehdi, with the next line-up of Microsoft’s Surface computing devices, set for a public unveil later this week. After that, focus will likely shift to the next big update for the Windows operating system (can we speculate it’ll be called Windows 12?) which may release next year. alongside, Microsoft’s extensive focus on AI products, for enterprises and consumers.

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“After 19 incredible years at Microsoft, I’ve decided to turn the page and write the next chapter. I’m forever grateful for my time at Microsoft and the amazing people I had the honor to make products with,” Panay wrote in a post on X. Panay’s next destination hasn’t been formally announced, for now, though there are suggestions he may be headed to Amazon, to build the next chapter for Alexa smart assistant and the ecosystem of Amazon’s Echo devices.

That could also be a case of putting two and two together. A month ago, Amazon had confirmed David Limp, Senior vice-president for devices and services at Amazon, is set to retire. The company announced no successor for the role, at the time. Incidentally, Amazon also has a devices event this week, with new Echo smart speakers and displays, Fire TV streamers and Kindle e-readers expected.

Panay, who joined Microsoft 2004, has focused on building the tech giant’s burgeoning line-up of hardware products. Some have been a success, such as the Surface computing device line-up, which is the widest at this point than it has ever been. However, efforts with the Surface Duo and Surface Duo 2 never got a global stage to work with, and neither was the complete potential of the Surface Neo hybrid computing device ever achieved. A lot of Panay’s initiatives seemed to have arrived ahead of their time.

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Mehdi is also a long-time Microsoft executive. He joined the tech giant in 1992, and has seen the leadership styles of three CEO’s in this time – Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer and Satya Nadella. Mehdi’s consumer focused roles over the years have included managing Internet Explorer and Microsoft Windows, and the foray into search with Bing. This is now a critical product for Microsoft’s artificial intelligence (AI) efforts.

Some of Mehdi’s recent success stories at Microsoft include a reconfigured Edge web browser integrating AI, the Bing search chatbot and the expanding suite of functionality, the Bing Image Creator text-to-image AI feature, and the subtle shift from product to platform which sees third-party plug-ins add value and versatility for users.

His experience with consumer products gains even more weight, since the “Modern Life, Search, and Devices” initiatives came after many consumers were left disappointed by Microsoft’s disappointing TV layer for Xbox, ending Windows Phone efforts, discontinuing Kinect interactive gaming and closing the Groove music streaming app. Consumer confidence was at its lowest ebb for the company.

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The Surface device keynote later this week, with Mehdi expected to take the stage, will give us a first glimpse into Microsoft’s vision for Surface and Windows product lines. It is unlikely they’ll compromise on the momentum of integrating AI layers into the Microsoft 365 ecosystem. The Microsoft 365 CoPilot tool, built on large language models (LLMs) to integrate smart functionality within apps and services, is expected to release later this year for Microsoft 365 apps including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and Teams.

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