Panos Panay has always been the force behind Microsoft’s Surface line. He helped bring Surface to life as a secret project more than 10 years ago. He’s presented the new devices onstage at events, showed up at malls to promote Surface hardware, and has steered Microsoft’s Surface tablets to success in the years since.
Now, he’s leaving in a surprise departure announced just days before Microsoft’s next big Surface event. Panay will no longer be presenting at Microsoft’s showcase on Thursday but will remain at the company for another couple of weeks as part of a transition process. He’s reportedly joining Amazon to replace Dave Limp and lead Amazon’s Echo and Alexa push. Amazon is also holding its own hardware event on Wednesday.
Panay has spent the past decade largely focused on Surface devices after Microsoft first developed its tablet as a Windows-powered rival to Apple’s iPad. The Surface Pro tablet, which started off as a string and plastic concept, has had a lasting influence on Windows laptops, pushing Microsoft’s OEM partners and rivals to focus on quality and 2-in-1 devices. The line’s success brought Panay into the role of Microsoft’s chief product officer.
With Panay’s shock resignation, Microsoft’s event in New York City will now offer the first glimpse at the future of Windows and Surface under new leadership. Microsoft is expected to unveil three new Surface devices but also focus on AI-powered features for Surface, Windows, Office, Bing, and more.
Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft’s consumer marketing head, will now take on the responsibility of leading the Windows and Surface businesses and products externally. Crucially, Mehdi’s job title hasn’t changed with Panay’s departure here, so Microsoft no longer has a chief product officer.
With no clear replacement for Panay’s unique role at Microsoft, it seems like Mehdi will take on his responsibilities of being the main face of Windows and Surface devices. Whereas Panay is a product maker, Mehdi has, more often than not, been the marketing guy for Microsoft’s various consumer efforts.
He first joined Microsoft in 1992, working on product management for Internet Explorer and Windows before helping lead Microsoft’s entry into search with Bing. His career at Microsoft has spanned three different CEOs — Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, and Satya Nadella — and a variety of different product launches. He’s been involved in Surface, the Windows 10 launch, and the HoloLens headset.
Mehdi was also at the center of Microsoft’s failed TV push for Xbox and the launch of the Xbox One console. Later, he was in charge of a “modern life” initiative to try and win back the consumers Microsoft had let down, following the company’s decisions to kill off its Groove Music service, discontinue Kinect, scrap its Microsoft Band fitness device, and even discontinue Windows Phone. Microsoft eventually laid off its modern life team during cuts last year.
Microsoft is splitting up some of Panay’s other responsibilities. Pavan Davuluri, who heads a team focused on silicon, systems, and devices across Windows and cloud, will now report directly to Rajesh Jha, Microsoft’s vice president of experience and devices. This team includes key Surface talent like Ralf Groene, Stevie Bathiche, and Robin Seiler. Pavan will also take on Windows planning and release management responsibility.
Interestingly, Microsoft is also building a new “Windows and Web Experiences” team. Microsoft often forms these types of teams when it wants to tackle a particular new area for Windows, and this time, it’s building AI-powered web services for Windows. We’ve already seen Microsoft pivot towards web-powered features in Windows 11, with basic things like the search interface dynamically updating from the web, a widgets system, and more. So expect to see a lot more of this in the future.
Mikhail Parakhin, who has been focused on Bing Chat in recent months, is leading this new experiences team, and it will include executives who have a history in product management, engineering, and Microsoft’s cross-devices Android work.
These Windows and Surface leaders will now steer Microsoft’s operating system and hardware toward AI. It’s what Microsoft wants people to get excited about right now and something we’re likely to see a lot of at the company’s event on Thursday. Microsoft has been increasingly trying to use Windows as a vehicle for its AI efforts or to try and push Bing and Edge onto consumers and businesses alike.
I interviewed key Surface members last year for a story on 10 years of Surface, and it was clear from speaking to them that AI was going to have a big impact on Windows and Surface for the next decade to come. There have been persistent rumors about the company building its own Arm chips for servers and Surface PCs, and even rival AI chips to avoid a costly reliance on Nvidia.
“AI is going to reinvent how you do everything on Windows,” Panay said earlier this year. Panay won’t be at Microsoft anymore to lead this reinvention of how you use Windows. But his resignation hasn’t signaled a strategy shift or change in direction for Windows at Microsoft, from what I can tell.
The question right now is around how Microsoft continues to innovate on the hardware side. Panay was always a devices fan, having led the Surface Pro development that has seen companies like Apple, Dell, and Asus produce their own Surface-like devices. But Microsoft signaled changes in its hardware portfolio earlier this year amid layoffs. Is there still room for Surface to do innovative laptop and tablet designs like we’ve seen over the last decade, or does Microsoft’s push for AI overshadow the risky hardware bets?
Microsoft is rumored to have scrapped plans for a dual-screen Surface Duo 3, years after effectively canceling its Windows-powered Surface Neo dual-screen device. It’s not clear what the future holds for Microsoft’s own Android efforts. The original Surface Duo just reached end of life with just two Android version updates. Microsoft’s mice, keyboards, and webcams have also been discontinued in favor of Surface accessories.
Microsoft also invested heavily in Windows 11 during the pandemic and the PC sales boom, but Surface and devices revenue has been battered this year as PC shipments experienced big declines. Before the PC pandemic boom, Nadella was also looking at a future beyond Windows, iOS, and Android. He joked in January 2020 that Windows could be called “Azure Edge” in the future to make it clear that cloud services are the biggest hardware business at Microsoft.
During the FTC v. Microsoft hearing, we heard that Microsoft wants to move Windows fully to the cloud on the consumer side, something it has been increasingly doing on the commercial side with Windows 365. The formation of a new web-focused Windows team suggests this effort is very much in motion.
Perhaps this uncertainty around the PC business after a big boom in sales has led Panay back to just wanting to build devices rather than the complicated task of running Windows and gearing it up for AI and a future in the cloud.
All of this will be top of mind watching how Microsoft discusses Windows and Surface at its event on Thursday. We’re entering a new AI era for Windows and Microsoft’s many services, and it will be key to see exactly how Surface plays its part without one of its key inventors at the helm.
The Fiat 500e is a tiny, affordable EV that’s only emission is classical music
Stellantis announced the all-new 2024 Fiat 500e, a tiny, affordable electric car that could be the perfect antidote to all those oversized, bloated electric SUVs and trucks that are coming out soon. The tiny EV will be available in North America in early 2024.
The Fiat 500e is a great example of the kind of vehicle that makes a lot of sense for cities and maybe even some suburbs. It’s electric, so it won’t spew pollution into the air. It’s small, so it takes up less space and is, on balance, less dangerous to pedestrians, cyclists, and other people who share the road.
The Fiat 500e is a great example of the kind of vehicle that makes a lot of sense for cities and maybe even some suburbs
Starting at $34,095, the Fiat 500e will squeeze 149 miles of range out of a 42 kWh battery pack, which sounds paltry compared to many long-range EVs on the market today. But when you consider the type of person who might be interested in this EV, and the type of driving, the range estimate starts to make more sense.
What the Fiat 500e lacks in range and cargo space, it makes up for in charm. The 500e apparently includes a feature called the Acoustic Vehicle Alert System, which is the standard low-speed audio warning that’s required of all EVs — with an Italian twist. The low-speed audio alert is actually a classical composition called “The sound of 500,” written by Flavio Ibba and Marco Gualdi.
“The exclusive melody gives a taste of Italian culture during the first moments of every drive,” the company said.
The Fiat 500e won’t tear up the track, necessarily, with 117 horsepower and 162 lb. ft. of torque. The little EV can accelerate 0–60 mph in 8.5 seconds — not necessarily anything to write home about, but again, perfect for what we’re talking about here.
The price might also be questionable. I can already hear Tesla fans in the comments noting that a Model 3, with over 250 miles of range and a lot more space, can be had for around the same price. But Fiat is trying to make it worthwhile by tossing in a free Level 2 home charger from its subsidiary Free2Move.
The 500e can only accept a max of 85 kW of charging, which means no ultra-fast DC charging. That translates to 31 miles of range in five minutes, or 80 percent in 35 minutes.
The most important specification for the 500e is its weight: a skinny 3,000 lbs. Stellantis predicts that this makes it “the lightest passenger [battery electric vehicle] in the segment.” That makes the 500e around the same size as the discontinued BMW i3, which for a long time was the reining champ in lightweight EVs.
EVs are generally heavier than gas-powered vehicles because of added battery weight. Automakers are making this worse by prioritizing the heaviest segments like SUVs and trucks. Smaller, more efficient EVs could help address the bloat in the segment, as well as help address other crucial issues, like battery material scarcity.
The Fiat 500e will feature three drive modes: Normal, Range, and Sherpa, which maximizes energy efficiency by limiting the top speed to 50 mph and reducing power from 87 kWh to 57 kWh. Lightweight and low speed? Be still my beating heart.
Of course, the Fiat 500e is not for everyone. And given how SUV-and-truck-pilled American car buyers are these days, Stellantis will have its work cut out for it. But the Fiat 500e may arrive at the right time. Smart cars are hard to find these days, thanks to many automakers declining to sell them in North America.
But Fiat, with a parent company that makes more than enough revenue from the aforementioned truck and SUV segments, can afford to test the waters for small, lightweight EVs. Could it be that Americans, pummeled by increasingly menacing-looking trucks and bulletproof EVs, could be ready to go small again?
The Verge’s favorite holiday gifts under $100
Apple EarPods with USB-C
Here’s a fun fact: Apple’s wired earbuds still feature some of the best-sounding mics you can get for taking phone calls outside of a professional microphone. What’s more, they’re now available with one of three connectors — 3.5mm, Lightning, or USB-C — meaning your giftee will never have to worry about them dying midway through an important conversation.
Baboon to the Moon Fannypack
You don’t need to lug around a full-on backpack if all you plan to carry with you is ChapStick, a phone, and a few other everyday essentials. Thankfully, there are space-saving alternatives like the Baboon to the Moon Fannypack, which offers three liters of space and comes in a colorful, spill-proof design that’s as unmistakable as it is durable.
GuliKit KingKong 2 Pro Controller
GuliKit’s KingKong 2 Pro Controller looks a lot like Nintendo’s Pro controller, but its Hall effect sticks are drift-proof for better long-term reliability — something that’s especially handy for those that play their Nintendo Switch while docked. The gamepad offers a rubberized grip as well, and you can even rearrange the face buttons into an Xbox layout for playing on PC.
Although you can pick up a magnetic iPhone charger on Amazon for as little as $10, chances are it won’t be anywhere near as slick as Nomad’s latest MagSafe-compatible offering. The blacked-out charging stand offers slower 7.5W charging speeds, but it also features a glass panel and a sleek metal chassis that allows it to easily level up any desk setup.
REI Co-op Wallace Lake Flannel Shirt
The dream of the ’90s is alive at REI, apparently. The co-op’s handsome Wallace Lake Flannel is a hardy button-up that’s available in an assortment of retro-inspired patterns for both men and women, all of which exude lumberjack chic without ever requiring you to pick up a splitting maul and put in the actual work.
Amazfit Band 7
The number of premium features the Amazfit Band 7 offers for the price is kind of mind-boggling. For less than $50, you get a quality fitness tracker that nails the essentials while boasting abnormal heart rate notifications, stress tracking, and a nice OLED display. Add in 18 days of battery life, and it’s easy to see why it’s such a steal.
Tekton Everybit Tech Rescue Kit
For a paltry $25, Tekton’s versatile Everybit Tech Rescue Kit provides you with everything you need to tune up your PC, iPhone, controllers, and most other gadgets. The 46-piece screwdriver kit is chock-full of tools — including a tweezer, a metal spudger, a suction cup, and a smorgasbord of quality bits — all of which lower the threshold for at-home tinkering.
Echo Show 5 (third-gen)
Amazon’s third-gen Echo Show 5 is the ultimate bedside alarm clock. The 5.5-inch smart display is small enough that it won’t commandeer your entire nightstand, yet it still lets you easily catch up on the news, check the weather, and tap into whatever white noise lulls you to sleep best. Coqui frog sounds, anyone?
Epomaker TH80 Pro
The Epomaker TH80 is one of our favorite 75 percent mechanical keyboards. It’s fantastic to type on, it supports simultaneous Bluetooth connections, and it comes with hot-swappable switches that let you nail that perfect typing feel. The step-up Pro model is just as great, too, only it offers a slightly bigger battery and a few welcome functionality improvements.
Black & Decker Furbuster
High-end robovacs with auto-empty docks and AI obstacle avoidance are great and all, but sometimes a classic handheld is all you need. Black & Decker’s rechargeable Furbuster is a great option for picking up fur, dirt, and other debris, especially since it offers a surprising amount of suction and an extra-long crevice tool for hitting those hard-to-reach areas.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2
Sony’s latest PlayStation 5 exclusive is all about dizzying cityscapes, emo angst, and the kind of web-slinging antics only Insomniac can conjure up. That is to say, it’s an excellent sequel, one that places you in control of not one but two spider-men as you take on Kraven, Venom, and a who’s who of classic Spider-Man villains. It’s superhero wish fulfillment at its finest.
Jabra Elite 4
It’s easy to overlook the Jabra Elite 4 given their sub-$100 competition — which is unfortunate given the wireless earbuds offer quite a lot for the money, including both ANC and multipoint. They’re just as reliable as the last-gen model, too, and unlike other Bluetooth buds, they aren’t locked into a single ecosystem.
Fujifilm Instax Mini 12
There’s something magical about holding a photo seconds after capturing it, which is why Fujifilm’s Instax Mini 12 rules. The terrific instant camera is incredibly easy to use — just point and shoot — making it a great option for capturing card-size photos of family, friends, and anyone else your giftee wants to unwillingly subject to their artistic pursuits.
UE Wonderboom 3
Nobody should be without a solid Bluetooth speaker, and the UE Wonderboom 3 remains an excellent option. The waterproof orb-shaped speaker is remarkably loud for its size, can last up to 14 hours on a single charge, and can pair with two Bluetooth devices simultaneously. The fact that it actually floats is just a plus.
Lego Piranha Plant
Over the last few years, Lego has launched a slew of clever botanical sets for adults that can add a touch of color to any room with absolutely no maintenance. The Lego Super Mario Piranha Plant is kind of like that, only it’s a posable 540-piece replica of one of Mario’s iconic baddies instead of a Welsh poppy or your run-of-the-mill larkspur.
Govee LED Strip Light M1 Matter
If you’re hoping to brighten a drab staircase to liven up your holiday party with some colorful lighting that can sync to the latest Bad Bunny track, Govee’s LED Strip Light M1 can provide. The tunable, ultrabright LED lights are also Matter-ready, so you can use them with Amazon Alexa, Apple Home, and any other Matter-compatible platform.
L.L.Bean Wicked Good Moccasins
Frigid days call for more than a decent pair of wool socks and a warm beverage. L.L.Bean’s sheepskin-lined moccasins live up to their name, though, providing something supremely cozy to slip into when the temperatures start to dip. The treaded mocs also come in several cuts and colors, ensuring they won’t look out of touch with the rest of your giftee’s wardrobe.
Apple’s AirTags are becoming as ubiquitous as a set of keys — and for good reason. The handy ultra wideband item trackers are our go-to recommendation for Apple users thanks to their user-replaceable batteries and ability to tap into Apple’s extensive Find My network, which lets you and up to five others keep tabs on whatever belongings you can’t afford to live without.
Secretly Society subscription
Assuming your loved one owns a turntable, a Secretly Society subscription is a more tangible way to give the gift of music. Each month they’ll receive a limited edition LP from one Secretly’s superb collection of labels (Dead Oceans, JagJaguwar, etc.), providing them with a new Angel Olsen, Slowdive, or Jason Molina LP to spin when they get tired of the ol’ Spotify algorithm.
Amazon Kindle (2022)
If your giftee is a big reader, Amazon’s newest entry-level Kindle is the e-reader to buy. It has USB-C charging and a screen that’s as sharp as the display on the latest Kindle Paperwhite, yet it comes in a smaller, more affordable package. It even comes standard with 16GB of storage, which is more than enough for the average person’s reading collection.
Keith Haring Colorful Chess Set
When a board game has been around for as long as chess, style updates aren’t just inevitable, they’re welcome. MoMA’s gorgeous Keith Haring-inspired set features colorful humans, barking dogs, and other iconographic pieces adapted from some of the artist’s most famous works, all lacquered and offset by Haring’s trademark black outlines.
Backbone One mobile controller (USB-C)
The PlayStation Portal may be the hot new PS5 accessory, but the Backbone One remains a more versatile gadget for playing mobile games and tapping into Xbox Game Pass and Remote Play. Not only does the mobile controller accommodate both Android and Apple devices, depending on the model, but it also features a 3.5mm audio jack, dual analog sticks, and its own software for capturing screenshots.
A Psalm for the Wild-Built
BookTok recs can be hit or miss, but the first book in Becky Chambers’ cozy Monk & Robot series is a certified hit if there ever was one. It’s a surprisingly philosophical and optimistic sci-fi novella as told through a series of quiet conversations between a wandering monk and a sentient robot who can’t help but ponder life’s biggest questions.
Ring Pet Tag
The Ring Pet Tag doesn’t feature GPS tracking, Bluetooth, or any newfangled features. What it does offer is a simple QR code, which lets any good Samaritan who happens upon your pet start a two-way conversation with you or look up any relevant health info you want to provide on your furry friend. It even shields your personal info in the process, something traditional dog tags don’t allow.
There’s something special about gifting an analog game like Kendama in the age of Fortnite — even more so when you consider that the Japanese toy has changed little since it was first developed hundreds of years ago. The cup-and-ball game remains easy to learn but difficult to master, too, making it a good fit for anyone looking to hone a skill over time.
EWA The New MagOne
There are plenty of PopSockets alternatives out there, but we’ve found EWA’s The New MagOne to offer the perfect blend of form and function. It’s a relatively thin accessory with a built-in kickstand and a loop for your finger, yet it’s also compatible with Apple’s MagSafe tech so you don’t have to worry about tossing it on an iPhone charger.
Red/White Verge Waffle Beanie
It’s time we all admit that we’re living in the golden age of honeycomb weaves. These days, nearly every piece of clothing you can imagine is available in some sort of waffle fabric, including The Verge’s latest beanie. It’s a great little skullcap, if we do say so ourselves, with an excellent logo and a solid warmth-to-weight ratio.
Mpowerd Luci Solar String Lights: Color
Mpowerd’s solar-powered string lights are perfect if your giftee is brave enough to camp in the fall or host a backyard shindig (weather permitting). Not only can the 18-foot string dish out six different colors and last up to 15 hours on a single charge but it also doubles as a portable charger that will let your loved one top off their phone as needed.
The Diversity of Life
It’s hard to scoff at a proper collector’s edition. The Folio take on The Diversity of Life is a great case in point, one that adds an extra level of gravitas to E.O. Wilson’s thoughtful examination of the origins of biodiversity and the dangers humans pose to it. It’s loaded with stunning illustrations and blocked in iridescent foil, rendering it a great fit for any budding naturalist.
Pinecil portable soldering iron
If someone you know still uses a basic soldering iron that looks like it was bought at RadioShack to repair their electronics, it’s time for an upgrade. Luckily, the Pinecil is a fairly inexpensive gadget that heats up in seconds, has a tiny OLED display for dialing in your exact temperature, and can be powered using either a DC adapter or USB-C.
No one has time for Monopoly. Fortunately, the fast-paced Monopoly Deal takes the best parts of everyone’s favorite capitalist-driven board game and distills the mechanics down to the bare fundamentals. There are still properties to be bought and plenty of backstabbing to be had, though, this time around, the entire thing takes 15 minutes.
Le Creuset London Mugs (six-pack)
Le Creuset’s Dutch oven has been a cast iron icon for so long that it’s easy to dismiss everything else the French cookware giant has done since. That’s a shame considering the company’s hefty stoneware mugs are just as classic and far more affordable, which is probably why they’ve made the wish list of several Verge staffers this year.
This $1,000 card can store a message in DNA
DNA data storage might sound like a far-off solution. But a startup called Biomemory is bringing it a little closer to reality with the release of new DNA cards that anyone can purchase — if you have $1,000 to blow.
DNA has emerged as a theoretical alternative to hard drives, SSDs, and other forms of digital data storage, namely because of its impressive lifespan. Science estimates the technology could potentially last hundreds of thousands of years if stored in a cool, dry environment. That’s a heck of a lot longer than the lifespan of your average hard drive, which typically tops out at around five years.
Biomemory’s DNA cards promise a “minimum” lifespan of 150 years. The $1,000 price tag includes two identical cards, each of which comes with one kilobyte of storage. That amounts to around the length of a short email, according to Wired’s profile of the company, so you can’t expect to store a trove of photos, videos, and documents with the card just yet. Still, it’s the closest we’ve seen to making DNA storage available to consumers.
This storage system works by converting digital information to the elements that make up DNA: adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), and thymine (T). You can see how this might work on the “DNA Translate” feature at the bottom of this Biomemory webpage, which shows how a line of text might be converted to a string of A’s, C’s, G’s, and T’s.
After the encoding process, Biomemory creates a unique strand of DNA by “chemically synthesizing it base by base to match the desired sequence” — a process that takes about eight hours for one kilobyte of data, according to Wired. From there, Biomemory dries out the data and sticks it on the circular chip on its DNA card, which Wired says is sealed to keep out oxygen.
We’re still pretty far away from capitalizing on all the possibilities DNA storage has to offer
When you’re ready to retrieve the data, you must send in one of the two DNA cards to Biomemory’s partners at Eurofins Genomics. You’ll then receive your string of A’s, C’s, G’s, and T’s by email that you can decode using Biomemory’s DNA translation feature. You won’t get the card back after the data has been decoded, which is why you get a copy. The card is effectively useless if you don’t send it to the lab (or happen to have a DNA sequencer on hand).
“After years of talk about the potential of molecular computing, we are incredibly proud to bring the first DNA data storage product to market, that not only pushes the boundaries of innovation but also aligns with our commitment to environmental sustainability and efficiency,” Biomemory CEO Erfane Arwani says in a statement. You can sign up for Biomemory’s waitlist now, with orders expected to ship in January.
We’re still pretty far away from capitalizing on all the possibilities DNA storage has to offer. As estimated in this report from Science, one gram of DNA can hold a whopping 215 petabytes — or around 215 million gigabytes — in a container that has roughly the same size and weight as two pickup trucks. But until we move past needing hours of lab work on both ends, DNA storage will likely be stuck as an experiment storing music videos, short clips, photos, or small lines of text.
Needing gift ideas? Here are some of the Augusta area’s best this holiday
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