A couple of weeks ago, shortly before Microsoft's announcement event for the next generation of Surface devices, Panos Panay announced his departure from the company. The timing was curious, as Panay created the Surface line and has overseen its growth. But, his future was not clear - until this year. Now we know that he is headed to Amazon to oversee devices and services at the company.
Who is Panos Panay?
Panos Panay, an American business executive of Greek Cypriot descent, had a significant impact during his time at Microsoft. He joined the company in 2004 as a group program manager. Panay is credited with creating the Surface line of premium devices in 2012 and Windows 11 in 20211. He led the vision and strategy for Windows + Devices, which included the development and design of Windows and Windows 365, the development, design, supply chain, and manufacturing of Microsoft hardware, including Microsoft Surface and Mixed Reality devices.
In late August 2021, he was promoted to become Executive Vice President and joined the senior leadership team that advises CEO Satya Nadella. However, after nearly 20 years at the company, Panay announced he was leaving Microsoft on September 18, 2023. His departure was somewhat abrupt as just a month prior to his announcement, he had expressed excitement about appearing at a Microsoft event. Despite his departure, Panay's contributions to Microsoft have left a lasting impact on the company's product line and culture.
Why did Panos Panay leave Microsoft?
Panay has long expressed his love for design, especially when it comes to the Surface product line. His original plan for the Surface product line was for it to be a spec line, showing hardware manufacturers what was possible with Windows-powered hardware.
His plan has been a major success for the company, with a large variety of hardware styles coming out of the Surface line. Before Surface, Windows tablets were few and far between. Following Surface, however, you can find tablets from every major manufacturer. The release of the Surface Book saw detachable laptops become more popular. The Surface Studio proved that a powerful all-in-one could be a success. The Surface Laptop Studio brought the commonality of convertible laptops back to the forefront.
At the Surface and AI event that Panay missed following his departure, the company announced that Surface would no longer be an experimental line of devices but would focus down on standard productivity devices. Surface Duo appears to be dead. Along with it, Surface Headphones and Surface Buds appear to be dead. In fact, only a few device categories will remain.
With the company taking his passion project and turning it into a basic product line, Panay may have seen his impact on the company coming to an end and decided to look for a company that would appreciate unique concepts and experimental products.
Panos Panay's future at Amazon
If ever there was a company that had demonstrated a willingness to experiment with hardware, it would be Amazon. Remember, this is the company that has offered an Alexa-powered clock (the Echo Wall Clock) and a service and security robot (Amazon Astro).
The company has also seen issues and layoffs in its hardware and services division. Only a few months ago, it was thought that devices might be a thing of the past for Amazon. Alexa has been waning and the company was not sure how to move forward. There were rumors of a complete write-off of Alexa, Echo, and more.
However, the introduction of Panos into the mix means that Amazon has made its decision: devices and services are an essential part of the company's future. And, it means that this division is going to be experimental and weird once again - the thing that has made Alexa a success.
It could also signal something else - a future partnership between Amazon and Microsoft. Alexa and Cortana were once friends, before Microsoft gave up on Cortana. It's possible that Panay being at Amazon could bring Microsoft Copilot features into Alexa. Stephen Elop joined Nokia and shortly after, Nokia went all-in with Windows Phone. So, this would not be the first time a Microsoft executive going to another company led to a partnership with Microsoft.