Microsoft Windows head Panos Panay says the pandemic has made the PC more vital than ever, even in the smartphone era: 'The usage intensity on Windows is higher than it's ever been before'

  • Right before the pandemic hit the US in earnest, Microsoft reorganized its Windows experience and devices teams.
  • Chief product officer Panos Panay was appointed to lead the organization, now called Windows + Devices, and to oversee Microsoft's overall Windows leadership team.
  • Panay told Business Insider his primary focus in his new role was to "remind people how essential the PC is," even in the smartphone era.
  • The pandemic made that point for Microsoft, forcing people to work, attend school, and connect with each other remotely: "The usage intensity on Windows is higher than it's ever been before," Panay said.
  • Are you a Microsoft employee? Contact this reporter via the encrypted messaging app Signal (+1-425-344-8242) or email ([email protected]).
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

When Microsoft chief product officer Panos Panay took over leadership of the Windows operating system in February, the company's priority was to "remind people how essential the PC is."

"It was my primary focus," Panay said in an interview this week at the Business Insider Global Trends Festival. "Let's go get people to understand that they still need Windows."

At the time, Microsoft had just reorganized the team in charge of the customer experience for Windows and the team in charge of its devices in order to create a more unified organization.

Panay, generally considered the driving force behind Microsoft's line of Surface products, was appointed to lead the team, now called Windows + Devices team, and oversees Microsoft's overall Windows leadership team.

The change was intended to "drive end-to-end people centered innovation including the entire Windows ecosystem," Rajesh Jha, Microsoft's executive vice president of experiences and devices, wrote in an email to employees viewed by Business Insider.

"The joining of these teams," he wrote, "will streamline the decision-making process to help us deliver the best device experience from silicon through the [operating system] for our customers on [original equipment manufacturers] and Surface Devices."

Panay said he wanted to remind people there are still reasons for which they need a PC; that not everything is possible to accomplish from a smartphone. "Cut to today and you're like, 'Wow, how things have changed," Panay said.

The pandemic forced people to work, go to school, and connecting with each other remotely. More than 300 billion minutes per month is now spent on PC gaming, he said — a big metric showing that the PC is more essential than ever.

"The usage intensity on Windows is higher than it's ever been before," he said, referring to a Microsoft metric that tracks how much time consumers and enterprise users alike spend with their PCs, showing that people are more attached to their PCs than ever in the remote work era.

Indeed, analyst firm IDC says that the PC market, long stagnant, is growing this year: Shipments of traditional desktops and laptops were up 14.6% in the third quarter of the year, the firm estimates, hitting 81.3 million. IDC also says that component shortages mean that there's a backlog of PC orders that will probably last in to 2021, speaking to the heightened demand.

Now, instead of having to convince customers the PC is still important, Panay says Microsoft's goal is for customers to transition seamlessly between Microsoft products on different platforms. Microsoft recently released the Surface Duo smartphone on Google's Android operating system to "meet customers where they are," highlighting how the company has a wide variety of apps like Office and Xbox Game Pass available for the platform.

"I mean, as much as I love Windows…there are times when you are going to step away from your PC," Panay said of the decision to release Duo on Android.

Got a tip? Contact reporter Ashley Stewart via encrypted messaging app Signal (+1-425-344-8242) or email ([email protected]).

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