On the 26th of last month (local time), the Hardware Lab inside the Microsoft (MS) headquarters in Redmond, Washington, USA. In the space called ‘Audio Test Lab A’ in the laboratory, there was a Guinness certification sign that said ‘The Quietest Place in the World’. The room is soundproofed to maintain -20.35 decibels. When I closed the door, I could even hear my heart beating. Microsoft manager John Haley said, “We test the sound of various devices, such as the sound of pressing a keyboard or the sound of a laptop monitor closing in perfect soundproof conditions.” In the next room, there was a soundproof booth with a microphone installed. One person spoke into the microphone, and seven people around him clapped and shouted. However, in the recorded file, only the voice of the person speaking could be heard clearly without any noise. An MS official said, “One room picks up sound in the loudest situation and the other in the quietest situation.”
The hardware lab is a security facility that strictly controls entry and exit. Each space within the laboratory is marked with an elemental symbol. “To maintain secrecy, the interior corridors are designed so that once you enter, you cannot easily find your way out,” said Panos Fanay, chief product officer and executive vice president of Microsoft. “This is where the development of all of Microsoft’s hardware products begins. , it is a key place to find all the details, such as the appropriate value in millimeters.”
◇”Compete in detail”
Microsoft with 48 years of history is looking beyond a software company to a strong player in the hardware market. Microsoft invited 17 reporters from major countries around the world to its headquarters and unveiled the site of hardware innovation. In Korea, this magazine was the only one invited.
Upon entering the Microsoft hardware lab, I saw six 3D (three-dimensional) inkjet printers. When a new product idea emerges, it is designed quickly and a basic prototype is printed the next day with this 3D printer. In the next room, various materials and patterns of plastic and cloth were piled up. Manager John Haley said, “We make prototypes with numerous patterns and colors and conduct blind tests on internal employees.”
Upon entering the research center, there was a large space with 26 CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine tools. On one side, aluminum frames and cutting tools were piled up. It is a place where the material of the product is determined through 3D printing and then the actual model is made based on it. An MS official said, “It takes two to three years to plan a prototype and release it as an actual product.”
◇Focus on human-centered design
Under the name of the ‘Surface’ series, MS releases various laptops, tablet PCs, dual-screen smartphones with two screens, and large wall-mounted touch screens. It also sells console-type game consoles such as the Xbox and accessories such as keyboards and mice. Compared to Samsung Electronics and Apple, Microsoft’s market influence is still small. Microsoft’s share in the global personal computer market is only around 2%. Nevertheless, the reason why the hardware business is steadily maintained is that device application technology can be expanded to software technology in the future.
MS is trying to differentiate itself from other companies’ products with ‘human-centered design’. The place where these strategies are implemented is the ‘Human Factor Lab (Human Factor Lab)’ within the research institute. Inside the lab, there were various models of human ears, heads of various sizes, and finger models of different thicknesses. It is to find a design that can be universally applied to each person’s different body. In addition, it measures in real time where users focus their eyes and which muscles they use while using MS devices. “‘Development for all’ is our motto,” said CPO Furney.
Redmond (Washington) = Correspondent Kim Seong-min
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