The contrast between Microsoft’s October 26 event and Apple’s October 27 event has the PC industry in a buzz. Observers who have been diehard Apple fans are casting jealous eyes towards the new Microsoft products. Meanwhile, some observers who have been against Apple for political reasons are making some solid observations that don’t have the traditional earmarks of being self-serving and misinformed.
[Note: this discussion isn’t about phones. Or VR. Or games. It’s about PCs and Macs.]
Did Apple make everything right with the Mac community yesterday? Did the company heal the wounds from so much product neglect? Are Apple’s instincts about the Touch Bar better than Microsoft’s instincts about how technical and creative professionals want to work? Has Microsoft shown signs of a reinvigorated ability to innovate under CEO Satya Nadella? These are some of the questions that are on my mind in the aftermath of those two events.
Let’s walk thorough the Microsoft PC technology, then some of the reactions.
First, there’s a good product overview of the Microsoft Surface Studio over at The Verge. “Microsoft’s Surface Studio is a stunning desktop computer.” There, you’ll find videos of analysis by The Verge and Microsoft’s introduction event.
Next is Mashable’s article. “What it took to design the Surface Studio.” Lance Ulanoff spoke with Ralf Groene, Microsoft’s head of industrial design and revealed key insights into the design. After reading these articles and viewing the videos, you’ll have a really good feeling for what the Surface Studio is all about and the innovation involved.
One decent article that summed up the event comparison was at MarketWatch. “Apple demolished by Microsoft at their respective PC events.” Articles like this won’t make Apple happy, but then, as an old boss once told me, “perception is everything.”
Apple, having dealt from a position of technical strength and favor for so long, seemed to get wrapped up in the Touch Bar to the exclusion of its overall customer base. The USB-C-based 2016 MacBook Pros get so immersed in the idea that touching the display of a notebook computer is ergonomically unsound that they’ve ended up forcing the customer into certain technical and operational cubbyholes. I mentioned a few yesterday.
More importantly, the painful gap in time from the last MBP updates (March, May 2015) seemed to overwhelm the technical significance of the Touch Bar. When contrasted to what Microsoft has achieved with the Surface Studio, the reaction amongst the press, perhaps for the first time, came down with sobriety and logic on the side of Microsoft.
One of the things that may have assisted in this assessment was the Surface Dial (US$99) which, on the surface, has the instinctive technical feel of something from a science fiction future in contrast to Apple’s touch sensitive Touch Bar which is merely cool. (But see page 2 here for more.) Time will tell if Microsoft’s instincts prove superior or are simply a trade-off in concepts. In the meantime, Jason Snell at Six Colors looks at the relative merits of touching your work or touching the Touch Bar in “Perpendicular philosophy.”
These products are very new. We’ll have to see how the two philosophies end up meeting consumer needs and which turns out to be solid money maker. But the sense I have, at this early stage, is that Apple had become complacent and was caught by surprise. Nadella’s Microsoft which had met with so much derision under Steve Ballmer is now the fresh thinking underdog in the PC arena.
Apple is not the kind of company that explicitly, outwardly acknowledges this possible shift. Healing will have to come in the form of its new product designs and decisions from now on. And less stony silence.
Now, on to Apple’s vision. That’s on page 2.
Next page: The Tech News Debris for the Week of October 24th. Apple’s Vision Beyond the Touch Bar