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Microsoft Is Looking Like the New Apple

A pair of events this week suggest one company is charging ahead, while the other is stuck in a product rut.
October 28, 2016

This week, one giant technology company looked like an innovator, launching a sleek new suite of forward-looking hardware to help media professionals work more effectively. Another added a row of buttons to an existing computer. In the past, Apple would have been the former—for the moment, at least, that role has shifted to Microsoft.

At an event in New York on Wednesday, Microsoft unveiled the sleek, futuristic-looking Surface Studio: a 28-inch all-in-one PC that converts into something akin to a digital drafting table. Reclined at about 20 degrees, it can be used with a dedicated stylus and so-called Surface Dial—a small puck that adds a mechanical means of interacting with the touchscreen.

Microsoft also launched a new set of tools to create art in 3-D, which the company imagines people will view using its Hololens. Or, perhaps, a VR headset, given that Microsoft also made good on its promise to help make the devices ubiquitous. It’s been working with HP, Dell, Lenovo, Asus, and Acer, and promised that all will soon all ship VR headsets for $300.

Microsoft's Surface Studio is somewhere between a desktop computer and a futuristic drafting table.

Apple, meanwhile, showed off its latest hardware offering on Thursday: an updated version of its MacBook Pro laptop. With—drum roll, please—a new row of buttons. They are, admittedly, very smart buttons. Actually a slim second screen, they adapt depending on which program is being used, and there’s also Apple’s fingerprint-sensing TouchID built in to enable login, payments, and other secure operations.

These, then are the hardware treasures that the two tech giants chose to show off on consecutive days. There is, to be sure, plenty of criticism to be levelled at Microsoft’s new offering: the Surface Studio is esoteric, undoubtedly a niche product, and costs an eye-watering $3,000. But Apple’s pricing isn’t exactly a thrift store option: the 15-inch notebook start at $2,400.

More important than price is what the announcements signal about what the companies are trying to achieve. Microsoft is now attempting to push the boundaries of what computing looks like, by trying to change the way we interact with desktop devices and providing the tools for us to become more involved with the virtual world.

Apple, meanwhile, appears to be stuck in a rut. As we’ve explained before, it seems to be struggling to look far beyond its existing products. Instead, it’s simply adding new features to already successful devices rather than reinventing our relationship with technology.

None of this is to say that Microsoft will succeed. Its new products are squarely aimed at the creative professionals that would typically buy Apple products, and winning them over will be a tough fight. But the status quo can only be challenged by products that don’t fit the existing mold. Just look at the iPad, which many thought would never go beyond a niche product when it first launched.

Or, if you’re Apple, perhaps look away from it instead.

(Read more: Wired, Gizmodo, “Intel and Microsoft Are Teaming Up to Make Virtual Reality Ubiquitous,” “Why Apple Can’t Match the iPhone’s Success”)

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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