Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

Microsoft The New Apple

The killer product, or service, from Microsoft, for me, is Office. For over a decade, I’ve pretty much stopped using Windows PCs. But despite all the open source alternatives, and free online services, as well as paid Apple apps I’ve used, I always go back to Microsoft Office. To me, as a consumer, Office is what keeps Microsoft alive.

When Microsoft started to build their own hardware, I was unimpressed. I didn’t like Windows phone. I mean, the hardware itself was alright, they were made by Nokia after all, and quite decent. I didn’t fancy yet another operating platform. I know, Microsoft wants Windows everywhere no different from how Apple wants their OS everywhere. But in my opinion, Windows on the phone might as well have been one of the many other operating systems that wanted to rule the mobile device space.

Microsoft also made other mobile gadgets, starting first with tablets. It surprised some of us initially. By making hardware, they are competing with traditional hardware manufacturers, their ally whom they need to sell Windows to. Of course, there isn’t really much of an alternative for hardware manufacturers. Tablets were a safe start.

After a few years of tablets, Microsoft made the transition to notebooks. Their Surface Book was revealed last year. Now, things start to get interesting. This year, Microsoft introduced their Surface Studio, an all-in-one desktop PC that’s basically an iMac for the PC. It’s quite awesome in most ways.

Early Surface tablets were interesting, but nothing I would give serious consideration to buy. But with the Surface Pro 4 introduced last year, I started to get quite intrigued by their touted use cases. I can appreciate how useful it can be, and for the first time, I considered that the Surface Pro 4, or some future update to it, could be something I might actually want to get.

A tablet isn’t the right type of device for most of my professional work. The Surface Book seems to be the answer, and while it is quite pretty looking, I didn’t like its hinge design at all. The bulge created by the hinge made the notebook so clunky, and I have no idea why others thought the design was so great.

But Microsoft is getting there. This year’s Surface Studio is admittedly quite stunning, and I see Microsoft’s Surface Dial as truly an innovation. That’s quite something because I never thought of Microsoft has being very innovative. Sure, they might have some success in other areas like Xbox and the Kinect, but in the PC space, they have mostly been quite boring.

Microsoft now seems to be the company giving us the surprises. I don’t know if it is simply because I’m following all the Apple rumours too closely that nothing from Apple seems like an “oh wow, this is so spectacular”anymore. But seriously, I think the Touch Bar is in the category of “nice, this is really nice”, while the Surface Dial is in the category of “wow, this is really fascinating”.

If I really had to be very critical, the Surface Studio, while having a really beautiful 28-inch display, its squarish base could do with some further design iterations. The keyboard, the mouse, and the Surface Dial, they are all really nice. The square base honestly feels like an after-though, a leftover detail they didn’t have time to work on.

However, with the newly announced MacBook Pro, one could raise more questions about Apple’s own innovation. The Touch Bar is nice, but is it the right way forward? We love real function keys because they are fixed, and you can touch-type without looking at them. With a OLED screen that changes dynamically, how sure are we going to be that the key we want to hit is going to be where we think it is supposed to be? Maybe, Apple will prove to us the the Touch Bar actually works in the months to come. It may be a little early to pass judgement on the Touch Bar at this point.

The biggest thing I have to complain about the Surface Studio is perhaps about price. Yes, who would have thought, Microsoft’s PC is rather expensive. It used to be that Apple’s products are expensive. You pay a premium for them. Don’t get me wrong, Apple’s products are still expensive. The new MacBook Pros aren’t getting any cheaper. But hey, Microsoft has joined them right there in the rather premium league.

Seriously, the base model of the 27-inch iMac starts out at US$1799. The base model of the Surface Studio, which has a 28-inch display, starts at US$2999. I know, you cannot just compare an old iMac with the new Surface Studio, it’s not an an apples for apples comparison. But still, it’s clear the Surface Studio is a premium PC for professionals who can afford the price tag.

Microsoft’s doing the Apple dance now. The design, the marketing, and the price. I don’t know about their tech support, and for now, I still prefer macOS Sierra to Windows 10 any time. It’s about time for Apple to leapfrog ahead, lest they get beaten by Microsoft at their own game.

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