Surface Book vs. MacBook Pro: Why Apple Wins (Just Barely)

24 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Microsoft breaking the rules with ‘second-device’ vision.

In attempt to bring some fresh offerings to its gadget lineup, Microsoft recently upgraded its Surface Pro lineup and introduced the Microsoft Surface Book, which takes a fresh look on small sized, highly portable laptops.

Before the Surface Book’s launch, we’ve other offerings such as Apple MacBook Air and Dell’s XPS lineup, which covered both sleekness and impressive hardware specifications in compact packages. If you had any trouble choosing, you have a taste of the dilemmas facing Apple, Google and Microsoft, the three players waging an epic battle for the future of computing.

But the most interesting new addition to the game is Microsoft, suddenly re-energized after suffering a long decline in the personal computer business. Under Satya Nadella, who became Microsoft’s chief executive early last year, Microsoft is embracing a fragmented vision of the future, in which no single device, or even a single category of devices, reigns supreme.

At a recent news conference that electrified not just Twitter but even some people in the real world, Microsoft wowed its loyalists (yes, there are Microsoft fanatics) with a number of new products that exemplify this idea. I’ve been using two of them — the Surface Pro 4, a tablet-PC hybrid that starts at about $1,030 if you include a keyboard cover, and the Surface Book, a $1,500 laptop with a screen that can be jettisoned to become a tablet — for the better part of a week. The more I used Microsoft’s new machines, the more I thought that perhaps no single kind of device is destined to win the war for second place to the smartphone.

We’ll have smartphones and then a dizzying array of desktops, laptops, tablets and hybrid devices — and different people, for different reasons, will choose different sets of each. It made Windows, the operating system that became the lingua franca of the PC era, and it made Office, the software that made those Windows machines useful to businesses. Microsoft’s new plan is to still make Windows and software for Windows, which it licenses to other hardware makers for their machines — but now it also makes its own phones and Surface devices, and it makes applications for iOS, Apple’s mobile operating system. Apple makes hardware and software, but just about all of its products are integrated; Apple’s software works on Apple’s hardware, and in most cases nowhere else. You could also say he’s setting up the company as a circular firing squad. (Sure, Microsoft has long made Office for the Mac, so you can argue that iOS apps aren’t such a big change, but it has been a long while since the Mac threatened Windows’ hegemony, while iOS is arguably an existential problem for large parts of Microsoft’s business.) Another, perhaps deeper problem is the mixed messages Microsoft is sending to customers.

But Microsoft kept working at the device and its software, and the incremental fixes began to reveal the fundamental utility of a tablet that could be used like a PC. Perhaps the ultimate endorsement of Microsoft’s strategy came this summer, when Apple unveiled the iPad Pro — a large-screen tablet with a keyboard and a stylus, just like the Surface. For years, most PC makers have chased low prices by forgetting about user experience; they’ve larded their machines with preinstalled adware, failed tests of basic functionality (Windows trackpads were difficult to use) and abandoned customer service.

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