The leader in gadget innovation: not Apple
Apple yesterday unveiled a drastic redesign of its MacBook Pro. Well, at least it was a drastic redesign for Apple, a company who, save for the trash can-looking Mac Pro revamp, has passed off iterative slimming of its phones, tablets and computers these last years as product innovation.
The MacBook 2016, with Touch Bar.
New and exciting MacBook Pro?
The big change-up with the 2016 MacBook Pro, though: Tim Cook and company put a slim digital touchscreen where the laptop's keyboard function keys used to be. Called the Touch Bar, it displays different touchable buttons and sliders depending on what program is open on the Mac. Above all, it will probably be used by most as a permanent emoji keyboard. (Which is cool, don't get me wrong!)
Microsoft's Surface: innovative!
Of course, you might be asking, "Well, what more can you really do with the design of the laptop or computer in general?"
"We're glad you asked!" Microsoft would reply with glee.
Because the Seattle-ish company best known for its Windows and Office software plunged into the computer-making business four years ago this week with the Surface genre of laptop-tablet hybrids, pushing mainstream computing toward a truly different direction.
Microsoft's Surface Pro 4 laptop-tablet hybrid.
The Surface way continues with Studio
It wasn't all great at first (Surface RT!), but refinements of the original idea to showcase multi-input computing -- touchscreen, stylus, keyboard and mouse -- have parlayed into a hardware success story for the company and have even pressed Apple into building its own almost-competitor, the iPad Pro.
This Wednesday, Microsoft continued its computer design disruption campaign with the announcement of the Surface Studio, the first Microsoft-made desktop computer.
The Surface Studio, with keyboard, mouse and Dial.
The Surface Studio, down in Studio mode.
The Surface Studio can do more
Naturally, as the Surface name would lead on, Studio is a touchscreen Windows 10 machine, but it trades portability for power. It's a Mac Pro rival that can do more -- and it's honestly a lot nicer to look at.
The "do more" promise of the new Surface desktop computer is in part thanks to the way it can drop its screen on top of its own base (called Studio mode by Microsoft) for scratching out things with a Surface Pen or maneuvering through documents or compositions with your bare hands.
Microsoft's new Dial, which can be placed on the Studio's screen for a new kind of way to manipulate or create content, is another element that makes the Windows company's new machine different. (You have to see the Dial in action to understand it, so please view above.)
Genius isn't cheap
I could go on listing the ways the Surface Studio represents a fresh type of computer genius (the choice to make the screen a taller 3:2 aspect ratio, for example), but it's probably the case that all of those elements combined won't goad you into buying the $2,999 machine -- unless you're a graphic designer or architect who is forced to spend that amount on a computer.
Genius doesn't always sell
But Microsoft's bottom line isn't what I'm getting at here -- heck, Microsoft didn't actually start selling any Surface computers until version three.
No, the larger point is that Microsoft is innovating. And the trickle down effect of the existence of a new kind of ornate device like the Surface Studio, or the powerful Surface Book convertible laptop, even, looks to inspire the computer industry with new ways to innovate.
Your move, Apple -- still
Of course, Microsoft's march to the front of computer innovation simply gives us another excuse to question Apple, the leading consumer technology brand in the world, who, save for the birth of the first iDevices some years ago, has failed to lead.
Whether it's falling behind Samsung in phablets and mobile VR, Google in services, and now Microsoft with computers, if Apple wants to prove it's not the fat cat of the gadget industry, it better get to work.