My thoughts on the Microsoft and Apple Events this week.
So this week has been full of tech product releases from Microsoft’s Creative Update and Surface Studio to Apple’s MacBook Pro release. I’ve let a few days go by so that I wouldn’t be caught up in the moment toward one product or another.
Microsoft Creative Update
Majority of Microsoft’s event was talking about the creative update. This update comes in the form of some updated apps with the premier one being Paint 3D. Paint 3D is an application which allows users to create art in 3D. I covered this in a previous post. I still believe the play here is to simplify the creation of 3D assets for the holographic platform.
Microsoft also announced some virtual reality headsets from their OEM providers. The prices of these start at $299. There also was a demo of what it may look like in the holographic platform using these headsets. Although I was hoping for a tethered version of the HoloLens at a lower cost this might be a good option still. We still don’t know the minimum specs for the computers needed for the platform but my guess is it is lower than the Oculus and HTC Vive.
These headsets do tracking differently than the other headsets on the market. The headset the proposed are doing inside-out tracking vs. outside-in. The Headsets on the market today with room scale utilize cameras placed around the room in stationary locations to track IR markers on the googles or other devices. With inside-out tracking the camera system is typically on the goggles and IR markers are placed in stationary locations. I believe the difference though in Microsoft’s approach is more similar to the HoloLens where it utilizes IR and depth sensors to map the room.
I like this approach much better than any VR solution today. Setup would literally be just scan the room with the headset. This has a lot of potential for the future of both VR and AR.
Microsoft briefly demoed the HoloLens again showing a creation made in Paint 3D. Another demo showed how looking at a website in Edge could potentially feed you 3D models of real items you could test out in your home to see if you liked them or not. This does show a new way of shopping and that 3D will make its way into our browsers in the future more prolifically then it is today.
I was a little upset to not see more information regarding the HoloLens at the event but I see the direction Microsoft is going and it does look like an interesting future.
Microsoft Surface Studio
The premier piece of hardware that was displayed during the event was the Surface Studio. This is a 28” all-in-one PC that utilizes the Microsoft Pen and touch to be a massive creative workstations. The hardware looks amazing but comes at a high price point as it is targeted at the creative space.
If you look at other devices on the market that give you this capability you quickly see a high price as well. It is a niche market. The king of drawing tablets Wacom sells monitors and some smaller tablet devices. Wacom’s 27” Cintiq costs $2,799.95. This is a display only no computer so you have to fork out another say $1,000.00 for a decent computer with GPU. You are already up into the price range of the Surface Studio which starts at $2,999.00. Even the high-end model is only $4,199.00. Seems like a deal now…
To me the design is a very premium product. This is one I would personally like to own in the future. I occasionally dabble in videography, photography, and 3D creation.
The smallest piece of hardware at the event was the Surface Dial. The surface dial shows that Microsoft is looking to innovate. This device allows you to augmented your computing with a physical device. At the end of the day it is a dial which can be setup for different uses in software such as volume control, rotation, and other manipulations. The tricks really come out when paired with the Surface Studio though. When the device is placed on the screen not only does the dial still have a use but you get a contextual menu surrounding the device.
I can see this creating a new experience. Imagine if you could have a couple different Surface Dials programmed for your creative suite to do different interactions. You would grab the one you need for a color palette and place it on the screen. You could grab one for manipulation of objects. This could be an interesting play if Microsoft works that into the product. Today though I believe you can only have one at a time.
Apple TV Update
So on to Apple’s event. Apple started out their event talking to changes to Apple TV. The specific focus was around video content both on-demand as well as live. What Apple has done is created a new app called suspiciously TV. Wait I’m going to launch the TV App on my Apple TV, or is it I’m going to my Apple TV to launch TV… Confusing as this is the basic functionality is some of your content applications are curated into one UI. No more hunting for your next show that could be in Hulu, or HBO Go, or the Showtime App. Interestingly Netflix was no where in their demo and my guess is people have to sign up or develop specifically for it. More details to come on that front.
Apple also had Twitter as a guest showing off a new version of their Live video platform. Besides Twitters approach Apple also showed how you could jump to live events via voice.
All in all not that impressed with where Apple TV is at this moment but in general I’m not happy where any Smart TV or other TV based device is at.
The large part of Apple’s announcement was around their flagship laptops the MacBook Pro line-up. I’ll talk about their new control surface later but overall on the hardware it was bump in the CPU, bump in the GPU, Lower profile keyboard, USB-C everywhere, and goodbye every other port except the headphone jack. We are about to live in a dongle apocalypse until the industry switches over to USB-C. The one nice thing is that any of the ports can be used for charging. I’m not certain I like the fact that MagSafe has been abandoned.
Looking at just the base stats it looks like a nice computer but it doesn’t scream innovation to me. Yay we made it thinner again… Yay it comes in space grey/gray… Yay it has 25% more color…
So let’s talk about that Touch Bar shall we. Apple’s biggest innovation is putting a bit of iPad in your keyboard? Apple removed the function keys from the top of the keyboard and replaced it with a retina touch display. They showed off a few integrations with applications and the platform which shows how it morphs into different control surfaces based on context.
I think there is potential here but it will take time for developers to fully figure out the right interactions for it. I can see how it could be useful to expose some controls when you are in full screen mode with some applications but I’m lacking a good understanding of how it will improve my life. It actually forces me to look at my keyboard area which I haven’t looked at in years.
Before I bust out my final thoughts on either vendor my initial though is that it is good to see Microsoft and Apple going up against each other at some levels. We need healthy competition to push the envelope.
The fact that both of these vendors are pushing the price point up tells us something about the computer industry. It is officially niche. The people that use full functioning PCs is shrinking in the consumer space. Enterprise customers definitely will continue with PCs for some time still as the tablet and mobile market does not meet all the needs of productivity in their current incarnation. The consumer market on the other hand can live on their Android and iOS devices. The folks that need desktop or even laptop style devices are creatives, engineers, and power users only.
If I was going to declare a winner of Innovation I would say Microsoft won the battle. I see more promise in their direction at this point of where the future may be. Between Holographic computing and creative solutions to fill the world with content the hardware they are bringing in the PC market seems top notch.
As for Apple I think they own the mobile space with Google on their heels now. Microsoft’s only strategy in mobile is to deploy their applications and cloud services which gives them a piece of that pie.
We are still in a very big transition in the technology space. Only time will tell which group will own the new future of compute in our homes and in hour hands.