Apple has been neglecting its desktops and laptops for mobile, while Microsoft has been busy reinventing the PC.
Microsoft Surface Pro
Remember when buying a Mac meant that you got cutting-edge technology? Nowadays you’re overpaying for old, stale ideas wrapped in “thin and light” aluminum shells.
PCs have undoubtedly gone through a stale patch. Partly this has been down to PC sales in general going from soft to soggy over the past few years, partly it’s been down to OEMs scrabbling to make ends meet in an era where profit margins are razor thin, and partly it’s down to consumers seeing PCs much in the same way we look at stone tools or a horse and buggy.
The collective belief was that PCs were a thing of the past, that those who held onto them were Luddites, and that in a decade or so the transition to smartphones and tablets would become inevitable.
But Microsoft has made the PC interesting, relevant, and fun again. It began with Microsoft showing OEMs what a modern system should look like with the release of the Surface and Surface Pro line, then the Surface Studio. And now we have OEMs jumping on board the “Always Connected PC” bandwagon, which may finally bring cellular access to portables in a meaningful way.
It has the scope to be big.
Even Windows 10 S, Microsoft’s cut-down, streamlined edition of Windows 10 — a Windows RT reboot — is an example of Microsoft thinking out of the box, Sure, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s nothing wrong with that.
Windows 10 S is Microsoft’s attempt at taking the desktop platform and spinning off a more streamlined, modern mobile platform, much as Apple did when it released iOS (which was initially called PhoneOS). Microsoft wants to compete against the iPad, and to do that Microsoft needs a new operating system to cater to the needs and challenges of the platform.
Like it or not, Microsoft has been busy, and the hits are far outweighing the misses right now.
Sure, the Redmond giant has a lot of work left to do — just look at the Microsoft app store if you’re in any doubt — but you have to acknowledge the progress made in a few short years since Nadella took the helm of the company.
So what’s Apple been doing with the Mac during that time?
Well, it kitted the MacBook Pro out with a Touch Bar, left the Mac Pro to rot for years, giving it a last-minute cursory hardware refresh a few weeks ago, and forgot that it even has the MacBook, MacBook Air, iMac, and Mac mini in its stores.
Here’s data collated by MacRumors on how long it’s been since the different lines were updated (correct at time of writing):
- MacBook – 407 days
- iMac – 596 days
- MacBook Air – 814 days
- Mac mini – 958 days
- Mac Pro – Over 1,200 days (excluding last cursory refresh)
But then Apple can let the Mac line go old and stale because Apple isn’t a computer company anymore. It’s now a company that sells the iPhone. That’s great for Apple, but isn’t really great news for people who use Macs and need Apple to refresh its line up in a timely fashion. In fact, if you’re waiting for a MacBook Air or Mac mini update, you should give up because my belief is that both of those are headed for the chop.
But while Apple’s billions aren’t tied to the success or failure of the Mac, the desktops and portables are still part of the ecosystem, and having devices that support the iPhone and iPad is still important because it keeps people in the ecosystem. If there are no new Macs, people will start to look elsewhere, and that weakens Apple’s grip on users.
But if Apple has dropped the ball, and can’t keep the Mac offering updated, it seems that Microsoft, along with its army of OEMs, is ready to fill the void.
And grab new customers.