"If we are going to be able to create magical experiences with software, then hardware will be the thing that people buy to go to experience that," Panos Panay corporate vice president told TIME during a recent interview. We were discussing his company's decision to launch its first real laptop after years of selling hybrid computers, that is, the Surface Laptop, which began to be sold on June 15. "And [when] those two things work perfectly together in a perfect way, out," he added.
If that approach sounds familiar - using the sleek, bright charm of the new gadgetry as a temptation to deeper software experiences - it should. Apple has always prided itself on the way its hardware and software work together. "People who really take software seriously need to make their own hardware," said Apple co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs, while unveiling the first iPhone in 2007, citing renowned computer maker Alan Kay. It was a manifesto and a sting, a drop of philosophical microphone preaching the inseparability of form and function.
Ergo the notion, evidenced by the change of Microsoft to the devices totally created as the surface line, that the company is finally attending that Fiat of Jobs-ian. Observers have been saying it for months and in some cases years. Look a little more and you will notice that former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has started sending out Apple-ish smoke signals since 2012.
But the idea is coming to a turning point with the emergence of the latest Microsoft computers, the Surface Laptop and Surface Studio. The Surface Laptop brimming with Apple's design features, from the way the laptop's lid is made to be easily lifted with a finger, to the finished aluminum and glossy Windows logo etched on the back. Microsoft made sure to highlight these points when it unveiled the laptop in May: "They put their heart and soul into every little detail," said Panay, doting on the Surface Laptop production team. "It does not matter if it's the hinge or the creation of an entire category."
The fastidious attention to trivial-apparent geometry is a principle of the Apple design credo. Jobs was firmly focused on the complexities of his company's products, so much so that he created his own beige tone for the Apple II computer because he wanted it to be fine.
And like Apple, Microsoft has targeted its surface line in premium buyers. Even the Surface Laptop, which the company has been selling to students, starts at $ 999. And cheaper models are unlikely. "When we think about the lowest prices, that's what allows us to stop," Panay said. "We have a lot of partners, great, we're not trying to recreate a $ 400 laptop, just to make a laptop."
But these ostensible parallels of Cupertino-Redmond are deeper than quality or pricing. By taking control of the ergonomics of devices running Windows, Microsoft can experience more freely with new input mechanisms. The strongest evidence of this came as Microsoft debuted its 28-inch, all-in-one Surface Studio at the end of last year. The company also unveiled a new accessory to go with it: the Surface Dial, a high-tech knob that can be used on the computer screen or next to it as a mouse. It allows unusual but intuitive interactions, for example the option to enlarge or rotate map, or change the color of a brush with a subtle touch.
The Surface Dial still has to conquer consumers, but it highlights the will of a technology giant tied to the tradition of experimenting with different methods of interaction as it sculpts new forms of computing. Apple originally rose to fame, then recovered from a long creative break, to exemplify just that: the original Macintosh and the first iPhone were estimated in part because their interfaces worked as smoothly with control points as mouse input and multitouch. Apple did not invent the touch screen or the computer mouse, but because he was designing both the software and the hardware for the iPhone and Macintosh, he was better equipped to create intuitive experiences for them. Microsoft is applying the same terrain when incorporating ideas like the Dial and the stylus in its Surface alignment.
The profound differences between these technology companies remain. On the one hand, Apple maintains total control over its hardware and software, while the Microsoft partner ecosystem will always be an important part of how Windows computers are developed and sold. But JP Gownder, vice president and chief analyst at Forrester, says Microsoft may have the edge over Apple in terms of hardware: "There's only a general feeling that if you're looking for who's the leader right now, who's going to surprise you with something new And interesting, it's going to be the surface group. "
In fact, between its new surface equipment and HoloLens headphones, Microsoft may be emerging as the dominant innovator. Apple has not significantly altered its family of MacBook laptops since the 12-inch model debuted in 2015. Nor has it offered new hardware products by focusing on emerging technologies such as augmented and virtual reality, though new tools are debuting for developers to create AR applications . Apple CEO Tim Cook can criticize the distinction between innovation as change and innovation as "making things better." But there is another kind of distinction that ultimately matters so much - to excite its base and grow it - that makes the latest maneuvers of Redmond feel more ambitious and intrepid.