Apple's latest hardware advancements are still a challenge for Microsoft

Today, Apple announced numerous new versions of their current hardware. In fact, there was not a single surprise due to the thorough leak last week by 9To5Mac's Mark Gurman. That is not Apple's fault, of course, just the nature of the technology reporting these days.

In case you missed the news, you can head to our sister site iMore who have been covering the event all morning. Everything from the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus to the 12.9-inch iPad Pro (with an optional keyboard and a $99 stylus) was announced along with an updated Apple TV.

There is no doubt that Apple knows how to launch products. In fact, the jokes about how they rarely invent anything and merely improve upon other ideas still holds true. That is not a knock as I genuinely think Apple makes outstanding hardware. Perhaps the biggest victim in all of this is Microsoft (and Nokia), who won't get the accolades for certain products like Apple will from the press.

Here are a few of my observations from today's Apple Event:

  • Apple is adding OSs (iOS, Watch, OS X, Apple TV) while Microsoft is combining and reducing them
  • Apple is using the phrase 'Universal Apps' now, but it only applies to iOS and Apple TV; OS X is still on its own
  • Apple beats Microsoft to '3D Touch' although not the same thing
  • Apple TV brings app model to the living room, similar to Xbox, but their Store is open now to devs
  • Apple is embracing the Surface model with a keyboard and stylus (err… rechargeable Pencil)
  • New iPad Pro competes against any PC…except for the desktop OS part
  • Context menus are now OK for phones too (Force Touch)
  • Apple invented Nokia's Living Images for photos and can now do 4K video like all other high-end phones
  • Updated iPad, iPhones, Apple TV all Seem Faster™

Although some of this is said with obvious snark, the bigger issue here is how Microsoft appears to be behind the curve…again. For instance:

  • Although Windows 10 on Xbox One will happen, it won't until later this year
  • The Xbox One and Windows 10 Store will launch behind Apple's TV
  • Apple's new '3D Touch' system is very different from the one Microsoft and Nokia were pursuing, but it is clear they won in bringing something to market whereas 'McLaren' failed during development
  • Nokia's Living Images will pale compared to Apple's new Live photos
  • Microsoft's new flagships Lumias will be seen as less exciting than the new iPhones

Sure, Microsoft Lumias could do 4K video and Living Images for a while now, but it is Apple who will reap the benefits. Apple TV is less exciting compared to the power of an Xbox One and Cortana, but Apple's system is here today. When it comes to the iPad Pro, it is basically a Lumia 2520 with an Apple logo (and more apps, ahem).

Apple's new Force Touch for the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus is a neat addition, but how can they get away with adding hidden UI elements all over the place? Windows 8 and 8.1 were mocked for such poor UX, and yet Apple is just fine with it.

The fact is, Apple is very good at taking other's technology, improving upon it and bringing it to market faster and in a better way. Windows 10 and Microsoft's mobile strategy is still Coming Soon™ especially after yet another reboot (the third in 4 years).

None of this is to say I'm losing hope. I think Microsoft's one OS approach is much more interesting in the long run. But Microsoft's mobile plan is not here today. How they can overcome such hurdles is a mystery to me. While Microsoft's Cityman and Talkman flagship Lumias seem like they will be solid phones, solid is just not good enough anymore.

The good news is the Surface Pro 4 (and its larger 14-inch version), HoloLens, Windows 10, Xbox One and maybe even Band 2 all have potential to still wow the public. Even better is the fact that Surface is leading a new category with Apple taking notice.

Microsoft has a lot going for them heading into 2016, but they still have a long way to go and some tough competition.

Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been here covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics and ran the projectors at movie theaters, which has done absolutely nothing for his career.

  • The iPad Pro is a joke... it's essentially a crappier version of a Surface 2 (RT).   Microsoft made the smarter move with Surface 3 and the Surface Pro 3 line.  The Surface 3 is more of a "Pro" device than the iPad Pro.
  • No argument there. In fact, that was the weakest of the products announced, imo. But it will likely garner the best headlines and a lot of interest. Surface Pro 4 can't get here soon enough. Ironically, the Surface is the one category Microsoft is leading in. Let's hope they maintain that momentum.
  • Agreed! I honestly think Apple only called it the iPad Pro in order to capitalize on the Surface Pro 3's success. In reality, they announced the iPad XL, not an enterprise focused device or PC repalcement. I'd also liek to know what desktop CPU the iPad Pro's A9X is as powerful as. My guess would be they compared it to an Intel Atom. ;) 
  • Todays Atom is not the same PoS atom of a few years ago.
  • My point was more that they shouldn't be throwing around statements like "as powerful as a desktop", unless they are willing to show what the real comparison is. I honestly have a hard time believing that the A9X is as powerful as Apple claims.  That being said, an Atom still pales in comparison to a Core i processor, which is what most standard desktops run (or a "comparable" AMD processor). 
  • Apple was inflating the performance claims of the processers they used ever since the company made their first commercial product. 
  • It's lingo.  I don't think they are comparing CPU power.  Just that you can do things you would do on a desktop on the ipad.  My guess is that a mouse could make an appearance too.  Not sure if it already supports it or not.  Granted I'll plead ignorance that I did not see the keynote and at what point they made this quote.
  • So they actually made two specific remarks regarding the A9X's power: 1) "as powerful as a desktop processor", and 2) "more powerful than 80% of mobile PC's sold last year". To me, that comes of as directly comparing the CPU power of the A9X to PC CPU's (both mobile and desktop).
    I didn't catch any mentions of mouse support (certainly wont be possible via USB, as it lacks the ports).
  • That s##t was boring to watch. Nothing exciting for me. Still love Microsoft Surface pro still working like a champ Xbox One playing survival great game Windows 10 big improvement just waiting for 950xl
  • They said something about it being able to edit three 4K streams at once. Sure, so can almost anything else made in the last five years with capable software. It's not going to happen quickly though.
  • Don't give them too much credit. In reality it's an iPads.
  • I prefer the term MaxiPad ...!
  • It doesn't really matter who brings what or when, Daniel. Apple heads will always be Apple heads, wearing their Apple blinkers. Thats not me being sour, I like what I like and that happens to be MSFT, what other people like is up to them.....however, it is apparent that people who are entrenched in the Apple camp will gleefully chow down on whatever Apple spoon feeds them and try to convince the world its the beat thing since sliced bread. I have a work colleague who is entrenched in that camp, he has a macbook pro, an iPad blah, iphone 6+ and most recently an apple watch. When I asked him why he bought the smart watch his answer was "er.......I just.....erm.....I can look at my notifications without getting my phone out" like thats a massive chore in itself? What functionality does it really bring to his life? Nothing the Moto 360 (for example) doesn't already do but with Apples pretentious fashionista UI stuck on top. Apple blinkers. Ive lost track of my argument.
  • LOL! Had to laugh reading this, but totally agree with you, even though you lost track a little ;)
  • I'm not sure Apple is cramming anything down anyone's throats or that people chow down on anything they produce, its the cool and social factor at play here.  Apple tapped into something at the right time and made them cool outside of the traditional core fans that cared about the distinction between PC and Mac.  Now, its just a status thing.  Everyone has one and no one cares unless you don't.  I am constantly badgered by comrades and friends as to why I don't own Apple.  Fact is, I was an early adopter in the old days.  Now, I'm not a user. Why the fuss?  Oh, right, because I'm not cool.  While people don't seem to understand that I don't care, it actually has a broader impact. Because that is how Microsoft or any upstart that follows has to play the game.  Tap into the crowd that drives adoption and you win.  Product quality, functionality, etc, have nothing to do with anything.  Not if you consider core functionalities and feature parity at the core.  I won't argue that they make impressive looking devices and that they have a good track record of reinventing existing tech, its their core strength. But that has nothing to do with why they're successful (now). SCores of people switch platforms back and forth everyday and they neither die nor are significantly crippled once they leave iOS (WP users included); just ask Samsung.
  • The key here is for Microsoft to garner the business environment.  If the Surface Pro X etc can penertrate and become the norm in the office environment, everything else will follow.  Once people see the functionality and effectiveness of the device, use it reguarly and see how flexible it can be, they are hooked. As an engineer, the pro 3 is amazing.  I take notes on in meetings, i easily mark drawings/documents etc etc.  I have reduced my printer usage, Notes have become more effective plus searchable, calendar and tasks are utilised more efficiently and the list goes on. I don't mind Apple products.  They serve a function for the majority of poeple.  They look nice, they have excellent support from developers and they are generally quick.  I just think in the tablet space, microsoft are king.  However, i can see this easily disappearing with the iPad Pro.  Significant amounts of people will purchase this device, it will get used, and as such will capture the professional market, even though, in my humble opinion, it is still a consumption device.
  • Depending on what you see at MS as tablets. Surface pro are running desktop OS, and while as hardware are awesome, design is very nice, the tablet experience in windows 10 is the worst that could happen.
  • Agreed, the tablet experience on my Surface 3 took a step back when I switched to Win 10.  However, I was able to get most of the functionality back with TouchMe Gesture Studio from the marketplace.  You can try it for a few days after which the license is $5.  Makes using my Surface 3 more bearable on Win 10.
  • Right after the Lenovo Miix 700 has us realising that the Surface keyboard could be improved, Apple go and launch something poorer than the Surface keyboard. They also have an inferior stylus that doesn't even come included. They also justify Microsoft charging more for the keyboard by doing the same. All the iPad Pro has is apps, but i'd (obviously) rather have more advanced desktop apps (and the hope - prayer and promise - of apps down the line for people who want time wasting games and dumbed down programs). So really for me as someone who hasn't even pulled the plug on a Surface, the iPad Pro is a complete non-contendor - esp at that price! It gives MS a chance to win me over with the SP4. All that said though i'm sure it being an Apple product it'll outsell anything MS do by a factor of 10-to-1.
  • The Surface RT is not a current product so there's no reaosn to make a comparison.. And it was Apple's choice to call it a "Pro", so it's a valid comparison.
  • I, like most consumers, will be comparing these items based on what can you do for my $. For less than the cost of an iPad Pro 128GB, I can get a Surface Pro 3 128GB that whoops it's ass and can perform as a tablet despite its desktop OS (whereas Apple's trying to make a product that can perform like a desktop despite it's tablet OS).
  • I think iPad Pro should be compared to Surface 2 (RT)... Its a more common comparison with both being mobile OS... Its not Apple's fault that MS keeps dropping/rebooting OS/Platform/Devices/Apps. iPad Pro will beat Surface 2 hands down in all department except extensibility of Storage as it lacks SD/USB. MS even keeps removing (or dropping support) of its own Apps on its own platform while keeps supporting it on rival platforms that are old... 
  • Why in the world would you compare the, as yet unreleased, iPad product to a 2-year-old Surface product?  That makes no sense.
  • No, Apple is making that comparison. They are the ones that claimed it is capable of taking on the PC space. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • They also stated in their event that it's processor was faster than "80% of PCs".  Regardless of how vague and meaningless that statistic is, it's a direct comparison to "PCs" which include desktops, laptops got it....Surface Pros.
  • Why not compare the ipad pro to a Compaq Concerto?  What's the point in comparing it to something that's been discontinued?  How much does the ipad pro cost in relation to the surface RT?  Would you pay the difference for most of the same functionality?
  • Actually, I think iPad Pro <-> Surface Pro is a perfectly fair comparison. After all, they're similar sizes (12.9" vs 12"), similar weights (1.57 pounds vs 1.76 pounds), identical prices ($799) and they both claim to be suited for productivity. Given all this, if the iPad is at a disadvantage because of its mobile OS... well, that's fair game.
  • I only wish Microsoft made that Dell/ HP deal a bit earlier.... I wanted to buy a Surface pro for so long, but it never came to the Arab world. The only sad part of todays event is that apple took some of windows 8 experience and put it in their new devices.... That 3d touch on the left side edge of the screen + swipe to switch between apps was implemented before, and failed. if Apple can gather some weird magic and make all the redone UX work i will be amazed.
  • Unfortunately as far as im aware, the Dell and HP deals are only for bulk enterpise purchases, I could be wrong thing.
  • To me, I feel like Microsoft's biggest problem is they seem hell bent on releasing things in November. Why is that? Especially when they know Apple is usually ready to go by September.
  • You're right. It probably has something to do with back-to-school & the holiday season.
  • I know, why not release things now when they are not fully ready.. thats always a recipie for sucess /s :)
  • Will they ever be ready?
  • Daniel, when is the universal WC app coming?
  • I really don't get your point here. Should Microsoft release its products to accomodate Apple's release cycle? Does two months later really mean being late? With Windows 10 apps already working on the XBox out of box while iOS apps have to be fixed to work on tvOS at all? Daneil, I like your texts, but this one feels like 'I wanted to say something smart'. Just a really friendly feedback, if I thought that you don't write good stuff I wouldn't read...
  • As for the force...ummm 3dtouch (they slipped the codename during the presentation, maybe they changed the name for more marketing pizzaz), we had touch pressure in xna 4.0 for winphone 7.5 .. so... yet again #inovation (and their explanation of new sensor was especially ..ummm... interesting)
  • I don't think you can deploy an iPad Pro to an enterprise environment, maybe to the Vice President or Obama so he can see some charts or play Monument Valley, but doesn't fit on a daily work user and truly productive (the same way an iPad, but bigger) If you have to choose, a SP3 or a S3 LTE would much better for your staff and better companion to others Windows 10 laptops and desktops. The iPad became a paper hold and I can see how the iPad Pro changes that, maybe because its heavier.
  • There are more iPads being used in enterprise than Microsoft tablets by far.
  • For reading emails and PDFs. For actual productive work? Hell no. My company tried them, and I havent seen them since.
  • I would have to agree with Markus. We support 8 of the top 10 pharma companies and all use iPads, specially for the sales reps. Veeva has apps for both iOS and Windows 8 but each time I mention to one of clients that a 2-in-1 with Windows will suit them better they ask me how since Veeva is not in there. They don't even know what a Windows tablet to transformer can do. All they know is iPhones and iPads.          
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