Look, I’ve been a faithful Mac user for over a decade, having been a PC/Windows user leading up to that point. No, I didn’t switch because I hated Windows. I’m not one to attach religious zeal to the computers I use. A company I joined happened to be a Mac shop, so I started using Macs.
Admittedly, Macs at the time were much easier to use than Windows. Windows was easy for me because I knew all the shortcuts. BUT the big issue with Windows at the time was that many things required manual intervention. Take software installation, for example. With Windows, it was a 50-50 proposition that a driver would be available for some software, and you’d end up having to download the correct driver from the manufacturer’s site. With the Mac, when you’d install software, it just installed. Any required driver was downloaded behind the scenes!
To say I was relieved not to have to think about drivers and the underlying system was an understatement. Some people might argue that if there are problems with the Mac, many things aren’t as accessible. Hogwash. You can open up Terminal, type in some commands, or you can reboot with certain key combinations, and many times, the problems would be resolved. It was much like troubleshoot stuff from the Command Prompt in Windows.
Usability-wise, at the time, the Mac definitely had an edge. Things were just so much easier to get at, and the UI promoted a certain flexibility to put things where you wanted to put them, and arrange them the way you wanted. That took a little time for me to adjust to that because I was so used to the hierarchical file system of Windows.
But Windows started to evolve… Over the years, I began to see a convergence – especially with respect to usability – between the two systems. It wasn’t enough to make me switch back to Windows, but I had to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by Microsoft’s movement toward better ease of use. Enter Windows 10 and the Surface Pro…
In my job, I work exclusively in the Web UI, building applications meant to be displayed in the browser. A few months ago, the question came up about our application’s performance in Windows, and I rather sheepishly said that we didn’t test on Windows as we didn’t have any Windows machines in-house. So I was given the permission to get a Windows notebook, and after doing a bit of research, decided upon the new Surface Pro 4. I got the mid-range model with 8GB RAM and 128GB storage. For what I do, that’s plenty, and I wasn’t going to fill up the machine with pictures, as this was to be a work machine.
To make a long story short, after using the machine for the last few months, I think I’m going to switch back over to Windows. For me, in the most meaningful ways (at least to me), Windows now is just as easy to use as the Mac. I have the exact same tools on Windows that I have on the Mac as far as desktop apps are concerned, and since all the services I use such as JIRA, GitHub and JSFiddle are all Web-based, there’s no difference.
Now all things being equal, if I was doing a head-to-head comparison between OSX and Windows 10, I’d probably not even consider making the switch. But with Windows, Microsoft has finally created an ecosystem of both hardware and software, where there is a seeming seamlessness between the two, much like we see with the Mac. Of course, it’s still Windows sitting on top of a machine, BUT it feels much more like a marriage as opposed to a simple pairing.
Still, that seamlessness wasn’t enough to compel me to make the move, because again, it just meant parity with the Mac. But what pushed me over the top was the touchscreen. Being able to click on links or buttons, and scroll windows by dragging directly on the screen are HUGE improvements in usability. While browsing, swiping back and forth between web pages makes the experience so much more enjoyable – you can’t even do that on the iPad! And the screen resolution simply rocks the house! Even my brother, who is a Mac addict commented on how good my screen looked with the pictures he had taken on a recent weekend get-together.
With the stylus and detachable keyboard, the conversion to a tablet is incredible, with the added advantage of that tablet being a full-blown computing device, with all the performance that you’d expect. Mind you, I love my iPad 2, but to me it’s more of an entertainment device that I keep by my bed, as opposed to a serious computing device.
And though it may seem like a small feature, Cortana rocks! Yeah, yeah, Apple folks will mention Siri – but where is Siri on the Mac? I use Cortana – A LOT – and she works great! I have her open apps, search for things – much like one would use Siri. It’s clear that Cortana needs to mature a bit more, but to have a speech interface on my computer is a real boon to my productivity.
And lest I forget about a HUGE feature, the weight of my Surface Pro 4, or should I say lack thereof is so nice. It’s hard to believe that I’m carrying a full-blown computing device that weighs as little as a tablet.
This brings me to the question I asked in the title of this article: How Did Apple Miss This? It’s clear that Microsoft saw that there was an opportunity to converge the notebook and the tablet and even features found on smart phones. Admittedly, that process of convergence wasn’t as smooth as it could have been, according to many reviews I read leading up to my purchase. But for Microsoft – who has traditionally been likened to a sloth with respect to innovation – to have executed on this innovation ahead of Apple is simply amazing.
It does seem apparent that the absence of Steve Jobs may have a lot to do with this lack of innovation agility. BUT, one would think that Jony Ive would’ve seen this coming. Maybe he did… who knows? But the plain fact of the matter is that if and when Apple does come out with a new notebook that has features comparable to the Surface Pro, for the first time in decades, they will be the one who’s late to the party.
In a way, I feel that it kind of serves them right. Since the passing of Steve Jobs, Apple’s well-known arrogance with its history of innovation has seemed to make it rest on its laurels, and let’s face it: Apple hasn’t come out with anything groundbreaking in the last few years. Though they’ve continued to produce new models of the iPhone, iPad, and the upcoming Macbook, and have made improvements with OSX, these changes have been much more evolutionary and frankly, pedestrian.
So kudos to Microsoft for recognizing the opportunity to converge computing platforms, and more importantly, executing on it in such an elegant way!