Out of touch: Apple and Microsoft’s differing approaches

Macalope

Who had 2016 in the “Year we’d see ‘Microsoft is killing the Mac!’ headlines again” pool?

Ed Bott asks “Why Is Apple Letting Microsoft's Surface Kill the Mac?” (Tip o’ the antlers to Sten Ryason.)

A bombasticpunditaskswhat? At least the tense is correct in that the real problem here is less Microsoft’s advances than Apple’s lack of them.

There is, of course, no real evidence that Surface sales are affected Mac sales at all, let alone “killing” them. But headlines gotta headline, whatever that means. Even the lauded-on-first-look Surface Studio is somewhat less a modern marvel when the hinge hits the desk and the new MacBook Pro is selling briskly. But Surface sales have improved from its start that was so slow it seemed to be in reverse, even if Microsoft’s real success with the Surface line has come at the expense of its Windows OEM partners, not Apple.

Bott, who is a smart guy, gets in some well-deserved jabs at Apple. But, like a kid getting his hand stuck in the cookie jar, he sometimes tries to make off with too much.

…Microsoft now finds itself being hailed as the innovator in modern PC design, with Apple hearing loud criticism for its outdated devices and timid technology decisions.

You can argue with some of the nuance of this statement but it’s unarguably true that, based on what each company announced in 2016, Microsoft currently cares more about PC hardware than Apple does.

Did we really enter some kind of alternate timeline at the beginning of 2016? That theory explains a little too much.

The Mac, on the other hand, is a legacy device, as far as Apple is concerned.

Ouch. Now, this isn’t completely fair as Apple still seems happy to continue to make Mac laptops. But is it even in the desktop business anymore? It’s hard to tell.

Six years after the debut of the iPad and four years after PCs began shipping with touchscreens, Apple adamantly refuses to add touch capabilities to the MacBook line.

Uh, sure. Except for the Touch Bar. Which adds touch capabilities to the MacBook line. Other than that, yes, it has no touch capabilities. Other than the ones it has. Yes.

Bott then, seemingly derisively, quotes Phil Schiller:

"If you made the Mac a touchscreen you'd have to figure out how to make it a good experience with your finger on a touchscreen. Trust me, we've looked at that -- it's a bad experience. It's not as good or as intuitive as with a mouse and trackpad."

As someone who’s used Windows 8 and Windows 10, the Macalope finds Schiller’s statement there nigh-unassailable. It’s a veritable Helm’s Deep of touch-based input opinions.

Windows fans will happily keep smiling at you as they hold their arms out to touch their screens for hours on end, their muscles cramped and seizing, and insist all is well and Apple should accept the inevitability of the ergonomic nightmare. Let us simply say that at the very least the difference is a matter of preference.

While it does sometimes seem intuitive to touch a PC screen the same way you do a mobile device, the targets are either too precise for touch or too large for a mouse and keyboard. Apple’s take is to move key touch targets to a dedicated space and make them easy to hit.

In short, Microsoft's approach to convergence starts with its classic PC hardware and software, adding new capabilities to the OS to support new devices and services.

Well, yes, but part of the reason Microsoft was forced to shoehorn touch into the desktop because it was an abject failure in mobile. Apple, meanwhile, focuses on mobile because that’s its biggest success story.

While we’ll agree to disagree about who has the best approach to touch-based input on the PC, the Macalope completely agrees with Bott’s point that Redmond has spent more time of late focusing on the PC market than Apple has. And that’s a shame.

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