technology Uncategorized

Microsoft’s “convergence” vs. Apple’s “supersession”

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook made headlines this week when he spurned suggestions that his company might merge its mobile and desktop operating systems:

We feel strongly that customers are not really looking for a converged Mac and iPad. … Neither experience would be as good as the customer wants. So we want to make the best tablet in the world and the best Mac in the world. And putting those two together would not achieve either. You’d begin to compromise in different ways.

Cook’s comments indirectly belittle Microsoft’s Surface line, which combines a mouse-first desktop environment with more touch-friendly elements.

To be fair, Windows 10 is a solid effort, the fullest expression yet of Microsoft’s computing vision. Unlike Windows 8’s ill-conceived “Frankenstein experiment,” Windows 10 converges interaction paradigms with a tempered, desktop-anchored approach.

Use the OS for long, however, and you’ll see the seams: legacy UI that can’t be easily navigated via touch. For example, the new, finger-friendly Settings app in Windows 10 almost (but not quite) replaces the legacy Control Panel, which demands a mouse cursor. Presumably, over time, Microsoft plans to root out such vestiges of the desktop era, replacing them with more consistent, touchable UI.

Tim Cook rejects Microsoft’s strategy, in which computing’s past slowly transforms into its future. By contrast, Apple started fresh when it launched the iPhone and its touch-friendly interface eight years ago.

If we call Microsoft’s approach “convergence”, we might label Apple’s strategy as “supersession.” Over time, the replacement platform (i.e., iOS) matures to the point that it can replace the legacy alternatives (including Mac OS) altogether—or, at least, for the vast majority of users.[1]

I had my doubts about supersession’s viability up till now. iOS felt too small, too hampered, too limited to ever replace a laptop. I’d often feel as if I were wrestling with iOS rather than hitting my “productivity zone.” Drafting a tablet to fight a PC’s battle felt silly. And the market seemed to agree; the iPad’s cratering sales—along with the Mac’s continued growth—cast doubt on Steve Job’s assertion that the “post-PC era” had arrived.

But more recently, Apple’s mobile platform has taken strides that make supersession more viable. iOS 9—with its improved keyboard shortcuts and multitasking support—makes it much easier to do work on the iPad. In fact, I now write most blog posts (including this one) on my iPad Air 2. I’ve enjoyed the experience enough that I just purchased a premium keyboard dock.

The iPad Pro, released just a few weeks ago, further demonstrates Apple’s commitment to mobile productivity. The Pro offers an improved typing experience (via an optional hardware keyboard), vast screen real estate (another mainstay of desktop machines) and a pressure-sensitive stylus (replacing PC drawing tablets). Can the iPad Pro replace your laptop now? For most power users, the answer is “No.” But suddenly it’s much easier to see how that might happen in the not-too-distant future.

Regardless of whether mobile OSes “converge” with the desktop or “supersede” it, one thing seems clear: most people will buy just one non-smartphone computer. It won’t make sense to own both a desktop-class computer (whether a Mac or a touchless Windows PC) and a tablet (whether an iPad, an Android slate, or a touch-enabled Windows option).

  1. In adopting these strategies, both Apple and Microsoft are constrained by their current market positions. It makes sense for Apple to pivot its popular mobile platform into a productivity powerhouse. The Mac, despite its recent growth, remains a minority desktop player. Meanwhile, Windows Phone has struggled to earn market share and developer support, Microsoft would be ill-advised to bet big on that platform. Desktop Windows remains dominant (at least in sheer number of users); it makes sense to start there instead.  ↩

technology Uncategorized

30th anniversary of my Mac indifference

This week, Apple celebrated the Macintosh’s 30th anniversary. Pundits, executives, and fanboys lined up to reminisce online, and the team behind the original Mac’s creation gathered for a birthday bash. Most major media outlets posted nostalgic retrospectives.

I’ll be honest; I don’t get it.

On the one hand, I recognize the Mac’s debut as a watershed moment in the history of personal computing. While Apple didn’t invent the windowed interface or the point-and-click GUI, it refined those concepts and neatly packaged them for mainstream consumers. The Mac helped launch the “PC era” and deserves its fair share of credit.

On the other hand, the Mac never meant much to me personally. Growing up, I certainly used Apple’s computers, but they weren’t Macs. They hailed from the venerable Apple II line. I wasted many recesses playing Oregon Trail on my classroom’s Apple IIe (monochrome-green squirrels, beware!). At home, we treasured our Apple IIgs. When Apple finally killed off the Apple II (in favor of the Mac), I fumed.

Since the Apple II’s ignoble end, I’ve barely touched Cupertino’s desktop OS. Neither my family nor my school could afford Macs. And during my college years, I didn’t own my own PC. Instead, I relied on student computer labs, each packed with Windows machines. When I finally bought my first computer in 2007, the decision wasn’t hard. I had finangled my way into an employee discount from Lenovo; my Soviet-looking ThinkPad cost literally half as much as the equivalent svelte Mac.

Today, I am an Apple user; we’ve owned several generations of iOS devices. But we’ve never made the leap to Mac OS, and at this point a switch seems unlikely. My employer runs Windows exclusively, and I know Microsoft’s desktop OS backwards and forwards. Meanwhile, mobile devices may eventually make the Mac irrelevant; tablets are quickly maturing into viable full-time computing platforms.[1]

Looking back, my Mac-indifference comes down to bad timing. As a two-year-old, I was too young to appreciate the Mac’s 1984 debut. As a grad student, I was too poor to seriously consider a Mac. Now, I’m too invested in non-Mac platforms to justify a switch.

What about you? Does the Mac’s thirtieth anniversary bring back fond memories—or does it make you shrug?

  1. I write most of my blog posts (including this one!) on an iPad.  ↩