A note to lead this off: Unless otherwise noted, I refer to laptops/notebooks and desktops as PCs regardless of whether they run MacOS or Windows. So when you see “PC” here it will be making a distinction between gadgets like phones and tablets, and non-mobile and less mobile devices.
October 29, 2016. This week the technology landscape was dominated by discussions around events held by Microsoft and Apple. Microsoft’s event on Wednesday, Oct. 26 was officially a software event where the company revealed changes and improvements coming to the flagship product, the Windows 10 Operating System.
Available ‘Early 2017’, the next major update to the OS has been dubbed the ‘Creator’s Update’ by the company and focuses a lot of energy on making Windows appeal to the creative market such as graphic designers, photographers, and illustrators. Historically the creative market has been a strong segment for Apple while Microsoft’s strengths and customer base have been more in the enterprise and productivity realms along with gaming.
Microsoft has not abandoned their base with the update, though, as they are working improving productivity, especially by way of making collaboration smoother, and pouring time and talent into the burgeoning field of virtual reality, which appears to many to be the next big revolution in computer gaming (though VR also has promise for broader applications than just playing).
Despite it officially being a software/Windows event, the hardware announcements of the day generated the most buzz. The company revised and upgraded their existing hardware products (the Surface Pro tablet and Surface Book notebook that can be turned into a tablet), but the big news on the physical front was the new Surface Studio. This new device is an all-in-one desktop computer with a top tier 28″ screen which offers high pixel density, capacitive multi-touch, and precision stylus input.The clever design is both well-reviewed aesthetically and impressive in its functionality. The base contains all the main computing components while the screen is suspended on a trick hinge that holds the screen stable in whatever position you place it, but allows the screen to move with a single finger motivating it into whatever new position you wish, including a nearly horizontal, drawing table like surface. There is also a wireless ‘Surface Dial’ which is a new accessory that can be used to offer quick access to certain tools and adjustments, by spinning the Dial on the screen or desk.
Apple’s event was held on Thursday, Oct. 27, and focused on the MacBook lineup. Apple’s popular MacBook Pro lineup was showing its age and the aforementioned creative professional demographic was ready for a mobile computer offering more power than Apple’s lighter duty MacBook and MacBook Air options with newer and better internal components than the MacBook Pro offerings that were now a few years old in design.
Apple released a completely re-worked MacBook Pro in 13″ and 15″ screen sizes.The new notebooks have simplified the port offerings, sporting four Thunderbolt 3 (via USB 3.1C) ports that serve as charging ports (in place of Apple’s popular MagSafe connector which is not present on the new offerings), video (in place of the HDMI or DisplyPort options most people are familiar with), and the only option for adding digital peripherals. This will prove an interesting transitional time as users of the new MacBook Pro will have to deal with adapters and dongles for a while until cables for connecting USB-C to many common items are readily available. The new notebooks do sport a 3.5mm analog headphone/headset jack but have done away with the onboard SD card reader that is near ubiquitous on laptops.
The prominent new feature of the 2016 MacBook Pro is the replacement of the function key row (above the number row) with a touch screen that offers the expected volume and brightness controls while also adapting to the application in use on the main screen of the laptop. This adaptive area of the touch strip allows app developers to offer custom tools and buttons to the user. On the right edge of the strip, a TouchID fingerprint sensor has also been added for logging into the system, and integration into Apple Pay for online purchases.
The popular MacBook Air lineup has been left untouched. This has been mostly seen as the first step in abandoning the now aging lineup, with their non-Retina displays, and older overall architecture and these suspicions are fed by the release of a ‘budget’ model of the 13″ Pro that starts at the lowest Pro price point by sacrificing the new touch strip in favor of a more traditional function key row.
While the PC market as a whole has been in decline for years, and some people are finding their computing needs met by some combination of smartphone and tablet, it is obvious that even in decline the PC market is still plenty large and receiving attention from the large players in the tech world.
Postscript: While these major players are putting time and resources into their part of the PC industry, by no means does this mean their fan bases are entirely thrilled with the direction or results. The new MacBook Pro is especially under fire for its specs compared to price, with some professionals making the case it no longer deserves its “Pro” designation.