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Microsoft Surface Studio: Retrospective

 Image courtesy: Microsoft.com
Image courtesy: Microsoft.com

With the dust settling from last weeks Microsoft (MSFT) press conference, it’s time to look back on the Surface Studio with clear eyes. To call the Surface Studio an “iMac clone”, is not only stupendously inaccurate but misses the mark who this product is intended for. The Surface Studio is aimed at business professionals such as architects, creative designers, magazine editors etc… Where the iMac has long been used by creative professionals it is also has low end options that are perfect for everyday users browsing the web. The Surface Studio starting at $3000 dollars is not the machine you want to buy to browse Facebook. It’s for those who want to “Do More” with their products and get the most out of them. 

It’s easy and lazy to compare the two. They’re both all in one computing machines, the display is the prominent feature, use a stand and have the brushed aluminum look. Apple (AAPL) may have popularized the all in one but Microsoft is taking it to a new level. Targeting the creative professionals is a bold move from Microsoft. Aligning with their strategy of devices that “Do more”. The Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 have long been targeted at those who need more from their computing devices. Business and tech press have taken notice of the Surface Studio and touted Microsoft’s bold take on an all in one PC. Where Apple is removing headphone jacks and claiming courage the Surface Studio delivers a new way of thinking about the desktop. The iMac which was once the pinnacle of all in one personal computers and the crown jewel of a desk, now seems outdated. Competitors from the likes of Dell, Hp, Lenovo, and others have competitive or better specs and are not bad looking designs. Though none of these devices have the look and clout of an iMac, they offer distinct features, cheaper prices and better hardware in most cases. The saving grace for iMac’s are the incredible 4K and 5K screens which come at a considerable cost. Apple is still great at industrial design, but has clearly shown they have no interest in making a touch screen iMac. The omission of a new iteration of iMac’s at Apple’s event was disappointing for fans. Apple is very diligent in the markets they enter. If the Surface Studio starts chipping away at Apple’s high end creative professional market, expect to see a reaction from Cupertino. While the Hp’s and Dell’s are not battling it out in the high end Microsoft has changed the game with the Surface Studio and it’s gorgeous 4.5K display, discrete graphics and unique “zero gravity” hinge. Which lays the device down at a 20 degree angle and functions much like a drafting board. The one way Microsoft has learned from Apple is how to make compelling videos that elicit emotion from their audience. This incredible reveal of the Surface Studio and its features paired with an incredible rendition of “Pure Imagination” hits all the right notes of how to deliver a message. 

Enthusiast will point out the high starting price for the Surface Studio. Though as stated Microsoft has chosen to focus on the higher end and target creatives, going so far as to name their next Windows 10 update the “creators update”. A graphic designer who would usually purchase a Wacom tablet for digital inking plus an 4 or 5K iMac for the computer side of things has a legitimate new option. A 13in Wacom cintiq tablet cost 800 dollars to start and clearly states it must be connected to a computer to work. Pair that with a $1600 iMac or PC of your choice and a 28in 4.5K Surface Studio that can do all that is looking a lot more appealing. The Surface Studio is not without its faults. It would be nice if the base hardware specs were an intel core i7 processor and a slightly beefier graphics card at a 3000 dollar starting price but what you’re getting in one device makes up for the cost of multiple devices. For a first gen model it’s pretty incredible what the folks at Redmond have come up with. The Surface Dial while not officially a part of the Surface Studio delivers another unique way to interact with the product and it does come free with all initial pre-orders for the time being. Contextual menus on the screen, color palettes, scrolling, zooming, volume controls etc… It’s nice to see a new way of thinking to interact with our devices.  

Microsoft has its work cut out for itself. Windows 10 the operating system which all this fancy hardware exist still has some issues with updates botching systems, rendering web cams unusable and the overall growing pains of switching Windows to a delivery service with constant updates as opposed to major 3 year cycles. Apple has long been known for its computers “just working”. If Microsoft expects creative pro’s and business’ to invest in these high cost machines it better make sure the ugly issues with their previous Surface devices (pardon the pun) don’t resurface. Despite these harsh critiques Windows 10 is a great operating system and Microsoft has the extra burden of supporting thousands and thousands of different configurations of computers that Apple does not have. But with a high point of entry comes high expectations. Microsoft can ill afford another “Surfacegate” with Surface Studio. With Microsoft swinging for the fences and pushing itself to deliver impressive products and new categories of computing it’ll help push its competitors to innovate in new and exciting ways. If they can correct their past sins with new hardware launches, Microsoft can position themselves as the haven for creatives it envisions.