Director of Product Design
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Increasingly dated

Surface Studio

I went to both the Apple and Microsoft stores on Fifth Avenue earlier today to get a better sense of the two companies' clashing approaches to integrating multi-touch further into the world of desktop computing.

Apple has the new MacBook Pros on display, although unfortunately behind glass. From a short distance the Touch Bar looks great, with a beautiful mat finish and immediately begs the question of whether Apple will attempt to bring in-direct interactions to iOS in some form.

But the Surface Studio is of course, at a glance, the scene stealer in this battle. And indeed, the screen is amazing up close. Unfortunately the peripherals feel like a strange counterpunch: cheap and unimpressive. If the thought crossed your mind they would compare them to similar Apple products, allow me to dispel the notion.

Furthermore, input is laggy, at times comically so even.

 

It's hard to imagine that Apple would ever ship something like that.

 Here's another example; as I scroll the dial, pay attention to the lag here. It's really quite bad.

 

It's a hard to see, but the zoom is jaggy and kind of crappy. I can't say for sure whether that's Microsoft's fault as such, but they did put the software on this computer for customers to play with.

 

And the build quality of the dial is perhaps the most disappointing thing. It doesn't live up to the promise if a high-end volume jog at all. It has lots of give (and doesn't stick as well to the screen as you'd hope either), and doesn't seem to give any kind of tactile feedback.

 

I initially thought the lag was so bad in the browser that I was surprised that it was shipping; someone told me it might be due to scroll interpolation. That may be, but if that kind of thing had happened at Apple, that scroll interpolation would be taken care of forthwith.

I know this all sounds quite harsh, but these peripherals feel like toys, not high-end, professional tools. And that's a real shame, because having used the Apple Pencil with the 12.9" iPad Pro my standards for similar peripherals have been raised far beyond what's on display here.

But that screen though. It's huge, and gorgeous. It makes the 27" iMac 5K—a computer I love dearly—feel antiquated.

 

 

Alas, all of this has to live with Windows, and it is really bad at coping with what it's been made responsible for. It simply wasn't built for these use cases, nor were the programs, and all in all it comes together as a real mess. Where iOS may at times feel confined, at least it's very consistent and easy to use. Windows just feels hurried and thoughtless; as if it needed another year of hard choices in the studio.

As an example, when using Illustrator, the obvious thought is to lay down the Surface Studio, but the software was never meant to be used in that position and so it fights your usage instincts every step of the way. This is as opposed to an iPad, which was meant to be used exactly that way (and fights you going to other way), even if it has no Illustrator.

 

 

The juxtaposition between these two different approaches to adding new methods of input to traditional desktop computers is a striking one. 

I can pretty much guarantee—in fact Jony Ive has said as much—that Apple has had a prototype of a Mac that would have looked similar to the Surface Studio, yet they decided not to turn it into a product because they knew they wouldn't be able to deliver the level of experience they aim for.

Microsoft on the other hand... Well, desperate times call for desperate measures. And I admittedly love that Microsoft has made the Surface Studio. It's a very interesting computer on a whole number of levels.

Yet that first-use experience is really quite terrible. And while a few of the issues might either be chalked up to bad product samples in the store, or similar minor issues which will be ironed out over a year or two, it's hard to see all of the rough edges, especially around Windows itself, getting sanded down enough for this to be a true love affair.

Yet if I were a Windows user, the Surface Studio would be my next computer regardless, so...

 

This post originally consisted of a series of tweets I had made after a visit to the Microsoft and Apple stores upon the releases of the Surface Studio and MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. I later started purging my older tweets on an on-going basis, and the content here was lost. This is a recreation.