October 27, 2016 Last Updated 3:25 pm

Apple’s vision turns modest, incremental, while Microsoft’s grows more ambitious

Powerful new MacBook Pros were introduced today, but Apple chose to talk about how they will let you do the things you do today a bit easier, not about new capabilities – something its Redmond rival stressed at its event yesterday

There are days when one starts to understand why so many young journalists who work at tech websites are so under paid – there is little to learn from attending an Apple event that couldn’t have been learned by reading MacRumors or some other site weeks before hand.

Apple has just finished unveiling its updates to the MacBook Pro – and I won’t complain about them as I am sure there are those who really need a new Mac laptop who will buy one and be very pleased with it. It looks pretty damn powerful, albeit more expensive.

No, what struck me about today’s event was how the attitude of the company has changed. For instance, the event started with the usual reading of positive reviews by the CEO Tim Cook, then surprised everyone by starting in on the Apple TV. That got everyone’s attention.

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I still don’t understand what it was that Apple introduced today for the Apple TV. An app called TV? Really? It was not a good start because it set the tone that said “we don’t have much to talk about, but boy are we going to exaggerate its significance!”

Then came the new MacBook Pros. They look good. The Touch Bar is nice, but you know there are PCs out there that offer the entire display as a touch screen, right? But I get it, it might make some tasks a little easier.

And that right there is where I see Apple today, making a big deal out of incremental changes, and making things a bit easier. There is nothing wrong with that, mind you. But it is actually a radically different way from how the company used to think. Let me illustrate.


Go back to that 2007 iPhone event where Steve Jobs first unveiled the original device. Remember what he said, being a bit cute. Apple would be introducing three revolutionary products that day: a widescreen iPod with touch controls (large applause); a revolutionary mobile phone (large applause); and an Internet communications device (scattered applause).

Then, of course, Jobs said they would all be rolled up into one new device, the iPhone.

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The reason the first two items got such big cheers is because it was easy to understand what a better iPod or mobile phone would be like. But an “Internet communicator” was a little vague and hard to understand.

In fact, it was the last item that made the iPhone revolutionary, and revolutionized smartphones. It didn’t really happen right away, but within a year and half we had the App Store, 3G web browsing on the go, and everything else, pretty much as it is today.

The concept was that Apple was introducing a new device that would let you do new things, things that you can’t do on a similar device up to that time.

Today’s MacBook Pro event had three demonstrations: one with Final Cut Pro, one with Photoshop, one with a music app – all showing us how you can do the same things you can do today on your old MacBook Pro, only a little easier. It felt like a real stretch to me. But whatever.

Now compare that with Microsoft’s presentation yesterday.

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If you missed it, and it was sometimes hard to watch, and you can almost sense the spirit of Steve Jobs there.

Everything was “new” – and it was ambitious, 3D for everyone. It was also overblown, but with some substance behind it.

Yes, there was a lot of BS in the presentation, starting with the fact that the damn Windows update doesn’t even launch until “sometime in 2017”. But when combined with its new Surface desktop PC, it really was an attempt to “think differently” if you let use that phrase in this way.

This isn’t a plug for Windows, of course, I use a Mac. But it has real world implications for publishers.

First, it means that we are back to where we were a decade and a half ago, with many publishers wondering about the future of the Mac platform. In this case, no one thinks Apple is going away, but that digital publishing innovations may no longer be seen first on Apple platforms.

It also means that Microsoft has adopted the attitude Apple had in the past, that “creators” lead the way, everyone else then follows. It is a smart way to go. Rather than concentrate on the low-end of the market, start at the high-end. Then work down. It is what Apple did for years, and to a certain degree still does.

And, there will be those who are more skeptical whether anything coming out of Redmond is really that new.

It is obvious who is playing defense here, and it is hard to blame them. Who wouldn’t want to have a $46.8 billion quarter be deemed “disappointing”?

But in the past year I’ve sensed a real shift and I actually think it will be positive. Apple has real competition out there now, they probably know it, but are stuck in a product cycle begun years ago when that competition didn’t exist. Google has just introduced the best Android phone out there, and Microsoft is about to launch a work station that will have a lot designers really rethinking their platform choice.

These are interesting times, even if the launch events are sometimes like watching paint dry.

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