Microsoft's latest product announcements

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, October 7, 2015, 1:10 PM | comments: 0

I'll never forget the time that Steve Jobs announced the original iPhone. Eight years later, it's crazy to think about how that product transformed the world. The announcement also set a blueprint for how you launch a technology product, and it's one that Apple has used ever since. A few years ago, Microsoft started using that blueprint as well, but it always felt cheap, insincere, and a caricature of what Apple did. Heck, Apple's own announcements these days feel like a cheap caricature of what Apple did.

Yesterday, Microsoft squeezed a bunch of stuff into a 2-hour presentation, and while the impact of the products is something of a question mark, they definitely hit a stride with the presentation, for the first time ever. They had the right people on stage, and I was excited for them. Perhaps that's the nostalgia for me having worked there, but I want them to succeed.

As for the products, they did another HoloLens demo, and this one was pretty staggering, because they started wrapping augmented reality around the player, with a glove and a shield during a game demo, then had robots busting through walls that it calculated the placement for in real time. It was pretty cool. I look forward to seeing what people do with that product.

I was mostly looking forward to the announcement of the phones, the Lumia 950 and 950XL, which offered no surprises since most of the information had been previously leaked. The phones themselves are wholly unremarkable in appearance, but I'm not even sure what you're supposed to do differently these days. The specs were solid, and they continue to emphasize great cameras (that's what I care most about). The only real surprise is how seamless their experience is when you plug them into a little box with a monitor, keyboard and mouse.  While I don't entirely understand the use case, it's very impressive. I look forward to having one of those phones (gotta see how big they are in real life) to replace my 3-year-old Lumia 920.

Next up was the replacement for the Surface Pro 3, the Surface Pro 4. It's mostly just a faster version of the same thing, only with a bigger screen (or smaller bezel). The real iterative improvements are on the new keyboard cover's bigger track pads, better key spacing and a fingerprint reader. Those new keyboards are compatible with the 3, so I'll definitely look at one.

The quasi-surprise, though it has been rumored for years, was the introduction of the Surface Book, which is a high end laptop. This is where they also got showy, because after selling how great it was, they popped the screen off to show it's actually a tablet, with a discreet GPU living in the keyboard portion of the unit. It's definitely impressive, but also crazy expensive.

While the Surface business is in fact profitable for them now (finally), the going sentiment among the pundits is that this hardware is mostly to show how great the Windows platform can be. There may be some truth to that. Google doesn't make phones to change the world, they do it to show how good Android can be (when carriers and manufacturers aren't junking it up). Still, that Apple suddenly wants to explore the hybrid market with pens and such, something Jobs stubbornly wrote off as silly, is serious validation for Microsoft, that there is in fact a market for it. Their initial execution was a train wreck for sure, but three years later, they're getting it right.

I won't be selling my MacBook Pro and Surface Pro 3 any time soon, but it's still great to see Microsoft iterating so quickly. What a big change from even five years ago.


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