A surface for your creativity

Posted on Fri 26 May 2017 in Articles • 4 min read


Update 18th of June, 2017 I bit the bullet and bought an iPad mini 4. My reasoning being I love the mini's form factor and the 4 is new enough to support the features I need. iOS is an accessory device to me, not a primary driver.


Microsoft made a splash today with the announcement of their new Surface Pro line. It's a good-looking device and I'll give Microsoft credit for iterating on their design and vision--albeit some of their claims and comparisons made me laugh.

So far, Surface hardware has not lived up to many reviewers and users' expectations of battery life and performance. For customers outside the US, Microsoft's customer, repair and warranty service is woeful. However, they are improving year-on-year and I'll give them the benefit of the doubt in terms of the hardware--surely after five attempts they've got it right...no?

Over on popular troll habitat, macrumors.com the announcement kicked off the usual Mac vs PC flame war.

There's two angles to this argument. The first is the tiresome macOS vs Windows (and mobile OS vs desktop OS) debate while the second is between hybrid devices vs Apple's approach of segregating their desktop and touch-based devices into distinct product lines: the Mac and the iPad.

I don't have much more to add on macOS/iOS vs Windows debate. Windows 10 is not a bad operating system; it's one I just don't find particularly useful for my job. I stopped using Linux at home for the same reason. There are features on macOS that I find tremendously useful and I doubt they will ever make it to Windows or Linux for a variety of technical, ideological and commercial reasons.

Hardware is another matter. Leave aside bargain basement offerings and good quality PCs are out there and they are comparable a Mac in terms of price. However, they are doing something Apple is not: touch.

Apple is stubbornly clinging to the belief that touchscreens (and styli) do not belong on a desktop operating systems. Apple believes on a clamshell laptop, touch belongs on the horizontal surface only--a slightly mixed message considering an iPad with a smart keyboard occupies two perpendicular planes.

The reality is that Apple want us to buy three (four) devices: iPhone (and Watch), iPad and Mac. Features like continuity, and Watch-enabled unlocking encourage this mindset of using multiple devices. This is because Apple makes their money selling hardware and services rather than software. Sell people lots of devices and sell services that get those devices working together.

Microsoft and various third-party vendors have made a decent argument to the contrary. 2-in-1 hybrid devices are popular and touchscreen, clamshell's are becoming the norm. The Surface Studio also makes a compelling use case for using an active stylus on a computer the size of an iMac.

Not only are they valid arguments, they are intriguing too.

Microsoft believes you don't need a laptop and an iPad; the Surface can do both. As someone who leaves my MacBook Air home and commutes with an iPad, I'll admit the idea of consolidating devices is very appealing. It's more than convergence--it's the idea of expressing myself on a such as versatile canvas.

Microsoft is trying to cut Apple's lunch; they are going after the developer and creative market. That's Apple's base--and I fall squarely in both camps. Windows lacks many features macOS gives me but on the other hand, the iPad running iOS is still more suited to a companion device.

Don't get me wrong, I like iOS--a lot in fact. It's a fabulous mobile operating system. However it has languished for two years on the iPad, having no significant improvements since iOS 9.3 was released. In the iPad pro, Apple is selling a dream of mobile, touch and pen based productivity but their software falls short and as a result so do many of the third-party apps that rely on Apple's APIs.

Windows 10 and the Surface, for all their failings, are giving us something Apple will not: a mobile device with a desktop operating system that supports all forms of input and interaction. Execution may be lacking but the sentiment is there and Microsoft is doing their best to improve.

I'm not wedded to the desktop metaphor--Apple doesn't need to port macOS to the iPad--but there are problems that desktop operating systems solved decades ago. Multitasking needs work, file handling needs work, automation-support needs to be baked at the system level, apps need to be able to talk to each and we need to drag'n'drop content between them. Also, it's time Apple got off their high horse and let us dock the iPad and use trackpads/mice and larger displays.

If I can't have touch on macOS, then I want a better iPad. I want an iPad that's learnt from the lessons of the desktop age, not divorced from them. I want an iPad I can be productive with with all forms of input. I want a personal, adaptable, powerful and efficient surface for my creativity and productivity.

I want this:

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