Updated | In what was a clear throw down of the gauntlet to Apple for hardware supremacy, Microsoft revealed a batch of new devices for its Windows 10 device events on Tuesday in New York City.
In the mold of CEO Satya Nadella’s plan to “invent new personal computers and computing” as stated in his keynote speech, Microsoft brought forth its first-ever laptop and activity tracker. On social media, at least, the event generated hype for the next generation of Microsoft devices—a foreign sight for the Redmond, Washington, company for the past few years.
this is phenomenal — microsoft bringing SERIOUS heat. this is the apple vs. microsoft that the world needs— Chris Ziegler (@zpower) October 6, 2015
I'm rarely all that impressed by these events but @Microsoft is killing it. Tons of new ideas/products and live demos.— Dan Ackerman (@danackerman) October 6, 2015
With that in mind, here are five things you should take away from today’s Microsoft-palooza.
The line between a laptop and a tablet is increasingly diminishing It was already a fine line to begin with, but Microsoft have made it even thinner with the unveiling of the tablet-laptop Surface Pro 4—but more importantly the laptop-tablet, the Surface Book.
The Surface Pro 4 and the Surface Book are nearly identical in that they are separable from their keyboards and their screens work with touch or a pen. But the Surface Book is more like the traditional laptop, with a large screen, more speed and storage and a crisp, chrome-silver aesthetic that makes it look like less of a toy than the colorful Surface Pros.
Microsoft claims the Surface Book is twice as fast as its closest competitor, the MacBook Pro, while being a third of its weight. That’s a very bold declaration, and considering Microsoft’s newest gizmos, it makes you wonder why there was such a disparity between the MacBooks and the iPads in the first place.
Pencils are back in vogue Microsoft released a new version of its Surface Pen, and this one has an eraser! "It's kind of funny, there's a pencil out there without an eraser," Microsoft presenter Panos Panay said, jabbing at the Apple Pencil, which was revealed last month.
While we have not seen the Apple Pencil in public yet, there are already a few more advantages to the Surface Pen. The Pen is compatible with all Surface devices (including Surface Book) and the new Surface Pro 4 has a magnetic storage on its side where the Pen can clip onto. The only disadvantage is that unlike the rechargeable Pencil, the Surface Pen is non-rechargeable—but it does have a battery life of one year, which isn’t shabby.
Hololens may be at our doorsteps sooner than later Microsoft’s big splash in January’s event was the unveiling of Hololens, the headset for its augmented reality computing platform. On Tuesday, Microsoft showed a video game demonstration for the headset and announced that it is taking developer applications. The developers’ kit will cost $3,000.
While the holograms may seem a bit cheesy compared to the latest video game graphics, Hololens is a big step forward. Virtual reality gaming has been the next frontier for game developers, and earlier this year, Sony jumped ahead in the race with Project Morpheus during the E3 conference. Microsoft may not be too far behind.
Microsoft’s phones and wearable technology was underwhelming Perhaps it’s the post-conference fatigue after being bombarded with so many new products, but the new Lumia phones and the new Microsoft Band didn’t have the same kick as the Surface Book or Hololens.
The new Lumia 950 is a monster of a smartphone, with 20 megapixels and triple LED flash on its camera, 32 gigabytes of storage, a 5.2-inch organic LED display and “liquid cooling technology” to handle more powerful chips. It all sounds hard-core and great, but the smartphone market is still the iPhone’s kingdom and the Lumia doesn’t look like it offers enough to dethrone it.
The Microsoft Band follows the trend of fitness trackers but offers apps and more of a screen. At $249, it feels crammed with apps from Starbucks to Uber to Twitter. Caught in between the Apple Watch and Fitbit in what it's trying to be, it was the least attention-grabbing part of the entire morning.
Cortana is the string that connects all these products together Microsoft’s voice-commanded personal assistant, Cortana, is the one constant in the new devices. All Windows 10 products have Cortana—named after the holographic woman in the popular Xbox video game series Halo—incorporated at the very heart.
If you are wearing a Microsoft Band or holding a Lumia phone, simply call for Cortana. If you are holding a Surface Pen, hold down on the eraser and Cortana will appear on the Pro or the Book. Microsoft has big plans for Cortana, but how it will be different than Apple’s Siri remains unclear.
Correction: This article originally incorrectly stated the Surface Book's closest competitor was the MacBook Air. It is the MacBook Pro.