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Apple's iPad Pro event: A good day, a sad day for Microsoft

Technically Incorrect: Apple took inspiration from Microsoft in several areas for its new tablet. But why couldn't Redmond make its own ideas sing?

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

But it's nothing like a stylus, right? CNET

The graybeards who've adored Apple ever since Steve Jobs was a lad must have looked at this and winced.

Or might they have thought it the ultimate in scalding irony?

Here was Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president for Microsoft's Office division, wandering onto the stage of an Apple event. Not because he had lost his temper and wanted to berate Apple CEO Tim Cook, but because there's now a certain level of nice (and need) between the two companies.

Think, though, what he and his company had to endure on Wednesday. Koenigsbauer was at the event to discuss the role Microsoft Office plays on Apple's new 12.9-inch iPad Pro, which when you put all the pieces together might pass as a lookalike for the Microsoft Surface at a casting session.

There, too, was Apple lauding the same thing of which Cook had once said, "Our competition is confused. They're turning tablets into PCs and PCs into tablets."

Those clouds of confusion parted more quickly than a shower on a December day in St. Lucia. Suddenly, it all makes sense and it all looks good. Apple good.

As if, though, to apply a touch of albumen foundation before adding a little yolk mascara to Redmond's face, Apple produced a stylus.

"Who wants a stylus?" Jobs famously said at Macworld in 2007. "You have to get them and put them away and you lose them. Yeuch. Nobody wants a stylus."

Of course, Apple didn't present a stylus on Wednesday. It presented the Apple Pencil. Pencils are cool, you see. They're human. Styluses are chilly and nerdy.

It's not enough having stylus, ya gotta have style.

And there's the essence of Microsoft's cheery melancholy today. As many learn in life, being right often gets you nowhere. "That was my idea" may be honest words that some never get over.

How much worse it will be for some at Redmond if the iPad Pro is a big-screen success. How much worse if it eclipses the Surface Pro.

At the heart of it all, though, is brand.

Where Microsoft once understood that people needed to feel positively about its name and ethos, somehow Bill Gates and then Steve Ballmer let that go in favor of power, dominance and ubiquity.

Where they could have continued an ad campaign such as "Where Do You Want To Go Today?" that put people, hearts and dreams at its core, they forced Windows onto the world's laptops. Not enough people loved Microsoft for it.

Meanwhile, Apple mocked Redmond and became loved. The Mac vs. PC campaign was a manifesto for the identity that those who used Macs wanted to be associated with. It was something for them to feel a part of. It lasted and it worked. It lasted because it worked.

When Microsoft launched Surface, it had an avowedly different-looking product in its hands. It presented this product through some of the most painful advertising ever seen. You surely remember the dancing teens? Oh, they still haunt you?

The Surface product has improved, as have its sales. Microsoft had a three-year head start. But now it must watch Apple's reinterpretation of some of its ideas and wonder whether there's any justice in the world.

There's rarely justice. The best you can hope for is poetry.

In 2012, cartoonist (current project Sharksplode), writer and voice actor Joel Watson predicted that Apple would launch a Surface-like thing in 2015. He has cartoon Steve Ballmer holding a Surface and uttering these words: "In three years when Apple copies this, you c******s will think it's genius."

This was created in 2012 by Joel Watson, who makes online comics and is a voice actor for "Cyanide and Happiness." (with permission)

The excellent part for anyone at Microsoft must be that it employs people who do see the future and see it clearly. The galling part must lie in seeing Apple potentially gaining the most from that vision.

So many deep, rational, righteous thinkers decry Cupertino for its alleged distortion field and the supposed reliance on that deadly nonsense known as marketing. But the company has always stopped to think about how to delight humans. This doesn't mean it always gets it right. It does mean that it goes out of its way to try.

How Microsoft wished it had found a way to be held to human bosoms, rather than be kept at arm's length.

Of course, it could be that the iPad Pro will be a failure. I fancy, though, that aside of its more rational business uses, there will be plenty of people who will be only too delighted to be seen with the vast new Apple screen.

In some bars around Washington state on Wednesday night, there will have been more than a few muttering into their glasses of fizzy rosé: "Apple Pencil, my a**."