Apple dig of the week: Is Microsoft 'confused'?

Apple says Microsoft is "confused." There's some truth to that. But that doesn't mean Apple has all of the answers either.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
2 min read
Surface Pro 2.
Surface Pro 2. Brooke Crothers

Is Microsoft confused? It is if you think hybrids are confusing.

Apple's CEO Tim Cook made a thinly disguised dig at Microsoft this week. Here's what he said (without mentioning Microsoft by name) at Apple's event this week in San Francisco.

They're confused; they chased after netbooks. Now they're trying to make tablets into PCs and PCs into tablets. Who knows what they will do next...what I can tell you is that we have a very clear direction.

Invoking netbooks is a nice rhetorical trick as that conjures up crummy devices powered by bloated Microsoft software.

That set the stage for his next comment: trying to turn laptops into tablets and vice versa. Microsoft and Intel call these alternatively convertibles, detachables, or 2-in-1s.

Hmm...the nomenclature is a little confusing. Let's call them 2-in-1s.

Surface is of course one example. Here's what Microsoft's VP of corporate communications said about Surface (responding to Cook's criticism).

We saw too many people carrying two devices around (one for work and one for play) and dealing with the excess cost, weight and complexity...That's what Surface is. A single, simple, affordable device that helps you both lean in and kick back. Let's be clear -- helping folks kill time on a tablet is relatively easy. Give them books, music, videos and games, and they'll figure out the rest...But helping people be productive on a tablet is a little trickier. It takes an understanding of how people actually work, how they get things done, and how to best support the way they do things already.

With the point-counterpoint out of the way, the larger issue is Microsoft's hardware partners since they're selling the lion's share of Windows devices. And they have flooded the market with their own 2-in-1 designs.

And, yes, some are pretty bad.

"Wait, are you trying to sell me a mediocre tablet or a laptop with weird hinges?" -- I've thought that more than a few times when trying out 2-in-1s.

So, maybe Microsoft and its partners should keep it simple.

Let's use Hewlett-Packard as an example (a longtime purveyor of Windows laptops). It obviously has decided to take the spaghetti route, i.e., see what sticks.

HP offers all of the above: convertibles (with swivel screens), detachables (that separate from the base to become a tablet), and just plain touch-screen laptops.

Out of these, the Spectre 13t-3000 ultrabook appears to be the most straightforward solution.

Basically, an attractively-thin laptop with a touch screen (and offered, in the future, with a Retina-like 2,560x1440 display). Nothing confusing about this.

Which brings us to where Cook may be wrong. Like the HP Spectre, the Sony Vaio Pro 13 and Dell XPS 13 are solid touch-screen laptops.

The more of these, the more Microsoft and its partners can offer a strong counterpoint to Apple's MacBook and iPad and stay relevant.

HP's $1,000 Spectre 13 is an elegant design and straightforward.
HP's $1,000 Spectre 13 is an elegant design and straightforward. Hewlett-Packard