Skip to main content

Apple's boring MacBook Pro still bests the 'innovative' Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio

Surface Laptop Studio
Surface Laptop Studio (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Apple is expected to announce two new MacBook Pro models in the coming weeks. If the rumors are correct, each new laptop will feature a thinner bezel, larger display, and redesigned chassis. The incoming 14-inch MacBook Pro and second-generation 16-inch MacBook Pro are also expected to bring back old favorites like MagSafe connectivity, an HDMI port, and an SD card slot.

Would-be buyers will almost certainly embrace the first significant MacBook Pro redesign in five years. And yet, none of the expected changes will come across as nearly as innovative as the recently announced Surface Laptop Studio, which Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says will create a new laptop category. Or will it?

Something new?

Surface Laptop Studio Modes (Image credit: Microsoft)

The Surface Laptop Studio features a 360-degree hinge and a stylus that lives on the bottom edge. You can use the device just as you would any other laptop or switch to what Microsoft calls the "stage mode." In this configuration, the display is moved forward over the keyboard and propped up to become tablet-like.

When seen for the first time, the transition between modes impressed even this Apple fan who has grown somewhat tired of seeing the same old MacBooks released each year. Wow was the word to describe my initial reaction.

And yet, for the lack of a better term, once you get past the surface, is Microsoft's newest product really all that innovative? And if so, does it make sense from a practical perspective? Perhaps not.

On Second Thought

As The Verge was the first to point out, the Surface Laptop Studio form factor is neither new nor unique. For example, an IBM ThinkPad maneuvered similarly nearly 30 years ago, as did products from Acer and HP over the years.

According to The Verge, "...if you follow the laptop market anywhere near as closely as I do, it's hard not to look at this device and think, 'Oh boy, another one of these.'"

This certainly isn't the first time Microsoft has attempted to make Windows a desktop, laptop, and tablet OS all rolled into one on the software front. I've appreciated the company's grit in trying to make this work across various devices over the year. It almost worked on the Microsoft Book (which the Surface Laptop Studio replaces). However, I have never found Windows on a tablet all that impressive or user-friendly.

And given Microsoft's decision to run Android, not Windows, on the heavily maligned Surface Duo, perhaps it doesn't either.

My point isn't to criticize Microsoft. On the contrary, the company deserves kudos for re-thinking its Surface lineup on an almost yearly basis. And yet, shiny new bells and whistles don't necessarily create a better computing experience — or find success.

MacBook Pro: boring, yes

16 Inch M1x Macbook Pro Concept (Image credit: Antonio De Rosa (MacBook concept))

This brings us back to the MacBook Pro, one of the best Macs on the market. Has the time come for Apple to finally consider releasing an all-in-one laptop to keep up with the folks in Redmond? When looking strictly at sales, the choice seems clear.

The worldwide PC market is currently on an incredible upswing with year-over-year sales rising by 13.2% with Mac sales up 10.2% in the second quarter. of 2021.

Who's dominating the market? Not Microsoft, which isn't even a top-five hardware vendor. Instead, it's Lenovo, followed by HP, Dell, and then Apple.

The bottom line: the data suggests Microsoft's Surface products are mostly niche, and the Surface Laptop Studio isn't likely to change this.

Therefore, it's probably wise for Apple to keep the MacBook Pro form factor essentially the same and avoid making radical changes to the lineup. It also means it's unlikely Apple will ever merge iPadOS and macOS. Indeed, boring seems to work even though some of us might want to see more splash.

Thoughts?

What do you think? Should Apple release an all-in-one computer product or keep its tablets and laptop separate? Let us know in the comments below.

Bryan M Wolfe
Bryan M Wolfe

Bryan M. Wolfe has written about technology for over a decade on various websites, including TechRadar, AppAdvice, and many more. Before this, he worked in the technology field across different industries, including healthcare and education. He’s currently iMore’s lead on all things Mac and macOS, although he also loves covering iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Bryan enjoys watching his favorite sports teams, traveling, and driving around his teenage daughter to her latest stage show, audition, or school event in his spare time. He also keeps busy walking his black and white cocker spaniel, Izzy, and trying new coffees and liquid grapes.

11 Comments
  • Lots of apologism here
  • Apple already sells an all-in-one. It's called an iMac. Maybe you mean 2-1 or convertible. I would suggest they already do a 2-1, with the iPad and the various keyboards available for it. What they don't have is a convertible, a laptop that morphs into a touch/pen first device. That option is somewhat hampered by MacOS not supporting touch or pen, isn't it? Sort of have to do that before you make a MacBook that folds, twists, or spins into a heavy tablet. Not suggesting they should of course.
    Kind of interesting to note that MS released XP Tablet Edition in 2004, which supported both touch and active stylus. The iPad didn't show up until 2010, and it didn't get a pencil until 2015. Have to give Apple some props for the Newton in 1993 of course. I did take them a long time to try something like that again.
  • “take them a long time to try something like that again” - tried and nailed it, the iPad is still the biggest selling computer in the world.
    These PC touch products all have the same point of failure, Windows. Maybe MS should focus on making Windows useable as a touchOS or (given nobody writes Windows native app’s anymore & even users see it only as a browser host) actively promote web-touch standards.
  • If Apple and some users really see the iPad as a computer, then Apple should stop selling Macs altogether. Lets get one thing straight here. An iPad is far from an actual computer, especially since iOS, or now iPadOS is a crippled, and very limiting experience, especially if you compare an iPad to real computers. As far as tablet sales are concerned Apple sells the most (tablets). However when you talk about computers, or try to put it into the category of all the other computers sold in the world, then Apples iPads would be a fraction compared to all the computers that are sold each year. All the 2 in 1 devices in the world fall under PC/laptop sales. Yet many are slim, support stylus/pens, and are both a tablet, and a PC, or a real computer. Apple needs to make a touch screen make, period.
  • Hi Bryan: Good article. You make the following argument when presenting the IDC data: "The worldwide PC market is currently on an incredible upswing with year-over-year sales rising by 13.2% with Mac sales up 10.2% in the second quarter. of 2021. Who's dominating the market? Not Microsoft, which isn't even a top-five hardware vendor. Instead, it's Lenovo, followed by HP, Dell, and then Apple. The bottom line: the data suggests Microsoft's Surface products are mostly niche, and the Surface Laptop Studio isn't likely to change this." That assertion provides *some* context for the position of Microsoft's first party Surface hardware, but the broader context is that Microsoft is primarily a software company that makes Surface hardware primarily as aspirational products to demonstrate to and give guidance to an industry of OEM partners like Lenovo, Acer, HP and Dell the optimal hardware quality and diversity of design for the OS Software - Windows. Historically though there were always quality PCs in the market, there was also a stigma for bargain basement low quality PCs. Microsoft in the last decade or so worked hard to change that with Surface line. Microsoft intentionally prices its hardware higher than most of its industry partners to strike a delicate balance of leading the industry in hardware design for the OS that its partners will use on their hardware, so as not to compete too directly with them and potentially harm the partnership. This brings us to the point that unlike Apple, Microsoft's presence in the traditional PC and laptop space has been facilitated by hardware partners distribute its software - Windows (a PC on every desk) to the masses. This of course has the benefit of getting the OS and Microsoft's other services to 1.3 billion users and the lions share of the market, The downside is that because for decades Microsoft partners handled the hardware while Microsoft worked with them and Inetel and others to ensure the software synergy, Apple had an advantage in the synergy between its homegrown hardware and software. But because Apple is flying solo in getting Mac OS to the masses that 7.4% of the market share in 2Q21 (in he linked IDC chart) is reflective of the meager share of the PC and Laptop market Apple has in contrast to the 70% of the market share that **just the top four (4) Microsoft partners Lenovo, HP, Dell and Acer (4) accumulate on their own. and that's not even counting those MS OEM partners numbered among the remaining 22.5% in the "Others" category for that quarter. I just thought it important to put Surface Hardware in the context that Microsoft puts it in. It is aspirational, though Microsoft has enjoyed growth in their surface business over the years and billions in revenue in profit, Microsoft Surface is not meant to be for Microsoft what its OEM partners are for Microsoft - its partners are Microsofts presence and impact in the PC and Laptop business and consumer space that Microsoft desires - Surface is the guide to keep partners innovating and that demonstrates Windows on quality and innovative form shifting context conforming hardware. Over the years, since Surface debuted and even "Microsoft's and Intel's PC Does What?" campaign, MS partners have upped their PC quality and creative design game. :-) Surface Pro sparked a huge 2-in-1 market that actually continued to grow over the years while the rest of the PC market declined (pre Covid years). Pretty amazing. Apple was even influenced by Microsofts influential Pro line. Look at how the company abandoned Jobs' anti-sylus stance and the position that the iPad was all the iPad needed to be as a tablet as the company sought to "recreate" the Surface Pro's magic with outfitting the iPad Magic Keyboard and Apple pencil, mimicking the Microsoft's Surface Pro to the T. No biggie there though, tech companies copy each other all the time. My point is that Microsft's Surface line is meant to be aspirational, and is meant to guide and inspire its industry partners and the example of the Surface Pro did just that, and influenced the industry so much even Apple conceded its stance on some things and made iPad more like Surface. Now though I'm sure Microsoft would not mind if Surface had a bigger market share, the company intentionally positions it in a way that it is the company's partners will always be given the advantage of having larger market share as Microsoft intentionally prices Surface in a way that it does not compete against its partners aggressively. So, your point about Surface not having a larger share must be looked at in the larger context that I shared here. The delicate balance MS has with its partners and Surface aspirational positioning, may keep Surface hardware out of the top 5, but Microsoft's industry presence is virtually synonymous with its partners, that why through it partners Windows has most of the global PC and laptop market share.
  • Apple most definitely needs to create a touch screen MacBook. Because lets face it what good is an M1 MacBook that can now run iOS apps, but the vast majority of iOS apps are designed with a touch screen interface in mind. If Apple did make a MacBook with a touch screen interface, then most people would then say, forget buying an iPad, because this new touch screen MacBook can run Mac OS, iOS apps, and do a lot more than a iPad. Look at what happened to Android tablet sales, sure they still sell, but no where near as many. Thats because Chromebooks nowadays are 2 in 1 laptops, and Chromebooks are tablets as well. So when you buy a Chromebook, you are getting not only Chrome OS, but you are getting Android tablet, and well as a Linux system, and you can even run Windows as well now. If you buy only an Android tablet, then you are only getting an Android tablet. Microsoft is going to be adding adding Android to their Windows as well. So Windows users will be able to run Android apps as well. This means Android is going to be getting a greater marketshare overall. More developers will be able to create and generate Android apps that will work on Windows platforms, as well as work on smartphones, Android tablets, Windows tablets, Chromebooks.
  • Except none of this will happen because none of your comment covers the diabolically fragmented user experience this would create.
  • How the heck would it lead to a fragmented user experience? Oh, wait it wouldn't, that is far from the truth. Apple makes more money by selling more products. Buy an iPhone, buy an iPad, buy a MacBook. When in reality a user only needs an iPhone, and a MacBook, especially if that MacBook was a 2 in 1 device. The only fragmentation that Apple has inflicted on themselves is when Apple went out of their way to separate iOS and iPadOS, and get developers to make separate iPhone apps, and separate iPad apps. Its the major reason why you will NEVER see a fold like Samsungs Galaxy Z Fold 3 devices. The only foldable you might see from Apple is a foldable iPhone that will always stay as an iPhone, like the Galaxy Z Flip, or Moto Razr type devices. But you will NEVER see a 2 in 1 foldable that will be an iPhone and a iPad in one physical device. Apple screwed themselves when it comes to foldables.
  • The iPad Pro is essentially a convertible laptop right *now,* just like the MS Surface. If you think it's not, you're a fool. It all started off as "Post PC" but the market spoke and Apple foolishly followed instead of doing what they did during the Steve Jobs era and think up something new. The iPad slowly morphed into a laptop because no one at Apple wanted to lose the sales, no one had any idea what to do with the thing, and because the users were clamouring for a "better laptop." It was a classic mistake along the same lines of Henry Ford saying that if he had designed what people had asked for he would have made a "faster horse." Instead of going with the "Post PC" thing ... Apple caved and just made that faster horse thing that everyone was asking for.
  • I have to confess, Apple’s product alignment is glacial. I just bought an MBA and the setup was nowhere near as frictionless as an iPad (where I just wave my iPhone over it) & iPadOS’ multi-window (split-view/slide-over) is more useful than either macOS or Windows. If iPadOS had better information management & localisation it would whip any PC format device.
    That said, no other notebook runs as quiet, quick, cool & long - the M1 MacBook Air is amazing.
  • Your a fool, especially when you are talking about iPads and MacBooks. Apple could easily make a MacBook that runs iPadOS, and MacOS as well. Oh, wait Apple does support running iOS apps on their M1 MacBooks. However running iOS apps on any M1 MacBook sucks right now, period. If you think for one moment that running iOS apps that were designed with a touch screen experience on a non touch screen M1 MacBook is a good experience, then you are a liar.