The Surface Studio makes a compelling argument for a Pencil-compatible Mac
Growing up, I considered Apple the computer for creative professionals. My teachers in the film and theater industry used them. My graphic design friends used them. My musician friends had even switched over. And I, of course, used my Mac daily for video, writing, and art projects.
Today, I'm not so sure that's true anymore. That's not to say that the Mac isn't still a great computer and the choice of many creative pros, but Apple no longer appears to have the obsessive focus it once had on the high-end pro market. It's been almost three years since the Mac Pro saw an update, and a year since we saw new iMac models. Final Cut Pro X hasn't seen a proper update since February. And while Photos for Mac is a solid piece of consumer software, it's not full-featured enough for professionals.
The rise of Microsoft as creative pro advocate
So you'll have to forgive me for Microsoft's Surface Studio catching my eye during its release announcement Wednesday morning. Microsoft, long content to let third-party manufacturers take care of its desktop computing software, has made a definitive move into not just the desktop space — but the creative professional space — with its new all-in-one convertible desktop.
Yes, you read that right: I said convertible desktop. The computer may look like an off-brand 5K iMac at first, but the Surface Studio has the the same trick up its sleeve as its tablet brethren — its base hinges to let you transform the monitor into a 4K drawing tablet, replete with Surface Pen and the all-new Surface Dial, which rather looks like the love child of a Griffin PowerMate (opens in new tab) and Adobe's prototype Ink and Slide (opens in new tab) device for iPad.
Microsoft made a hard pitch for creative pros at its fall event, hitting both the requisite buzzwords and displaying legitimately intriguing hardware. For the Cintiq crowd, the promise of a 4.5K display that also happens to be a high-powered main computer in its own right — no drivers or cords or extra desk space needed — could be a tempting one, especially given Apple's recent inaction on the Mac side. Of course, that's assuming Microsoft's hardware is as rock-solid as Wacom's Cintiq line, and that creative pros want the buy-in of a Windows computer rather than ponying up $2000 for a Cintiq 22HD (opens in new tab) and configuring their own Mac or PC system.
I wonder about the first problem, but it's the second that clinches me not actually running to my nearest Microsoft Store and grabbing a Surface Studio: It runs Windows 10. I'll give Microsoft credit — Windows is a much better operating system today than it ever was when I was growing up. But it's just not an operating system I personally enjoy using. Nothing against the company or its software; I just prefer macOS.
Short of iOS magically fusing itself with macOS during tomorrow's Mac event, however, I have many doubts that we'll see a multitouch "creative pro" Mac anytime soon. There are many great arguments against a touch-compatible Mac, which I won't rehash here, but the main one is that macOS simply isn't built with touch input in mind. Contraptions like the rumored Smart Bridge touch bar on the new MacBook Pros may be a fine way to meld parts of touch operating systems into macOS, but a true multitouch Mac may never exist.
Enter the Pencil
But what about a Mac with a Pencil-compatible display? Apple could get around the problems of multitouch on the Mac but still offer a huge feature for creative pros. Unlike 3D Touch on the iPhone, the iPad Pro doesn't have a pressure-sensitive multitouch screen. Instead, the Pencil works by having its pressure technology built inside the pen itself; it then communicates that information to the iPad via software-based APIs.
If Apple were to make a Mac that also offered creative pros a Cintiq-like experience, the company wouldn't have to redesign macOS or develop large-scale multitouch panels; it could instead build a convertible iMac or MacBook Pro with a Pencil-compatible screen. (Heck, non-multitouch displays would also be an extra boon for palm rejection.)
That said, for all the love I'd give such a computer, I doubt Apple's interests are particularly high when it comes to convertibles; the company seems more interested in improving the iPad tablet experience than trying to hybridize its Mac line (or force you to draw at a 90-degree angle, a torture I wish on no one). There are also other alternatives for Apple when it comes to integrating multitouch and the Pencil with the Mac, such as the aforementioned rumored Smart Bridge or third-party second-screen software for iPad Pro like Astropad (opens in new tab).
But it's an interesting premise nonetheless — and one I wouldn't have even considered if not for Microsoft's new venture. No matter what you may think of the Microsoft Surface Studio, competition in creative pro hardware is vital for creative professionals; it's how we got tools like the Pencil and iPad Pro in the first place.
Here's hoping Apple's announcements tomorrow give professionals something else to look forward to — even if that something isn't quite a Pencil-compatible iMac.
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Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.
Please stop with the "people who do real work" comments already.
People do "real work" on their iPhones. They make work related calls, send work related e-mails or messages etc.
People also do real work on their iPads. The best example I can think of right now are the staff down at your nearest Apple store. They enter customer's problems into their iPads, communicate with colleagues through them etc.
The reason why Macs haven't been getting regular yearly updates like iOS devices, may have more to do with Apple not being control of Intel processors and technologies such as USB-C or Thunderbolt, than them abandoning the platform.
This is what I mean when I refer to real work. Pro grade work. Additionally, Apple isn't constrained anymore by Intel than any other vendor including Microsoft. So no, their lack of innovation or forward looking professional level features in MacOS is not a result of Intel's roadmap and likewise their lack of innovation in desktop hardware is not a result of Intel's roadmap. The chips and components used by MS for the Surface Studio are available now and are/were available to Apple. What MS did was cared enough to put money and resources into using what was available to make the best possible product they could. Not just wait for Intels next chip, throw it in a 3 year old design and call it a day. If that was the intention, then yes - that level of incompetence would highly depend on Intel's roadmap.
Remember that he was the one that coined the term "post PC". That focus away from the PC/Mac and towards mobile, started with him. Tim's just continuing along that path.
iPad delivers on one of those: hardware. Macs delivers on two: Hardware & OS. Windows delivers on two: Hardware and software.
Windows is the problem with windows machines. After a few months of a clean install, things slow to a crawl. File Explorer hangs & crashes... FILE EXPLORER! Drivers aren't a problem anymore, now its a matter of keeping the OS stable, and they love to push automatic glitches ...err.. updates.
Point is- Mac is slipping in hardware and software support, and the OS isn't that great either if you dare step one foot out of the sandbox. I'm sure everyone has their favorite Creative software for Mac, but for my line of work (AutoCAD, Revit, etc) it simply isn't supported. There are crappy excuses for mobile versions for SOME of the software I use on my PC on a daily basis, but they are usually free from the dev, are half-baked from the beginning then never get further development.
I've tried the windows 10 touch-screen experience with a Lenovo Yoga, true it doesn't support a real stylus, but I've also used an older Dell with a real stylus (up'd with an SSD and Win10), and neither is as good as the iPad + aPencil when the software is good. I really do hope this Surface Studio can push devs to solve that problem, but there has to be a market for it. My iPad apps are crap bc no one is buying iPads to use them, but no one is buying iPads to use them bc the apps are crap!
I really feel Apple became a "toy" company a few years after the iPhone was released. They saw the potential for the 90% "muggles" to spend their starbucks money on silly apps and services, rather than support and develop for the professionals, like Ren said.
I still wish they would do both. They could have the Muggle Division and the Applyte Division. Similar yet separate Hardwares and Operating Systems to make us all happy. They have the money to HIRE the people to make this work. But instead they are refining what others have already done.
Macbook "Magic Function Bar" :: Razer Switchblade UI. As seen on the Razer Blade Pro & Deathstalker Ultimate, both of which I have owned sine 2013.
Did I win the Rant award for this article? Sent from the iMore App
I got a Win10pro update about a year ago that forced me to completely reinstall Windows. I spent 1 day on tech support with no result, when they said they were escalating it and would call me with in 72 hours, I just blew it out in the morning and got back to normal by the end of the day. It turned out to be a screw up with a system font that changed with the update. A system font costed me 2 f'n days.
If you have a perfectly running machine, that is running just as fast on day 500 as day 1, then consider yourself lucky. Even iPhone performance declines after several months of use. It's not just windows, but it is the worst, IME. Sent from the iMore App
And one more annoyance / indicator of loss of performance - my cursor will freeze or drag or lag or ghost (slides across the screens when my hand isn't on the mouse) during that first 5 minutes or so, and at random times of mild load.
$3K for an i5 is lame and offensive!
Windows 10 brought back microsofts famous ***** proof design by removing the more complex (kind of unknown to people who don't explore/learn the OS) gestures and making the desktop screen standard again. So I have to agree with you that Windows 8 was great (I still use it on my surface pro instead of upgrading to 10) but Windows 10 is designed for touch even though you say it's not (convertible tablet/laptop kind of way) but you can lock it into non-touchscreen mode or touch screen tablet mode from the notification button on the task bar. Windows 10 was designed for non-touchscreen desktops and touch devices with removable peripherals (keyboard/trackpads) to fit in with new technology and old why it was a free upgrade for everyone new computer or old, instead of being touch based only like Windows 8 (which still annoys me when it switches to desktop for almost everything, but makes up for it with quick swipe from the left to switch programs in full screen.)
Thank u so much Serenity ❤️