The Touch Bar and the MIcrosoft Surface Studio

It is interesting to compare and contrast Microsoft and Apple with their announcements this week. Specifically, I’d argue that the Apple Touch Bar and the Microsoft Surface Studio are both appropriate manifestations of the companies’ differing touch computing philosophies.

When Apple started with the iPhone, the idea from the beginning was that there would be a seperate operating system for touch computing. Earlier attempts at touch computing (like Microsoft’s earlier tablet attempts) relied upon a stylus and small touch targets. Instead of building the computer operating system for touch, they just replaced the mouse with a pencil. This approach didn’t recognize that users were in a new paradigm and was tedious and slow. Not surprisingly, it fizzled. Part of the reason for the iPhone revolution was the simple idea that a touch operating system should be touch friendly. As Apple grew the line to the iPad, they followed the same philosophy. The iPad and iPhone still remain very finger-friendly. The Mac however, has always been very finger-unfriendly.

A few years ago when Microsoft decided to get serious about touch computing, they didn’t take the separate operating systems approach Apple did but instead tried to incorporate both touch and traditional mouse-and-keyboard computing all into Windows. With Windows 8, it was a mess. With Windows 10, it got better. This week with Microsoft announcing the Surface Studio computer, which is essentially an iMac that tilts to a 20 degree drafting table touch computer, it seems their aim is getting even more accurate.

Now Apple is also talking about bringing elements of touch computing to their macOS operating system. True to form, however, they aren’t looking to push fingers onto screens but instead adding a second screen to your keyboard. It’s the way they make macOS more touch friendly without actually adding any of the touchy parts to macOS. It makes perfect sense for Apple’s approach.

It is fascinating to me that these hardware announcements are both a natural extension of the underlying touch-computing vision. Only Microsoft would make a tilting desktop computer that you write on. Only Apple would put a touch bar on a keyboard. I don’t think anyone is sure where this is all going but these differing approaches and evolutions are changing the ways we all use computers.


After finishing and posting this article I laid down in bed to catch up with a busy day of Apple news. Of course one of the first articles I read was this one by my friend, and podcasting partner, Jason Snell, where he makes nearly identical points, just more articulately.