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Yesterday’s real surprise, the vindication of Microsoft

Apple’s event only had 1 real surprise, an endorsement from the company that Microsoft’s software, hardware and productivity strategies are working. In the months and weeks leading up to the event much of what #Apple announced had already been leaked so the new #iPadPro, incremental update to the #iPhone and reinvention of the Apple TV were expected. What I, and many others, didn’t expect was just how much Apple would be emulate #Microsoft.

From a software point of view, the iPad Pro will come with iOS 9 which has some new features to make more use of the bigger screen, primarily this means apps can be snapped side-by-side for real multitasking. But, we have of course seen this feature before on the much derided Windows 8. Microsoft has continued with this idea and worked hard in #Windows10 to improve this experience across touch first and mouse and keyboard first devices and this kind of app snapping is still available in tablet mode.

It’s going to be interesting to see how this feature is received on a touch only OS and how people might enjoy the same feature on their Windows 8/10 devices more now that Apple is doing it too.

Then there is the iPad Pro itself which has striking similarities to the Microsoft #Surface devices. The Surface has been focussed on bridging the experiences of content creation and content consumption, but it has only been the larger screened Surface Pro 3 that has really resonated with consumers. The iPad Pro features a similar sized screen offering a better experience for users to create content than the smaller screens iPads do.

Next are the accessories to the tablet itself, a keyboard cover and kickstand like prop. The cover and kickstand have been crucial aspects of the Surface devices allowing people to use them like laptops instead of tablets. When set up the new iPad Pro looks an awful lot like a set up Surface, so much so that I wonder how long it will be until someone asks if I am using an iPad Pro.

The iPad Pro even comes with a pen, sorry Pencil, just like the Surface. This is the area I think Microsoft’s vision has been most vindicated by Apple as this is something the Redmond company has been talking about and developing for well over a decade. Jobs was famously against a stylus for the original iPhone, would he have changed his mind about them for today’s devices we’ll never know but it’s great to see Apple agreeing with Microsoft that people can do more with a stylus input in addition to the mouse, keyboard and touch.

Perhaps the biggest on stage surprise was that Microsoft even came out on stage to talk about the iPad Pro, in particular how well the #Office apps work on the device. They will even be introducing some new features to the apps to make use of the new app snapping and inking capabilities of the device. Here Apple, again, like Microsoft understands the importance of good productivity experiences on the iPad Pro and Surface devices. It was great that Microsoft was able to show off its apps, after all they are focussing on productivity. There is a recognition from Apple that Microsoft’s apps are better than their own productivity apps and a recognition from Microsoft that the iPad Pro could be a good productivity device for their apps to work on.

Having said all that there are a few things the iPad Pro doesn’t offer like support for a mouse input or any USB ports. This makes me wonder if the Surface line of devices will continue to have the edge in this hybrid/productivity category. I’m sure the iPad Pro will get off to a great start, this is Apple after all, but over time I wonder how it will fair against the Surface. Businesses will probably prefer the Surface for Windows with the management and security features it overs and the additional ports the device offers. However, users might prefer the familiarity of iOS and in some cases the quality of apps on the iPad Pro.

It’s hardly the first time Microsoft was first to do something only for Apple to come along with a refined experience, it happened with tablet PCs, smart watches and smart phones. The only difference this time is that I actually think Microsoft’s current offerings are already very refined and I don’t see what the iPad Pro improves upon.

I don’t remember the last time so many real comparisons could be made to what Microsoft is already doing and what Apple has just announced. Would Apple have created these very experiences had Microsoft not done them first, we don’t know, but this is the greatest vindication yet of Microsoft’s strategies in the cloud first, mobile first world.

I wonder how long it will be until an iPhone can be plugged into a monitor and run iOS apps on a big screen?

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