As I scrolled through the comments on our recent face-off between the Microsoft Surface Book and the 13-inch MacBook Pro, I noticed there were a number of readers who commented that we made Apple's machine the close winner because we were trying to force a narrative. While I appreciate a passionate fan base defending a brand, Microsoft loyalists are missing the point.
The real narrative is that Microsoft's Surface Book is generating a lot of buzz — so much buzz, in fact, that Apple should be looking over its shoulder.
This morning, I had a chance to stop by Microsoft's new flagship store on New York's Fifth Avenue before it opened, and there were probably 150 to 200 people already in line, along with a couple of camera crews. No, it wasn't Apple-level fandom, but it was still 4 hours before the store opened. If Dell or HP were opening a store, I'd bet no one would line up at all.
One person I spoke with said he was there for some discounts Microsoft was promoting, and another said he was there to pick up a Surface Pro 4 for his wife. He also noted that his Surface Book was waiting to be set up back at home, with the kind of tone kids usually reserve for fresh Christmas presents.
There's a reason for Microsofties to be excited. As the company's first laptop, the Surface Book is very good, offering a best-in-class display, more than 12 hours of battery life and more versatility than the MacBook Pro with its pen input and detachable screen. What prevented the system from earning a higher rating was its relatively high $1,500 starting price and a number of bugs I encountered during testing.
The good news is that Microsoft is keenly aware of these early kinks, and is promising to iron them out by early November. My hopes for the Surface Pro 4 are not as high, as its battery life is just too low relative to competing ultraportables' endurance.
Nevertheless, Microsoft has a lot of positive momentum. The Microsoft Band 2 looks like a much-improved version of its capable first-generation fitness tracker, with a sleeker curved design. More important, the first reviews of Halo 5 are quite positive — so positive that I bet a lot of people on the fence between the Xbox One and the PS4 will choose the former.
Products like the Surface Book should compel plenty of shoppers to visit the new 22,270-square-foot flagship store on Fifth Avenue in New York City, as well as the 116 other stores Microsoft runs. As Apple Insider recently reported, many of these locations have looked like ghost towns compared to Apple stores, but now, Microsoft has a product people want to see and try out.
It's critical that Microsoft be able to communicate how all of these products work together, even if you don't wind up buying a Surface. The company will continue to showcase other Windows 10 PCs, including those from Dell and HP. In addition, Microsoft's flagship store features an Answers Desk similar to Apple's Genius Bar, where visitors can get tech support.
As future products roll out, having a retail presence will help Microsoft continue to build its brand by demonstrating how its products can impact your life. For instance, the new Lumia 950 XL just won't be on a shelf; it will probably be attached to a monitor, keyboard and mouse, so shoppers can see that a phone can double as a PC.
I predict that, whenever HoloLens debuts, people will line up to experience the awesome augmented-reality experience Microsoft has in store. And I'm not just talking about gaming, but also how we learn, do home improvement and experience entertainment — all in a living-room-like setting.
Microsoft still has plenty of challenges. The PC market continues to decline even as interest in 2-in-1 devices picks up. And the company hasn't even made a dent in iPhone or Android market share. Windows 10 Mobile represents a reboot for Microsoft's strategy.
But based on the reaction to the Surface Book and Microsoft's current and upcoming product pipeline, there is plenty of reason to be excited about the company's narrative.
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