Microsoft Makes a Creativity Push

Microsoft today made a set of announcements including a new high-end all-in-one Windows PC called the Surface Studio as well as a new version of Windows 10 called Creators Update. The comments below may be attributed to Jan Dawson, Chief Analyst, Jackdaw Research. Jan may also be reached at 408 744 6244 or

Microsoft has been refining its identity and strategy since Satya Nadella took over as CEO, and much of that focus and strategy has been centered on productivity and helping people get things done. That vision has married well with Microsoft’s renewed emphasis on business products and services, but it has also reinforced the sense that Microsoft doesn’t get consumers, or at least the consumer halves of its users’ lives. Microsoft has needed a rallying point for a set of efforts around consumer use cases, and it appears to have decided on creativity as the catchphrase for this push.

This new creativity emphasis includes both new creative tools within existing products like Windows and Office, and new hardware in the form of the Surface Studio and the existing Surface product line. Microsoft seems determined to challenge Apple’s historical edge among professional creatives, but it is also making a play for the creative element within a broad base of consumers and professionals. The Studio is a high-end PC that’s going to be out of reach for the vast majority of consumers, most of whom will be left with traditional PCs that don’t have all the capabilities Microsoft showed off today. But Microsoft’s new Paint 3D app and other enhancements in the new version of Windows 10 are more mainstream attempts to establish Microsoft as a creativity brand. Of course, with only 400 million of well over a billion worldwide users of Windows on Windows 10, many of Microsoft’s current users won’t see these enhancements anytime soon.

Though today’s products are a good start, it takes a long time to change deeply-entrenched perceptions, and Microsoft has its work cut out in trying to convince potential customers that its products are more than just the workhorses they’ve always been for many. Workflows and cultures in many creative companies are built around Apple products, and that won’t change overnight. However, Microsoft’s timing for these new products is great, coming at a time when Apple has been accused of neglecting its creative community. Apple, of course, has its own event on Thursday, and will get an opportunity to make its case for its own vision of the future of computing. It’s also easy to overestimate the role creative professionals play for Apple – though its Mac base was once heavily skewed towards these users, it’s long since broadened its appeal well beyond those users an well into the mainstream. Though losing creative professionals as a constituency might be painful for some at Apple, its mainstream appeal is what matters, and it needs to shore that up with its announcements this week and beyond.

Some quick thoughts on other topics:

  • Microsoft’s promotion of VR headsets from its OEM partners today is the first sign we’ve seen that Microsoft might be rethinking its focus on augmented rather than virtual reality. Given that HoloLens is likely to continue to struggle to achieve mainstream appeal, supporting a more consumer-friendly VR push by laptop makers is a smart move, although $299 PC-based VR solutions may struggle against smartphone-based versions at $100-200 which are more portable.
  • The Surface line at Microsoft continues to be a high-end proposition, will all the products in the line remaining at premium price points. That’s a great way to build a premium brand, and also to generate high margins, but it also competes with Microsoft’s OEMs at the most lucrative end of the market, while limiting its sales. Revenues for the entire Surface line continue to be a tiny fraction of those for other PC vendors.
  • It’s interesting to see both Microsoft and Google now effectively incubating fairly compelling hardware divisions within their companies. Google’s recent push into hardware with the Pixel, Home, and Wifi products and Microsoft’s growing Surface line are indications that both companies are more serious about hardware, and about competing with Apple on its own terms.
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