Yesterday at its Surface press event, Microsoft showed off a whole host of new stuff. From diving more into the applications of HoloLens, to the introduction of sub-$300 VR headsets in collaboration with various partners including HP, Dell and Acer, a new desktop PC and even a refreshed version of MS Paint. One thing was clear throughout the entire press conference: creativity is at the heart of Microsoft in 2016.
For starters, the next update to Windows 10 is aptly titled the 'Creators Update'. In it, Paint 3D is there to take Microsoft's classic Paint app into the future with an attempt at democratising 3D creation. The app takes 3D creation out of the realm of people with design degrees and gives it to anyone with a PC and a smartphone.
The Creators Update will also include Microsoft's newly acquired streaming service Beam as a free program. With the use of a hotkey, users will be able to both watch and stream gameplay without downloading external software. This, like with Paint 3D, will see the company bringing the potential for content creation to millions of people who don't have capture software like Shadowplay.
So a huge tech vendor has a keynote presentation where it has put the technology in the back and has brought making stuff to the fore. Seem familiar? All that was missing was John Mayer. With this renewed focus on creativity, Microsoft has taken up the title from Apple as the brand for makers.
Apple used to be the big name synonymous with making hardware and software catering to budding artists and aspiring artisans. Just look at how Garageband was launched by Steve Jobs and John Mayer in 2004 or how the iLife suite was heavily pushed in the mid-00s. These days, Apple still has an element of creativity to its announcements and press conferences, but the focus is mostly on productivity and connectivity.
More importantly, while Apple previously showed function as more important than form, these days form takes priority. Apple's announcement of the iPhone 7, for example, focused on the 'bravery' of ditching the 3.5mm headphone jack, water resistance and the 7 Plus' dual cameras. The conference was focusing on what the device is and what it does, rather than what a user can do with it. The company has fallen into an industry-wide trap of the fetishisation of numbers and component stats as a priority over the usable functionality of its devices.
Microsoft yesterday, by contrast, showed that it is attempting to rekindle the spirit of creativity that made Apple stand out as a serious competitor all those years ago. MacOS will likely always remain the platform of choice for professionals, but where it made huge gains over Microsoft by bringing streamlined versions of creativity tools to the masses it appears to now be falling behind.
Of course, the potential is there but it is by no means a certainty that Microsoft's creative ambitions will see widespread adoption. But, for the first time in years, a consumer with an interest in producing music or graphic design has a wide range of serious options.