Microsoft Needs to Forget the Mac Faithful and Focus on the Kids
Microsoft lost a generation of creative professionals to Apple, but the next generation might choose Windows.
By Sascha Segan
It’s hard to shake a Mac lover loose. Oh yeah, sure, we’ll gripe and moan. Watch the level of garment-rending that’s going to happen when we all get our hands on the new, painfully flattened MacBook Pro keyboard. But as it makes its pitch for the creative trades, Microsoft revealed that it has a strategy: Don’t convert tired Gen-Xers, grab the next generation.
Microsoft’s Windows 10 “Creators Update” hits a market where Microsoft has historically been weak. Trust me, I know a lot of writers and artists. At any press event, there’s a running gag where the press all sit down and pop open their MacBooks, creating a long line of glowing Apple logos.
Especially for professional creatives, habits and sunk costs die hard. They’ve spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars on software and peripherals that they’ve tweaked to work just so. Cost isn’t the only factor preventing people from switching platforms. My wife is an artist, and it took days to get her high-quality printer working properly. And while Adobe Creative Cloud and Microsoft Office 365 both let you switch platforms as part of your monthly fee, most professionals have memorized palette locations and key commands to the point where they’re muscle memory.
This stickiness is part of why Apple can take its sweet time updating its professional PCs. Established Mac owners would rather grind along indefinitely than figure out how to use Windows.
Now you get why Microsoft forced you to watch a bunch of kids and teenagers using 3D painting software during today’s Windows press event.
If macOS is in fact super-sticky, Microsoft figures it will get into the creative world by catching them young — so young that they can’t remember a time before the Surface, when “Windows” meant bland corporate boxes and “Macs” meant excitement and imagination. These are kids who live on phones and game on consoles, who are just starting to look at PCs — whether they’re Windows or Mac machines — as ways to build their dreams and to get work done.
Microsoft is aware of this, although it’s still behind Apple’s installed base. Cooper Union and CalArts, two leading creative schools, still seem to prefer Macs (although they also offer Windows options.) At the School of Visual Arts in New York, Windows has come to the fore.
When you think about the new, $3,000 Surface Studio all-in-one, don’t think of it as Microsoft trying to pull existing filmmakers way from their Macs. Think of it as something that may stock university creative labs, leading to a virtuous cycle where kids get budget Windows laptops or Chromebooks in high school and graduate to Windows 10 PCs when it’s time to get some serious creative work done, skipping the Mac ecosystem entirely.
What does Apple have to fight this trend? At the moment, its entry-level lineup is made of aging iPads with gently declining sales, and its pro machines are generations behind what’s happening on the Windows platform. Outside the iPhone, the company’s hardware lineup has little to recommend itself over competitors; what it has, rather, is the inertia and love of longtime Mac fans, and, for new users, integration with the massively popular iOS. Cupertino has its work cut out for it.