At Apple’s launch event the news surrounding the iPhone was, as expected, less than exciting. However the smart Apple buyers know this is the phone to get because the “s” model tends to be more reliable and less aggravating because it fixes stuff from the first go-around, in this case that stupid bendable aluminum case. So it often comes down to whether you want a bunch of new things, some of which don’t work well, or a phone that isn’t such a big step but is far less aggravating. I’m in the “less aggravating” crowd myself.
Of course, the other big news was the Apple TV update which runs against the NVIDIA Shield set top box and the iPad Pro which runs against the Surface Pro.
Let’s talk about how these products stack up.
iPad Pro vs. Surface Pro
On the surface the two products look very similar. Both are pen-enabled, a first for the iPad, and both have larger 12” class screens and detachable keyboards. The Apple product isn’t shipping yet and the Surface Pro is due for a refresh so it’s a tad uneven at the moment. However under the covers the iPad is still an ARM based product which is far more similar to the old Surface 1 and 2 then the Intel-based Surface Pro. The Surface Pro is more like a laptop with tablet capability while the old discontinued ARM-based Surface was and is more of a tablet with PC capability. The iPad Pro is a honking big iPad but it isn’t MacBook Air as a tablet. I just wonder how many people wanted a huge iPad and how many wanted a MacBook Air 2-in-1. I’ve personally seen far more people swap iPads out for MacBook Airs over the years than the other way around.
The iPad has more tablet apps while the Surface has more legacy IT apps. Microsoft’s efforts to provide rapid iOS and Android porting and Apple’s IBM and Cisco partnerships should close both gaps. Microsoft just signed Accenture and Dell to help them balance out Apple’s Cisco and IBM partnerships, and Microsoft has been historically better at partnering than Apple has.
Since these enterprise efforts will depend mostly on the partnerships and both Cook and Nadella remain largely untested in efforts like this it looks like this is the most balanced competition we’ve seen between the two vendors, well, maybe ever. Generally they fight each other when one or the other has a significant advantage but that doesn’t appear to be the case this time.
We’ll have to revisit this when Microsoft refreshes the Surface Pro line which is expected in the next few weeks. (By the way there is a funny cartoon that predicted the iPad Pro back in 2012 that should give Microsoft’s old CEO Steve Ballmer a chuckle).
Apple TV vs. NVIDIA Shield
As expected Apple wasn’t able to get the content deals they wanted (the cable companies have locked up the rights) and so the anticipated cable cutter’s dream box was not announced. New capabilities give enhanced gaming utility and Amazon Echo-like Siri voice command as expected. NVIDIA has a strong lead in games particularly with their Grid service which allows you to play PC games, and their TV capability with 4K output is largely on par with Apple’s in terms of programming breadth—but since Apple lacks 4K support, NVIDIA leads with impressive resolution (important if you have a 4K TV). Google Voice is less well known but stronger in that it works across the platform better.
Apple and Google have a lot of apps coming, for instance Zillow just launched one for the Apple TV. So far my experience with TV apps has been less than exciting, with missing strong home-control and security-camera apps on both platforms. Apple is pushing a home control app platform, and Google has the more mature NEST stuff, so eventually one should emerge with a strong advantage.
So, right now, if you want something focused on gaming, more cutting edge, or to help you show off that 4K TV that you currently lack content for (they aren’t even shipping an affordable 4K Blue Ray player yet) the NVIDIA Shield should be your choice. If you are an Apple fan, don’t care for gaming, and don’t have a 4K TV the new Apple TV will be closer to your liking. Which is a far nicer way of saying, against NVIDIA Shield, Apple TV kind of sucks.
Wrapping Up: Apple Sort of Copied Microsoft and NVIDIA, Badly
If you look at both the Intel-powered Surface Pro and the NVIDIA Shield set top box they are both arguably stronger products and came out some time before the Apple offerings launched. What seems strange for Apple on both is they went the value route. The iPad Pro is closer to the old discontinued low cost ARM-based Surface tablet and the new Apple TV is closer to the Amazon Fire than the far more powerful NVIDIA Shield. Not bad offerings certainly, but off the leadership pace. For some reason I expected more from Apple—I guess I need to lower my expectations.
President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group
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