One of the problems with the customer lock-in strategy that Apple uses is that the vendor tends to take customers for granted. Unlike Microsoft and IBM, which learned from lock-in strategy mistakes that nearly destroyed them, Apple faces little competition because it believes its customers can’t move.
IBM and Microsoft discovered that allowing competition keeps you focused on what the customer wants rather than just focusing on new and creative ways to mine those customers for money. Competition forces innovation, while lock-in results in increasing prices for products and opens the door for competitors.
Apple doesn’t even have a touch screen laptop yet, and instead seems to be trying to drive their base toward the lower-performance iPad Pro platform, which does. The Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio is the first laptop specifically designed for what is supposed to be the Apple customer base of creators.
This Surface product was my first actual use of Windows 11, and I’m fascinated by design choices that take this Surface Book replacement and change it into a true wonder for creators. Here then is my review of the new Surface Laptop Studio, and I’ll throw in some free business lessons for Apple while I’m at it.
The Elements of a Creator-Focused Laptop
When we talk about creators, we think of artists first. Whether they are architects, animators, cartoonists, or artists, part of their process is to draw something. Yes, some people create art with mice, but that isn’t how they were trained. This artistic focus means you need a touch screen and a stylus that emulates a standard drawing tool.
The Surface Laptop Studio comes with the best stylus I’ve used so far. Using haptics emulates the feel of writing on paper. Given both my mother and stepmother were artists, you’d think I could draw, but, sadly, I suck at it; I’m pretty sure some five-year-olds would mock my drawings. Often, the issue with any stylus is that I tend to lose them, and if they are active (require power), invariably the battery is dead when I need it. The stylus for the Laptop Studio inductively charges while docked in a niche under the laptop, and, so far, it hasn’t disconnected, so I’m far less likely to lose this one.
You really can’t draw on a clamshell notebook while the screen is up. You have to lay it down, otherwise the laptop will tend to tip or the screen declines as you touch it. You can make the screen stiffer and the laptop heavier, but that works against other usability elements. Unlike your typical 2-in-1 that tries to fold into a heavy tablet, leaving the keys exposed on the bottom, the Studio cantilevers down over the keyboard so the keyboard is not exposed, resulting in a far more stable drawing platform.
Now if you want to show your work across the table, lift the screen and flip it over and your screen is now facing away from you. This feature could be handy when presenting your work to a client. However, I can imagine a future version of this laptop having a smaller secondary display so you see where you are in a PowerPoint-like presentation.
NVIDIA GPU Powers Graphics
Creators use graphics, and for that you need a GPU, and the Surface Laptop Studio comes with a Discrete NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3051 Ti GPU. This GPU uses ray tracing to improve performance by rendering at 1080P and then upscaling to 4K. As you would expect, as this laptop targets creators, the display has a high refresh (120Hz) and a high resolution 2400 x 1600 display, and it has Dolby Vision.
The Surface Laptop Studio comes with either an Intel Core I5 or I7 and 16GB or 32GB RAM. The one I’m testing was top of the line, and it is impressively quick. I was going back and forth between this laptop and my brand new Core 17 desktop, and it felt quicker than the new desktop did, likely because I only have 16GB of memory in the desktop.
Oh, and the Laptop Studio has the most in-your-face Apple feature, a magnetic charging cord. This magnetic power cord is ironic for me because the only laptop I ever broke by tripping over the power cord was a pre-magnetic cord Apple Laptop.
Further reading: The Microsoft Surface Duo 2 One-ups the iPad Mini
Apple’s Missteps Are Microsoft’s Gain
Given that Apple is supposed to be the PC OEM that focuses on creators, they should build the best laptop for that audience. But their lock-in strategy overly prioritizes profits so they don’t innovate very much to keep costs down. This strategy has allowed Microsoft to create a laptop that better targets those creators and sets a new bar for what a creator-focused laptop should be.
It also showcases a better strategic approach for Microsoft’s Surface line, which started out emulating Apple and now has begun to break free by targeting the customer instead of the iPad Pro, where it initially focused. I’m an ex-competitive analyst, and a rule of thumb for successful strategies is always to target the customer’s needs, not the competitor’s products; otherwise, you’ll always chase and never lead.
In short, the Microsoft Surface Studio is what Apple should have built; the fact that they didn’t showcases the problem with a lock-in strategy and how it slows your advancement, allowing competitors to drive around you.