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Microsoft takes aim at Apple with high-end PCs and 3D software

Ahead of the holiday season both Microsoft and Apple have released new products that they hope will not only boost user experience but also customer loyalty.

Microsoft launched a new consumer offensive with a high-end computer that challenges the Apple iMac, along with an updated Windows operating system featuring three-dimensional content and “mixed reality”. Meanwhile Apple unveiled its new MacBook Pro with a touch-screen row of keys a day after the launch of the Surface Studio.

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Microsoft’s first desktop computer, called the Surface Studio, is a US$3,000, “all-in-one” device aimed at creative professionals, a segment dominated by Apple.

“We’re creating a new category that transforms your desk into a creative studio,” Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella said at the unveiling in New York on October 26.

With a large, 28-inch hinged touch-screen display touted as “the thinnest desktop monitor ever created”, the Surface Studio adds to the Microsoft line-up of tablet and laptop devices for the premium segment.

“It is a new class of device that transforms from a desktop PC into a powerful digital canvas, unlocking a more natural and immersive way to create on the thinnest display ever built,” said Microsoft vice- president Terry Myerson.

The new PC has an ultra-HD 4.5K display, offering more pixels than most new high-definition televisions. It will be available in “limited quantities” before the end of the year, with more units available in 2017.

Also announced was its Windows 10 Creators operating system, to be offered as a free update in early 2017 and which enables users to create 3D content and delve into virtual and augmented reality.

The update offers “new ways to create and play”, said Myerson. It will allow for a 3D capture application for mobile devices and a new version of the popular program Paint for 3D objects.

The system will allow users to add three-dimensional emojis and to create and manipulate content they create or scan.

Microsoft general manager Megan Saunders demonstrated how the capture application can scan a sand castle in three dimensions, and then mix that with other content.

With the new Windows system, users will be able to experience virtual reality with Microsoft’s HoloLens headgear and its Edge browser.

Edge “will act as the portal to display 3D content on HoloLens”, said Saunders.

Microsoft said its hardware partners would be selling Windows-compatible virtual reality gear starting at about US$300.

Microsoft is aiming to keep users on Windows as many switch to new mobile devices powered by Apple or Google software.

The launch of the new MacBook Pro marked the 25th anniversary of the company’s first notebook. “This week happens to be a huge week in the history of the Mac, and the history of Apple,” Apple chief executive Tim Cook said.

The new line-up includes a 13-inch version starting at US$1,799, a 15-inch version at US$2,399, and a version with traditional function keys for US$1,499.

The new retina display touch-screen strip, Touch Bar, adapts to whatever software the user has open and can be customised. It can be used to browse Safari, access predictive typing and emojis, adjust volume, or edit photos. It could be useful for simple tasks like navigating a video without leaving full-screen mode, or swiping through photo filters, as is done on a smartphone.

Users can also log into their MacBook Pro with their fingerprint, and authorise purchases, thanks to a special chip, according to Phil Schiller, senior vice-president of worldwide marketing at Apple.

The new computers also have a dedicated key for Siri, and can still be used as traditional function keys, said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice-president of software engineering. Users can even switch user profiles on the MacBook using just their fingerprint, Federighi said.

The new 13-inch MacBook Pro is the lightest and thinnest version yet, weighing just 1.36kg, according to Schiller. At 1.8kg, the 15-inch version has a track pad that is twice as big as the previous version, Schiller said.

“The Mac is more than a product to us, it’s a testament to everything we do and everything that created Apple,” Cook said. “The world’s creative forces use the Mac to push the world forward.”