There is clearly an interesting change happening in the personal technology industry. Microsoft has done two launches that appear to come from Apple’s own playbook while Apple just did a launch that reminded me a lot of Compaq. It is starting to look like we are having a changing of the guards and that, with the firings this week and the financial miss last week, Apple is trending down and Microsoft has actually had lines for the Surface tablet (go figure?) so they appear to be trending up.
Apple’s Tough Quarter
We are only in the first month and things are looking good for Apple. They are connected to the Foxconn scandal where a worker who was crippled is apparently being abused; they missed on their financial report; they brought out a tablet that is priced 60 percent over market (making Amazon really happy); they had to fire two of their top executives for cause; and they had to do a big bang launch in order to have a strong hedge against Windows 8.
“Big Bang” launches are what companies like Compaq (Tim Cook’s last company) did because they had too many products and too small a marketing budget to focus on any one exclusively. Jobs broke that model with his launches which tended to be far better funded and focused on one keystone product at a time.
Suddenly Apple isn’t really looking like a winner anymore; it is looking more like the Apple that existed in the min-90s and that really isn’t a good thing.
Microsoft Becoming Apple
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On the other hand, Microsoft just had two launches that were focused and tightly tied to the benefits of the Surface Tablets and Windows Phones. The first was a Microsoft hardware launch and, while it was part of the overall Windows 8 roll out, the presentation of both the Surface Tablets and the Windows 8 phones had most of the elements of a Steve Jobs’ Apple launch, and given Apple apparently isn’t doing those anymore, suddenly Microsoft has become the example of how to do these things right.
What was kind of interesting is that while the Windows 8/Surface launch had a few hiccups the Windows Phone 8 launch was dead on Steve Jobs and even included the “one more thing” that the original iPod launch (arguably the best Jobs ever did) had. That “one more thing” was phones for everyone in the audience.
But, if you look at the product features, it really looks like Microsoft has jumped ahead of the company and has designed two products that make Apple’s offering look incomplete.
Let me explain.
Surface: the Anti-iPad
If you go down the list of Surface Tablet features and compare it to the iPad, the iPad suddenly looks wanting in most areas. Surface is more robust, the keyboard actually attaches (making it far more convenient than Apple’s wireless one); it has a kickstand so you don’t have to hold it up; it has real ports so you can add accessories or hook it to a TV; you can expand the memory; it even has a magnetic charge cord (something that MacBooks have but the iPad lacks). Granted, it is a 1.0 product, but it actually does rather nicely against the 5.0 iPad offering and is one hell of a lot better than any Android product in the market.
And the Surface Ads? Well, they are Apple quality, and given those crappy Apple Olympics Ads, it is good someone is executing at Apple quality.
Windows Phone 8 – The Anti-iPhone
However, while Surface is hurt by being a 1.0 offering ,Windows Phone 8 is 2.0 and it shows. In every significant way it is better than its predecessor and the hardware is not only stunning it comes in colors and from a variety of vendors (though it kind of looks like Samsung, with their big silver phone, missed a meeting). Both HTC and Nokia are in this to play as both are not only providing a full spectrum of colors but different models and they are well differentiated. HTC is making a play for music with Beats audio and Nokia is moving towards having the best camera (mechanic image stabilization and Carl Zeiss lens) and one of the best displays ever put on a phone.
Wrapping Up: The Slowest Game of Ping Pong Ever?
Kind of seems that way all of a sudden. At the start in the 1980s, Apple was the big player and Microsoft the small wannabe; then Apple fired Jobs and Microsoft hit its stride so the roles reversed; then last decade, Microsoft stalled and Jobs came back with a vengeance; now Jobs is gone again and suddenly Microsoft is executing.
It’s kind of like watching really a really slow ping pong game.
President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group
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