How Microsoft and Apple’s Ads Define Their Strategy

by Tim Bajarin   |   August 29th, 2014

Recently, after spending a lot of time with many of Microsoft’s OEM partners and looking at their overall strategic view of the PC and tablet markets of the future, it has become clear to me there really is a huge difference between how Microsoft and their partners view the computing market compared to the way Apple designs and markets their Macs and tablets to these same users. This divide in strategy is very pronounced.

In a sense Microsoft approaches the market from the top down, while Apple goes after the market from the bottom up.

Microsoft centralizes their strategy around their belief that everyone needs tools for a wide range of productivity tasks, regardless of who they are. Microsoft and their partners, including Intel, are designing all of their products around this focus. Of course, productivity is Microsoft’s sweet spot and a strong push to create products with an eye on productivity first makes sense. This is why they keep pushing the 2 in 1 concept. Is it a tablet or is it a laptop? As far as they are concerned, it doesn’t matter to the customer. The tagline for 2 in 1’s is “It is a PC when you need it and a tablet when you want one”. They believe that, in this product, they can push the customer to cover all of their bases and hope in the process these 2 in 1’s revive the lagging PC market and get it back on track. The problem is, since the focus of these designs really emphasize the productivity aspect of the experience, 2 in 1’s turn out to be OK laptops and, in many cases, mediocre tablets.

On the other hand, Apple approaches the market from the bottom up. When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad in 2010, he put a huge emphasis on the fact it was a “consumption” device first. In fact, he downplayed any possible productivity features although he did hedge his bet by creating a version of Pages, Numbers and Keynote apps for those who “might” want them. But when Apple created ads for the iPad they were all focused on consumption. Only in the last 18 months have they even added the focus on the iPad as a serious “creation” tool. Notice the distinct difference even in terminology. For Microsoft, the term “productivity” is key to their marketing while Apple uses “creativity” instead. Microsoft shows ads of people mostly working while Apple shows ads of people doing cool things with their iPhones and iPads. Microsoft’s ads invoke work while Apple’s ads show you how to use their products to create and play.

In a good article on TUAW written by Yoni Heisler entitled “Microsoft still doesn’t get why the iPhone succeeded,” Heisler says:

As Microsoft continues its push to remain relevant in the mobile space, it still doesn’t appreciate the factors that allowed Apple to enter a market it had no previous experience in, and turn that market on its head with the iPhone. Arguably blinded by the profits brought in by its Windows monopoly and its suite of productivity software, Microsoft still doesn’t seem to fully comprehend how the iPhone was able to push established players like RIM to the brink of irrelevancy in just a few years.

As an illustration, here is Nadella’s response to a question from Joshua Topolsky regarding Microsoft’s strategy to sell more devices to consumers.

You’re defining the market as “It’s already done, Apple and Google have won, because they won the consumer side.” And I’m going to question that. I’m going to say “No, any thinking consumer should consider Microsoft because guess what, you’re not just a consumer. You’re also going to go to work, you’re also going to be productive and we can do a better job for you in there.” And that’s what I want to appeal to.

And therein lies the problem. Consumers primarily buy mobile devices that make their lives easier and more fun, work be damned. Microsoft Office wasn’t available on the iPhone until June of 2013. An iPad version wasn’t released until four months ago! And guess what, hundreds of millions of consumers bought iPhones and iPads anyhow.

Heisler captures the essence of the difference between Microsoft and Apple well. Microsoft is all about productivity while Apple wants to give people a break from work and let technology do cool things for their customers. While this may seem like semantics, it actually drives a very different mental picture to consumers about how they view their devices. As Apple has proven, this approach is highly successful and brings into real question whether Microsoft’s productivity push will help them get customers outside of the enterprise to buy their products in the future.

In fact, Apple drives a solid line between productivity and content creation vs creativity and content consumption. Tim Cook and team are adamant that, when it comes to productivity, they believe that Macs are at the center of this activity. They have created innovative laptops, especially the MacBook Air and these products continue to defy the downward market trend in PCs and every quarter Apple sells at least 4 million Macs worldwide. They then focus iPads and iPhones on the more fun activities one can use technology for and again, have sold massive amounts of these products to very satisfied customers.

Of course, there is an actual dichotomy in the ultimate use of iPads in many people’s lives. Although Apple designs their iPads as pure tablets, people and companies have found their own ways to use them for actual work and productivity. But ironically, it was never at the center of Steve Jobs’ design and its role as a productivity tool has come mostly from third party products like external keyboards and companies and individuals creating apps and tools that allow them to adapt iPads and even iPhones for work when needed.

Satya Natella’s heavy focus on productivity is an interesting one and using 2 in 1’s to bridge the gap between a laptop and tablet will be driving their strategy forward. With the goal of creating a single OS that runs on laptops, tablets and smartphones, Microsoft is at least creating an OS environment less confusing than in the past. However, Apple has shown there is success in making great laptops, tablets and smartphones each with different goals in mind. However, if Microsoft continues down this heavy productivity road I suspect they will be challenged in their quest to gain any serious ground against Apple and even Google, who at the moment have the lion’s share of the mobile market. Apple with the Mac and Google with the Chromebooks are seriously eating into the Windows market share and have changed the dynamics of the personal computing marketplace forever.

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.
  • Recision

    Microsoft says you can do productive work on out tablet – and our software is the way it will be done.

    Apple says, well yes, you ‘can’ do productive work. And yes, we will offer some software for that – but here are also a whole bunch of others who offer productivity software that can also be run – and we would like to also help you write your own software (Swift) if you like, so you can get exactly what you want to have. Create what you want.

    Microsoft allows other to write software also, but they don’t really want you to use that over their stuff, not if it can possibly be humanly avoided. Productively use – the Microsoft solution.

  • Mark

    Picking up a point made by Recision, Microsoft has so narrowly defined work as what their products cove. Apple, by leaving the notion of productivity very open has enabled “creative” third parties to adapt the iPad and iPhone to work related tasks that interest them. I would think that if we considered what is work for all humans, Microsoft’s picture is a very small percentage of this total. For example, pilots using an iPad in the cockpit is essentially a consumption activity yet so very work and productivity related.

  • Glaurung-Quena

    Oh god, not the whole “productivity vs consumption” red herring again.

    What the heck does “productivity” mean, anyway? Microsoft thinks it means “doing stuff with Microsoft office.” A depressing number of tech pundits, including, it would appear, Tim here, have bought into MS’s cramped, restrictive definition — if it’s not creating a document, spreadsheet, or piechart, it doesn’t count as “work”. Pro tip, Tim: those people in the Apple ads doing “cool things”? The vast majority of them in the Ipad ads i have seen, and a fair number in the Iphone ads, are *doing their jobs*, using productivity apps to get *their* work done. The fact that their work doesn’t look like your work doesn’t make it any less “productive”, and doesn’t make the apps they are using to get their jobs done any less “productivity apps”.

    In the real world, absent MS dictating a definition that is slanted in their favour, “productivity software” would mean, software that facilitates getting work done. Office apps are just one incredibly narrow slice of the near-infinite range of productivity apps that are possible. Touchscreen devices make for crappy office app machines, because they lack precision pointing devices or keyboards. But there are a wide range of productivity apps populating the app store, most of which you have never heard of, but which Apple shows people using in their ads, that are perfect for the ipad and iphone (and crappy for a laptop or desktop, because those are not portable enough).

    The real difference between MS and Apple’s ads and strategies is that Apple realizes that people do all kinds of work, while MS seems to think that the only kinds of work that count is corporate office paperwork. Which is why Apple continues to kick MS’s butt when it comes to selling tablets, and why I’m pretty sure Intel’s 2-in-1 focused strategy is doomed to failure.

    • pxlated

      “MS seems to think that the only kinds of work that count is corporate office paperwork” – That sounds about right.

  • Christopher Loo

    Don’t think it will be one device for both “work” and “personal”. It will be two devices. Due to security and privacy concerns enterprise is locking down their systems and network. Don’t my employer wants me to use the device they provide for my personal use. It is locked down. I cannot install my own apps. Nor easily move files out. Nor do I want to. The apps provided like MS Office are not suitable for personal use. So you are right. Microsoft is completely missing the emerging trends.

  • obarthelemy

    Looking at it the other way around:
    Back when the iPad was released, only an iPad-like device was possible. SoCs, screens, UIs… could not possibly support a dual-mode PC+Tablet.
    Now they can. It doesn’t mean they should at all times, I quite like having 2 screens, one of them I can hand over to kids for some quiet, go to bed or the toilet with… but… I’m due for netbook, laptop and tablet updates, and I’m really wondering if my next tablet should be a Windows one so I can forgo the netbook and laptop on short trips; and my next netbook and laptop, a Surface, because tablet mode has some value.
    The issues are
    - screen/CPU number then, I’ll stick with 2 screens for sure, maybe even 3 so my playing Civilization by the pool has no impact on the kids streaming Frozen in their bedroom; otherwise it’s back to sneakernet.
    - price: my 3 devices together cost less than a single top range iPad or entry-level Surface),
    - storage: my Netbook is mostly a 2TB media server. No way I’ll fit that in any kind of tablet or 2-in-1.
    - and apps: with Android + Windows, I get the best of both mobile+desktop worlds; Android-only would bring some issues (mostly games, a bit of productivity too), and Windows-only would bring worse ones (none of my favorite Mobile apps are on Metro, and I suspect substitutes are not as good).

    Oh well… I’m now convinced I should do nothing ^^