Truel: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; The iPad, the Surface and the Nexus 7

by John Kirk   |   October 18th, 2012

The Plot

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a 1966 Italian epic Spaghetti western film directed by Sergio Leone, starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach in the title roles. ~ paraphrased from Wikipedia

Apple, Microsoft and Google are engaged in an epic tablet war starring the iPad, the Surface and the Nexus 7 in the title roles.

In the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the plot revolves around three gunslingers competing to find a fortune in hidden Confederate gold.

In the tablet wars, the plot revolves around three tablet gunslingers competing to find a fortune in hidden tablet profits.

Clint Eastwood as “Blondie”: The Good. A subdued, cocksure, bounty hunter who both works with and works against Angel Eyes, and Tuco in shifting alliances to find the hidden gold.

Apple as “iPad”: The Goliath. An implacable, cocksure, bounty hunter who both works with and works against Microsoft and Google in shifting alliances to find the hidden profits.

Lee Van Cleef as “Angel Eyes”: The Bad. A ruthless, unfeeling and sociopathic mercenary who always finishes the job.

Microsoft as “Surface”: The Bad (ass). A ruthlessly efficient, relentlessly effective, money making machine who knows how to close.

Eli Wallach as “Tuco”: The Ugly. A comical, oafish fast talking bandit who proves to be a crafty and surprisingly dangerous opponent.

Google as “Nexus 7″: The Geeky. A nerdy, engineering and advertising company whose “don’t be evil” exterior masks a surprisingly powerful and unexpectedly ominous corporate bandit.

The Truel

In the movie’s climatic final scene, Blondie, Angel Eyes and Tuco face off against one another in a Truel.

In the climatic autumn of 2012, Apple, Microsoft and Google face off against one another in a truel.

A truel is: “a neologism for a duel among three opponents, in which players can fire at one another in an attempt to eliminate them while surviving themselves. ~ via Wikipedia

Each party jockeys for position, each itching to fire first, each wary of what the other two fighters will choose to do.

In tech, Apple, Microsoft and Google are involved in a great tablet truel. Each party jockeys for position, each itching to eliminate the other, each wary of what the other two competitors will choose to do.

The three stare each other down in the circular center of the cemetery, calculating alliances and dangers in a Mexican standoff.

The Apple iPad stands alone at the center of the tablet world. Then the Google Nexus 7 joins in the fray. And finally, on October 26, 2012, the Microsoft Surface steps into the ring. The three stare each other down, calculating alliances and dangers in a Mexican standoff.

The parties position themselves, the tension grows, the Ennio Morricone film score swells until suddenly, they draw and…

The Treasure

Remember the pundits who laughed off the tablet form factor and called them toys? No? Neither does anyone else. They were as wrong as wrong could be.

Tablets are the second coming of the personal computer. Apple knows it. Microsoft knew it long ago but they were unable to successfully seize the moment and capture the treasure for themselves. Google is only just now realizing the importance of tablets. The company or companies that win the tablet wars win the future of computing. The fight is only just begun but like a gunfight, the battle may soon – and very suddenly – be over.

The Gunfighters

Apple iPad

Apple is like Blondie. Confident. Cock-sure. Perhaps a bit too cock-sure. Apple insists on doing things their own way. Google is counting on Apple’s insistance on having a closed shop to be their undoing. Microsoft is counting on Apple’s unwavering insistance on seperating their touch and desktop devices to be their undoing.

However, Apple has an advantage. Like Blondie, they know where the gold (profits) is hidden. The key to unlocking the tablet treasure is tablet optimized Apps. And using our gunfight analogy, when it comes to tablet apps, if Google and Microsoft have six shooters, Apple has an Uzi. Or a bazooka. Or a tank…

Microsoft Surface

If Apple is the cocky newcomer – the up and coming gunslinger – Microsoft, like Angel Eyes, is the consummate professional – the grizzled vertern who has the experience, knows all the tricks in the book and is extremely confident in their ability to win in a shootout.

If Apple is cocky because they think they’re good, Microsoft is confident because they know they’re good. Microsoft has not only been through the wars, they’ve won the wars and they’ve won them convincingly.

However, Microsoft’s secret weapon in the PC wars was compatibility and familiarity. In gunfighter terms, it would be like shooting with the sun at your back. And getting in five shots before your opponent even drew their weapon. And shooting from behind a wall. It was that devastating an advantage.

When it comes to a gunfight – or a platform war – Microsoft is the best there ever was. But this isn’t yesterday and this is a whole new fight. In mobile, Microsoft’s monopoly advantage is no where to be found. If Microsoft is going to win this gunfight, they’re going to have to do it on merit.

And Microsoft is very, very late to the fight…

…and it’s never good for a gunfighter to be late.

Why is Microsoft’s Surface obsessed with Keyboards?

The Apple iPad Tablet vs. the Microsoft Surface Anti-Tablet

Battle Of The Tablet Business Models: Windows 8 And The Microsoft Surface

Google Nexus 7

Google, like Tuco, is in good position. Microsoft and Apple know that each is the greatest danger to the other. They will almost certainly fire all their weapons at one another leaving Google (Tuco) free to gain from the exchange.

Only Google, like Tuco, has a problem.

It was just last week that Google initiated a program to encourage the creation of tablet optimized apps for Android.

Last week.

Tuco doesn’t know it, but he doesn’t have any bullets. Google didn’t know it was important, so they don’t have many tablet optimized apps. And in a truel, being unarmed is a big, big problem to have.

Google Android Tablet Optimized Apps — Two Years Too Late

Battle Of The Tablet Business Models: Google Nexus 7

The Denouement

The gunfighters move into place. The eyes narrow, the hands twitch, the music swells, the tension mounts, the guns are drawn and then…

…a single shot is fired…

…Blondie shoots Angel Eyes. Tuco also tries to shoot, but discovers that his gun is unloaded.

The mobile wars are a fascinating watch. Apple dominates tablets. Microsoft dominates desktops. Google dominates smartphones. Each knows that the future – the elusive treasure – is in mobile. They can’t all win this truel. One, perhaps two, will be left for dead. Which will it be? Which will it be?

“You see, in this world there’s two kinds of people, my friend: Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig.” ~ Blondie (Clint Eastwood)

Unlike The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, no one has seen how this movie ends. Microsoft hopes that this will be a sequel: How Microsoft Won The PC Wars, Part II. Google thinks that this is an entirely new genre of film, the kind where open always outguns closed. Apple thinks that there are two kinds of personal computing companies: Those with platforms loaded with apps.. and those who don’t much matter.

Me? I think it’s advantage Apple. You don’t grow from nothing in tablets to a world shaker in two and a half years unless you got it right. The essence of tablets is touch. Not keyboards. Touch.

Microsoft is desperately hoping that Apple got it wrong. Microsoft NEEDS tablets to simultaneously run both touch and desktop operating systems and Microsoft needs both to run well together.

Google? When it comes to tablets, they’re still digging.

It’s clear to me that Apple’s iPad is going to remain on top. The rumored iPad mini only makes this more likely.

Normally, I’d say that – as in phones – Microsoft would have little chance of having their tablets jump past Google and into second place. But circumstances are far from normal. Despite Google’s overwhelming success in phones, they’ve done next to nothing in tablets. And I have little respect for their newly minted subsidized tablet business model and their ever shifting business strategies. And Microsoft has powerful advantages in their ability to leverage a large desktop customer base and utilize their extensive business connections. Microsoft could quite quickly vault Google in tablets and land in second place…

…and wouldn’t that be interesting. In phones it would be Google-Apple-Microsoft. In desktops it would be Microsoft-Apple-Google. In tablets it would be Apple-Microsoft-Google.

That can’t possibly last. This is about to get very real, very fast.

The world of personal computing is in flux. It’s a “truel” world and for some tablet maker – and possibly for several tablet makers – it’s about to go bad and get ugly.

John Kirk

John R. Kirk is a recovering attorney. He has also worked as a financial advisor and a business coach. His love affair with computing started with his purchase of the original Mac in 1985. His primary interest is the field of personal computing (which includes phones, tablets, notebooks and desktops) and his primary focus is on long-term business strategies: What makes a company unique; How do those unique qualities aid or inhibit the success of the company; and why don’t (or can’t) other companies adopt the successful attributes of their competitors?
  • Nangka

    “Google? They’re still digging.”

    I laughed all the way through the article. John you should have your own blog. You’re even better than the Macalope. (And he is good!)

    • FalKirk

      “You’re even better than the Macalope.”

      High praise, indeed, and certainly undeserved…

      …but I’ll take it anyway. :-)

      • GrwisherTjk

        Better than the Macalope? Please forgive me while I take a moment to compose myself.

    • Gwisher

      I agree, he is very good. But I like the team just the way it is.

      • FalKirk

        “I like the team just the way it is.” – Gwisher

        Me too.

        • Grwisher

          I am glad. You and the others really compliment each other.

          • copy_editor

            I agree, Grwisher (and I think you mean ‘complement’).

      • mhikl

        The team here writes ahead of the game, thus individual works often become more relevant at later reads as they are linked into the greater meaning as a whole. I can’t be the only one who finds this true as new comments (by new commenters) are often made to older articles long past what would be the norm. A loss of one would diminish the individual and the symbiotic whole.

        • Grwisher

          Well said, mhikl, if that is your real name? I read some 20 Apple articles, on a daily basis, including Bullish Cross, Nansen, MDN, etc. and I find that this is to be an oasis of logical thought and civility that can be found nowhere else!

  • Rich

    Interesting analogy with an old Western movie. The difference is that in the movie the outcome is decided at the end, and the audience learns the outcome then. In tablets and phones the outcome was decided by the choices each producer made when they designed their products, and we learn the outcome at the end of 2012.

  • Defendor

    Great movie, watched it again last year. Now how about adding a category for customers.

    The Good, the Bad, the Ugly…. And the confused (win8 customer)?

    http://www.futureshop.ca/en-CA/category/windows-tablets/31088.aspx?path=6d56ed26a8e2432d145864a8ee45cd37en01

    This is the biggest electronic retailer in Canada. I am not sure the link will work everywhere, so a description.

    The first two products on that list are two Windows 8 tablets. At this level of detail, they look identical. Same price, same exact “Windows 8″ graphic on the tablet screens.

    Just about anyone might expect they ran the same software, but they don’t. One of these tablets is x86 and the other ARM.

    This is the kind of epic branding mistake that I find it hard to believe Microsoft overlooked. This pretty much looks like a crap-shoot for typical buyers whether they end up with an ARM/x86.

    How does it make sense to sell two very different things with such similar branding? How can this not lead to consumer confusion (and anger).

  • http://twitter.com/dmkraig Donald Michael Kraig

    While I like the basic concept of your article–it’s a clever comparison–I would respectfully suggest that some aspects of it aren’t quite complete.

    Microsoft/Angel Eyes/Bad, as a gunfighter, has a history in this arena, a history of failure. A decade of trying to get people to use their gun/tablet design, a decade of failure. Years of trying to get people to use their mobile phone. Years of failure. Years of trying to get people to use their music player. Years of failure.

    If Angel Eyes were more like Microsoft, he’d either be so wounded he couldn’t draw his gun with his good hand and he couldn’t stand due to his feet being shot out from under him.

    However, this truel isn’t being fought in the middle of nowhere. It’s being battled in civilization, and Angel Eyes has enough money to buy a modified Stephen Hawking electric wheelchair with a built-in jetpack and bazooka launchers. Unfortunately, the GUI to run the chair is so confusing, he may never be able to use it.

    Meanwhile, Google/Tuco/Ugly hasn’t really been in a fight. Instead, Google has always prodded others to fight for them. In return, Google has given them gold, a GUI, and in return, Google’s surrogates let’s people they control send Google money. It’s a highly symbiotic relationship that goes way beyond a simple plot line of a Western.

    But there’s a switch. Google goes out an makes a gun and has a modicum of success with it, and now thinks it’s ready to face the big boys. And no wonder, it has all of it’s surrogates lined up behind it. Unfortunately, it’s position is tenuous. If Google wins the truel, all of those surrogates behind it are ready to shoot him. After all, they can always turn to Angel Eyes Microsoft and get a GUI, too.

    So how will this movie turn out? Right now, Apple is the only player of the three with a proven, usable gun. But there are many possible endings to this film, and like 1961 movie, “Mr. Sardonicus,” the viewers/endusers will determine the winner of the truel.

    Of course, “Mr. Sardonicus” was rigged…

  • BoC

    The gunfighter Truel ignores the invisible 4th gunslinger…the consumer with his dollars and loyalty.

    Consumers pick winning products because that product satisfies their overall needs. When you look at the total spectrum of consumer data needs & who has the largest and easiest system to use to be effective personally, there is only one answer.

  • Jurassic

    There is an important question that no one from the tech media is asking:

    “With the Surface already up for pre-orders, and it going on sale in stores next week, why have no Surfaces and keyboards been given to the tech media for testing and review??”

    It is extremely unusual, especially for new hardware, not being allowed to be evaluated by the media before it goes on sale.

    • benbajarin

      I don’t know this for a fact but I believe they have. If you recall a bunch of articles came out earlier in the week from a number of journalists who were invited to Microsoft to get the whole surface story. Generally what happens at those things is they do the dog and pony show and then get devices but are under NDA with the review time.

      I am guessing that the NDA review is not up yet and they can not post reviews probably until next week. I could be wrong and they didn’t get any but my guess is we will see reviews from the outlets come before the launch on the 26th. Perhaps even as early as tonight or tomorrow.

  • http://twitter.com/snookasnoo Idon’t Know

    Google has already admitted they make no money from the Nexus 7. how pathetic that they only way to jump start Android tablets is to sell them for cost.

  • pawhite524

    Entertaining and thought provoking. An excellent read, enjoyed every word. Thanks!

  • SixnaHalfFeet

    Nice, fun read!

    Only quibble I have is that Apple is confident because they KNOW they ARE good at what they make/do and hide that secret as much as possible so others will never know just how good they are, much like Blondie the Good. Microsoft is confident because they know they are good, but that they also seek any advantage they can get by back stabbing, arm twisting, and cheating the playing field, much like Angel Eyes the Bad looking for an opportunity when Blondie wasn’t paying attention. Angel Eyes is no slouch with the gun, but always pads his performance with any advantage he can find which will tilt the grounds into his favor. Blondie is a straight dealer and will always out perform anyone on equal grounds.

    Apple finally has an equal playing field and has so far blown the competition away. The real story is if the Bad or the Ugly can manipulate the shootout so that Apple is firing into the sun instead of just trying to out draw Apple fair and square. Because on a level firing range, Apple will out gun the others everytime. Just like Blondie.

  • Jon T

    Who really has the key to the treasure chest?

    Microsoft’s key is Corporate IT.

    Google’s key is Open.

    Apple’s key is multifaceted: Consumer/Developer/Senior Management/Education.

    - Corporate IT is a busted flush in 2012, they lost our trust when they they insisted on Microsoft/Blackberry long after we discovered better.

    - Open is in trouble; malware/theft/fragmentation/privacy make it a choice for those who can’t, or won’t, pay for better.

    If true, that makes for one clear winner. Apple can open the chest, or throw away the key.

    • FalKirk

      Good analysis, carefully crafted to fit within the existing analogy.

      I was only being tongue-in-cheek, but “open”, may indeed be an unloaded gun. It’s terribly useful for somethings, but Google is trying to shoehorn it into a user for which it was not designed.

      As for Microsoft, advocates truly pine for a return to the the past when IT ruled computing decision making. They believe that Office is the killer app, that corporations are desperately waiting to embrace Microsoft’s tablet entries and that consumers long for the return of the one operating system to rule them all. We’ll see. We can prognosticate all we want, but the market will make the final decision. They get the chance to vote with their dollars, starting October 26, 2012.

  • Mhe She

    I just discovered this site and have become a big fan of the analysis. The articles about Google winning the battle but losing the war was amazing! The analysis was perfect. I wonder why writers like you are not hired as strategists by companies like Google and Microsoft!