Google, Microsoft, Apple, and the Divergence of Computing Philosophies

on June 6, 2014
Reading Time: 3 minutes

When it comes to computing platforms, the dominant leaders of today — Apple, Google, Microsoft — have embarked down three fundamentally different paths. Debating the superiority of these philosophies is not only premature, it is futile. The market is the final arbiter. Not the media, pundits, or analysts like myself. All we can do is point out and understand their differences and hope to learn and gauge the computing evolution ability to meet the market’s needs. Here is how I see the computing philosophies of the dominant platforms.

Convergence

Microsoft owns the desktop and laptop market. Over a billion Microsoft PCs are currently in use today, which is an impressive number. I’ll be repeating a theme throughout this analysis which is that the PC is not dead — its simply not a growth market. Microsoft has developed a computing philosophy based on convergence. They believe the screens that run Microsoft software should have the same consistent UI and, more importantly, that tablets and PCs converge. My read on Microsoft’s strategy is that it remains highly PC-centric. Their hope is their billion plus users will desire a converged experience driven from the PC down to the smartphone.

There is value in convergence. Devices work the same and have the same UI. Consistency has its value where you can learn an interface one time and then pick up new screens in the Microsoft ecosystem and you know how to use it. This philosophy is not necessarily right or wrong. It’s just different.

Continuity

Apple’s philosophy is slightly different in that it emphasizes continuity. The right interface for the right screen at the right moment. Although the devices may have different UIs and experience, there is a continuity in how they work together. Apple believes the function of the PC is different than that of the tablet, which is to a degree different than the smartphone. In essence, each device has a unique role to play. The hardware is different and therefore the software should take advantages of those differences.

Continuity has its advantages. There is a seamlessness of the experience in Apple’s ecosystem. While my screens may have degrees of differing UI, they still seem to function as a comprehensive whole. Apple’s new feature, Handoff, is designed to enable more seamlessness between their devices. What is intriguing about Apple’s philosophy is it appears to be a “mobile up” strategy rather than a “PC down” philosophy like Microsoft. Where Microsoft views tablets and PCs as the same device and the smartphone as an accessory to the PC, Apple views the PC as an accessory to the tablet and smartphone. Again, this philosophy is not necessarily right or wrong, just different.

Cloud

At the center of Google’s experience is the cloud, their cloud. Maps, search, cards via Google now, email, and all the things that feed the Google engine are at the center. Where Microsoft and Apple have traditionally taken a very hardware and software view of the world, and are now working up to services, Google started with a services view of the world and then worked its way into software and hardware. Which is why for so long Google’s services have been better than competitors. This allows Google a certain kind of nimbleness that makes them the competitor they are.

A cloud based strategy has its advantages. The least being if we ever go to a fully thin client/server model, Google stands to be in a strong position. More importantly, Google has dominated many corners of the web experience which remains central to mobile computing. Where Apple views their other computers as accessories to the iPhone, Google views devices as accessories to the cloud. Once again, this philosophy is not necessarily right or wrong, just different.

Just Glass

Our TV, PCs, smartphones, and tablets are all just glass. Their guts give them smarts, their software brings them to life, and their services connect them to the power of the internet. All these screens are important. This needs to be clear. The TV, PC, smartphone, and tablet all have a role as platforms for software and services. Each companies’ philosophy allows for healthy variety to exist in the marketplace. What is fascinating is how each company is serving the market in different ways. Again — not right or wrong but just different. The market is large enough to sustain these differences in computing philosophies. As I have pointed out before, history is still being written and therefore we can’t discount any one of these philosophies of computing. But we can understand their differences and observe which ones gain more or less traction over time. What is important is computing is being advanced by these platform companies. Empowering the masses via computing is ultimately what matters. Not who wins or loses or whose philosophy is right or wrong.