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.