Microsoft to Apple: “Not On Our Watch”

John Kirk / July 11th, 2012

“Declaring that Microsoft and its partners had in the past “ceded some of the boundary between hardware and software innovation” to Apple, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told CRN on Monday that the company’s Surface tablet marks a new era in which the computer software giant will leave no “stone unturned” in its innovation battle against Apple.

“We are trying to make absolutely clear we are not going to leave any space uncovered to Apple,” said an exuberant Ballmer in a 30-minute interview after addressing some 16,000 partners at the company’s annual Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto. “We are not. No space uncovered that is Apple’s.

“But we are not going to let any piece of this [go uncontested to Apple],” shouted Ballmer. “Not the consumer cloud. Not hardware software innovation. We are not leaving any of that to Apple by itself. Not going to happen. Not on our watch.”

Photo of Steve BallmerWho’s On Watch and Exactly What are They Watching?

Now if one were a cynic, one might well ask Ballmer: “If Microsoft is not ceding anything to Apple on your watch, then who exactly has been on watch for the past dozen years?” But let’s not go there.

Instead, let’s focus on the rest of Ballmer’s statement because, in my opinion, it epitomizes exactly why Microsoft has been struggling of late.

Eyes Not On The Prize

Do you think, for even one-second, that the executives at Apple ever sit around and talk about not leaving “any space uncovered to Microsoft?” Of course not. That would be counter-productive. Apple spends its time implementing its strategy and doing what it does best, not “covering” what its competitors do best.

Chasing, Not Leading

Trying to “cover” what Apple is doing is not new behavior for Microsoft. Over the past ten years, Microsoft has followed the same strategy of not leaving anything Apple does uncovered by attacking the iPod with the Zune, attacking the iPhone with Windows Phone 7 and now, attacking the iPad with the Surface. The results, so far, have not been encouraging. The Zune was officially discontinued this year. Come to think of it, Windows Phone 7 was officially discontinued this year too. That only leaves the Surface and, while it may hit the ground running in October, it’s already ceded a two and a half year lead to Apple’s iPad. And that’s too long.

Play to Your Strengths, Not to the Strengths of Your Competitors

The problem, as I see it, is that while Apple is forging ahead on the path that they’ve mapped out for themselves, Microsoft is following Apple around and playing catch up. Instead of acting on their strengths, they’re reacting to their weaknesses.

Further, instead of creating new and innovative devices of their own, Microsoft is playing a game of one-up. They see what Apple has done, they study it, they come up with a differentiated product – perhaps even an arguably better product, and then–two years later–they bring their one-up product to market and declare themselves the victor. Only thing is, by the time they bring their product to market, Apple and the market have already moved on.

Microsoft needs to stop trying to one-up the competition. Apple didn’t one-up the competition with the iPod–they re-invented the MP3 market. Apple didn’t one-up the competition with the iPhone–they re-invented pocketable computing. Apple didn’t one-up the competition with the iPad–they created a whole new category of computing.

A Word of Advice

Microsoft, a word of advice: If you’re so insistent on doing Apple one better, maybe Apple’s attitude toward their competition is just the kind of strategic advantage that you should be adopting and improving upon. Stop worrying about what Apple is doing on your watch. In fact, stop watching Apple altogether. It seems to me that you’ve been watching Apple far too long and far too much already.

Instead…

  • Stop focusing on doing the competition one better and focus, instead, on doing what you do best.
  • Stop focusing on not leaving anything uncontested and focus, instead, on only entering those contests that you’re best suited for.
  • Stop focusing on what you’re going to do TO the competition and start focusing, instead, on what you’re going to do FOR us, your customers.
  • Stop chasing the competition and, instead, start chasing your dreams.

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?
  • Bob

    Very well stated.
    Apple and Microsoft are classic ‘business studies’…
    for comparative reasons 🙂

  • Rich

    I’m afraid Ballmer is making a lot of noise, and that’s all it is…noise. This is the behavior of someone who is in a weak position. A person in a strong position doesn’t bang on tin cans and yell, they just quietly make their move, and their move shakes things up. I’ll believe Microsoft has compelling products when I see people standing in line all night to buy them.

    Ballmer’s announcement is his version of Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie at RIM saying that the the market doesn’t understand how superior RIM’s products are.

  • Grwisher

    Why do you write this stuff. On the off chance that someone in Redmond reads this, understands it and acts on it, it could have a very adverse effect on my AAPL stock (if anyone there can read, understand and act). 🙂

  • synthmeister

    I agree with everything you’ve said. I would paraphrase it so.

    1. Window and Office are not your future, don’t let them call the shots.
    2. Don’t try to solve problems that Apple has already solved, instead look for problems that drive you crazy in software and computers and solve them before Apple does.
    3. BTW, the inability to futz with file folders and registries is not a “problem.”

  • The question is, however: What is Microsoft good at?

    • steve_wildstrom

      I think Microsoft’s struggles in the consumer/end user world have blinded a lot of people to what they are, in fact, very good at: Much of the world’s business runs on Microsoft software. Exchange and SharePoint dominate enterprise communications and collaboration. SQL Server is a huge player, especially in the mid-size database market. Dynamics has been coming on very strong in CRM/ERP markets. It also does very well in tools; even people who don;t like Microsoft give Visual Studio credit for being a first-rate integrated development environment. The short answer: Microsoft is still very, very good at running the back office.

      • Rich

        No denying that; but the back office isn’t what Ballmer was blustering about.

        • steve_wildstrom

          True. But the question was “what is Microsoft good at.”

      • Exchange is horrible, actually, for proprietizing email standards and MS had really nothing to do with SQL besides taking it over with more embrace and extend.

        I think you are arguing that MS is ‘good’ at mimicking and monetizing Unix technologies.

        • steve_wildstrom

          Exchange displaced Unix-type mail (there was no particular reason it had to run on Unix) because these open source, open standard systems failed to develop to meet the communications needs of large enterprises, which included integrated calendar and scheduling, public folders, presence, and a whole lot of other things that Exchange provided and non-proprietary systems did not, Saying that Microsoft’s back office applications “monetize and mimic” Unix is a little like saying the Mac OS X mimics and monetizes BSD: It’s true in some sense but completely beside the point.

          • Steve, you are such an apologist. Duh, Unix was open standard, no kidding it could be run anywhere. That was the POINT, along with EMAIL and HTML in the first place. MSFT, if they had any decency whatsoever, would have published to those standards, and not released clients SOLELY for it’s pathetic OS products. It’s simple embrace and extend. And it’s not by accident that it was not the MS users who were being ‘extended’.

  • FalKirk

    Rob Enderle isn’t my favorite commentator, but I’m stealing his comments from another article because they seem so apropos:

    “Declaring war on Apple isn’t going to make Microsoft products successful in the market, he argued. “You don’t win the in the marketplace by declaring war on your competition,” he contended. “You win by having strategic insights into your customers’ behavior.”

    You also win by innovation, he added. “Everything Apple does is original,” he declared, “Ninety percent of what Microsoft does is imitation.”

    Source: “Ballmer Pokes Apple to Stoke Microsoft’s Fire”, TechNewsWorld, Jul 11, 2012

    • The most amazing thing about the future that is unfolding is that I am finding common ground with Enderle (and his cat, the Enderle ‘group’).

      Maybe MS can’t afford to pay him anymore?

      • FalKirk

        Maybe his cat wrote the piece. It’s the only explanation that makes sense.

  • ZenSimple

    You go Microsoft! Take it to the RIM!

  • Jurassic

    As far as Steve Ballmer is concerned, the Tablet PC is a “success” and the Surface is just a continuation of that “magical” product.

    Einstein said: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.”

  • A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be. – Wayne Gretzky

  • jfutral

    If MS hadn’t tried this already with smartphones and MP3 players, I’d say this was a slight-of-hand trick to get everyone’s eyes off how MS ditched their hardware partners to develop the Surface. “No, really. Apple is the enemy, not you guys. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

    Joe

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