Sleeping with the Enemy Would Benefit Both Microsoft & Apple

on November 21, 2016

Because of what I do, I try different devices all the time. While I have used Windows 10 PCs since they became available, I never made one my main working device. For the past nine years, my main PC has been a Mac with the 12” MacBook as my latest device. Last week, I received a Surface Book with Performance Base and, after setting it up, I decided to try and make the switch.

I was particularly interested in understanding how, as a user, I could continue to benefit from the Apple ecosystem even if I did not have a Mac. Also, what is the opportunity Microsoft has to deliver the best Windows 10 + iOS experience. This is important because there are more iOS users with a PC than there are iOS users with a Mac. So it offers an opportunity for both companies to improve the cross-platform experience. While there might be an opportunity for Apple to convert a few of those PC users, the great majority are comfortable right where they are. Offering an easier cross-platform experience between iOS and Windows 10 as a differentiator for Surface would clearly benefit Microsoft.

Hardware and Windows 10 are the Easy Part

As I prepared to transition to Surface Book, there were specific aspects of my workflow I needed to address.

The hardware was not a problem. I love the keypad. I spend a lot of my day typing and I was not a fan of the keypad on the 12” MacBook. Typing on the Surface Book is extremely rewarding. The mousepad is a little more sensitive than the one on the MacBook but it did not take long to get used to it. The Surface Book’s fan kicks in often and it is quite loud which was a bit of a distraction at first. The quality of the screen is great but I did not find myself touching it very much other than with the pen to write quick notes.

I am not new to Windows 10 so transitioning was not an issue. The most annoying thing was trying to paste using the equivalent of Command-V which obviously did not work. Mac users are very different and many use their systems in a much deeper way than I do so I do not intend to speak for them. If you already use Office on the Mac, your transition will be much easier. If your documents are all in iCloud, your transition will also be easier. When I joined Creative Strategies back in April, I moved to the cloud and my multi-device life became so much smoother. Once I got on the OS X Sierra Beta, things got even better as all the files I am working on are saved to the iCloud Desktop automatically, making my ‘grab and go’ routine more accessible. Something else that changed back in April is I now only travel with my 9.7” iPad Pro. Not having to think if I have all the files I need was extremely liberating. I downloaded iCloud for Windows on my Surface Book and all my work was easily accessed. Pages, Numbers, and Keynote were also fine to use although Numbers documents missed a few functionalities and Keynote presentations had some font issues.

While the files were not an issue, remembering all the passwords for all the websites I use certainly was annoying but, of course, that is something you only do once.

I was concerned about my Apple Watch not being able to unlock my PC but Windows Hello on Surface Book was seamless. I sat down at my desk and the Surface Book was unlocked. It felt like there was no password set up in the first place.

What it All Boils Down to: iMessage and Apps

In the end, what I really struggled with were two things that had nothing to do with the OS per se or the physical device.

I use iMessage a lot during my day and, while my iPhone is always next to me, I have become accustomed to using it on my Mac. I do this because it is more convenient using a full keyboard to type but mostly because it feels more part of whatever I am doing. It remains more central to my workflow rather than a side conversation on the phone.

The other big part of my day is Twitter and the client on Windows is just painful. I asked input from my followers but the sad answer was a validation of my pain. Using Tweetdeck over the browser was far from perfect as, more often than not, I would accidentally close the window. So, as with iMessage, I resorted to having my iPad open next to the Surface Book which really impacted my workflow.

iMessage for Windows

Why does Apple do that, you ask? Because it cements iOS users even more into iMessage vs. having them look for other apps that could have them disengage from iOS. I am not advocating Apple replicate all the features iMessage has on iPhone. There are features that are not unique. So, for instance, keep invisible ink for iPhone and allow stickers. Apple has much to gain here, contrary to what it would be if it put iMessage on Android. iMessage for Windows is about recognizing not all their iOS users will be Mac users and allowing them to still get the best experience from iOS. Opening iMessage to Android will not really do much as far as driving churn and there are plenty of other apps that go cross-platform in phones that leave users with plenty of choice.

With Windows launching People with third party app plugins, it would be a perfect time for iMessage to be included.

More App investment

Microsoft has options to both improve Windows and differentiate Surface. There are steps Microsoft can take in engaging with developers more to get apps to Windows. Even without a phone business to worry about, the Windows 10 environment is behind. There are two sides of this equation. One speaks to the creators Microsoft is focusing on for the next software update and one speaks to consumers who are still very engaged with their PCs and, therefore, want a rich experience. With Apple’s new MacBook Pro on the market and the eagerness to prove the Touch Bar is the right approach for touch on a Mac, I expect Apple to make developer engagement a top priority. Microsoft needs to do the same for the platform but also should step up efforts in first party apps both for Windows and Surface. So, if Twitter is not interested in improving its app, why is Microsoft not building one?

There are other things the Windows Devices team could do for Surface like creating apps that help with content transfer for those people who are not already in the cloud.

Think Beyond Devices and Platform

What my experience made crystal clear is both Apple and Microsoft need to think beyond devices and the OS and think about the whole ecosystem and their ultimate goals.

If Apple is serious about shifting more revenue to services, why not take Apple Music out of iTunes and make is a standalone app? I have not used iTunes in years as, whenever I get a new device, all my backups are in the cloud. Having to use iTunes to play my music on a Mac or download iTunes to the Surface Book seems a very unnecessary step. While I am sure people still buy music, I would bet they are less likely to do it if they subscribe to Apple Music. Even if they did, a simple link to the store would be all they need.

For Microsoft, it is about recognizing that, whether in the consumer space or the enterprise one, Surface buyers are more likely than not to have an iPhone and be entrenched into iOS. Embracing what they are attached to, rather than forcing them to use other tools, would benefit engagement (although it might not benefit a specific service). One Drive is a good example. While it was possible for me to access iCloud, there were more steps to take when wanting to save documents as the default was either One Drive or DropBox.

Together Against Google

Both companies need to also realize facilitating this Windows + iOS world will help limit the risk of Google taking advantage of the weaknesses and grabbing users. Again, this is not about devices. I do not expect Google to win consumers and enterprises with Chromebooks and Android tablets. This is about the much bigger battles: Digital Assistants and AI. Google has always been very good at using its device-agnostic approach to its advantage. Google Maps, Google Photos and now Allo are great examples of the extent Google goes to make sure it reaches valuable customers on other platforms. It is about time Apple and Microsoft started to play the same game.