Apple and Microsoft Desktop OSes: Two Models, One Winner

When Apple and Microsoft contemplated software for a new world in which tablets were taking over much of the work once done on traditional PCs, it quickly became clear that they were following very different paths. Microsoft opted for an approach that would unify the user experience of tablets and PCs. Apple chose to keep the software environments, and the user experience they produced, distinct.

Early on, I was skeptical about Microsoft’s decision. Today, as the post-iPad, post-Surface versions of Windows and Mac OS X move into their second generation, there is little doubt that Apple was right. Windows 8 is a critical and, so far, a business flop whose problems may be mitigated but are unlikely to be solved by the forthcoming Windows 8.1. Apple, meanwhile, is readying the promising OS X Mavericks (named for a famous surf break in Half Moon Bay.)

Apple’s philosophy is to introduce successful features from its iOS mobile software into OS X when its makes sense while keeping the overall experience of using a Mac very different from the iPad. So Mavericks will gain an enhanced approach to real-time notifications that borrows heavily from iOS. And it will share with iOS a cloud-based system for storing and managing passwords across devices.

When Apple injected a heavy dose of iOS thinking into Mountain Lion, the version of OS X introduced last year, many Mac fans publicly fretted that Apple was on its way to dumbing down the Mac, that OS X would become indistinguishable from iOS. Mavericks, which will ship in the fall, makes it clear this is not going to happen. [pullquote]Today, as the post-iPad, post-Surface versions of Windows and Mac OS X move into their second generation, there is little doubt that Apple was right.[/pullquote]

The late Steve Jobs introduced the iPad in 2010 with a simple metaphor: PCs, whether Windows or Mac, were trucks while the iPad was a car. Most people want cars, though trucks are indispensable for certain kinds of work. Mavericks is designed for the needs of the truckers of the computing world (Apple also unveiled a new 18-wheeler, a long-overdue and radical redesign of its high-end Mac Pro.)

For example, the sort of users who find traditional PCs indispensable are likely to have lots and lots of files and documents, arranged in intricate hierarchies of folders. Mavericks introduces two new power-user tools to help simplify management. One is a new browser-style tabbed interface that makes it easier to examine and rearrange files and folders without opening multiple Finder windows. The second lets you tag files with keywords (shown in the screenshot at top), which facilitates search and ad hoc grouping of files based on this metadata regardless of what folders they reside in.

Apple’s renewed commitment to OS X and the Mac heightens the challenges facing Microsoft. Windows 8.1 is due out in a public preview version at the end of June. Based on what Microsoft has revealed, 8.1 includes some concessions to traditional PC users, including the option of booting directly to the Desktop and a slightly easier way of finding and launching applications from the Desktop environment. At the same time, it will reduce the needs of tablet users and others who favor the new, for lack of a better name, Metro environment from dropping into Desktop. But it fails to change Windows 8’s fundamental flaw: It is a two-headed beast that both PC and tablet users find unsatisfactory.

If Windows 8 fails to recover from its early swoon, it will be a much more serious threat to Microsoft’s future, especially as a consumer operating system, than was its previous flop, Vista. There were a lot of little things wrong with it that annoyed users in a variety of ways, but in many ways it was a large improvement over Windows XP. The problems were fixable without major changes to the underlying OS, and they were fixed in the successful Windows 7 release. The flaws of Windows 8 start with the mistaken idea that a single OS can succeed on both traditional PCs and tablets. Repairing this misconception requires going back to the drawing board, which would not only be a monumental admission of failure but would probably require a couple years of development work. So I expect Microsoft will instead try to muddle through as best it can.

This has serious implications for the marketplace. Sales of PCs as a whole are shrinking and there doesn’t seem to be anything on the horizon that will reverse this trend. But sales of Windows PCs are falling much faster than Macs. For example, in the quarter ended March 30, IDC estimated that worldwide Windows PC shipments dropped 13.9% from the year-ago quarter, which Apple reported its Mac sales were flat. This means that Apple’s market share is growing. And Apple, with its dominance of the high end of the PC market, is continuing to rake in the profits, while makers of Windows PCs are struggling and increasingly contemplating a post-PC world.

4 Technology Trends, 5 Technology Predictions

Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future. ~ Niels Bohr, Danish physicist (1885 – 1962)

Trend #1: Two Seperate And Incompatible Types Of User Interfaces

Personal computing will be divided into two types of user interfaces:

1) Touch; and
2) Pixel-specific (surface-required)

Touch will require the use of only a finger for user input and will work best on the go. Pixel-specific will require the use of a mouse or trackpad which, in turn, will require the use of a flat surface. These two user inputs are inherently incompatible with one another – and that has consequences.

Prediction #1: There Is Little Room For A Category Between The Tablet And The Notebook

I do not think that there is room between the touch-only tablet and the mouse/trackpad-only notebook for the new category of computer that Microsoft is trying to create with Windows 8 tablets. Tablets are becoming more capable. Notebooks are becoming ever thinner and lighter. There is little room for the hybrid. Hybrids will survive as a niche – but they will not thrive as a category.

Many disagree with this opinion, including some who write for Tech.Pinions and everyone who works for Microsoft. That’s the beauty of free speech and free markets. Time – and sales numbers – will tell the tale.

Prediction #2: Tablets Are Going To Be Even Bigger Than We Thought

Tablets are the future and in a much bigger way than even I had imagined.

They are not just becoming an equal to the pixel-input, surface-only devices, they will soon be the default, go-to device of choice. We’ll use our tablets whenever we can, our phones whenever we’re traveling and our surface bound devices only when we absolutely have to.

Pixel input personal computing devices will become like land line phones. They will persevere but with an ever shrinking base and and ever decreasing significance to our lives.

Prediction #3: Apple Will Create A New iPad Mini In The Spring

This is really a sub-set of prediction number two, above.

I believe that tablets are going to be huge in education. Last year, many school districts tested the waters with tablets. This year, many are going to move from trial programs to initiating programs designed to eventually put a tablet in the hands of every single student. This is a profound computing shift which will have a profound effect on education. By 2014 and beyond, the flood gates will have opened and tablets in schools and colleges will be accepted as the new norm.

Apple knows that they currently have an in with the education market. Educational institutions make most of their buying decisions in the Spring. In my opinion, Apple is not going to let the Spring go by without refreshing the iPad Mini.

Trend #2: Two Phone Operating Systems

In the Ninties, there were only two personal computer operating systems that mattered – Windows and whatever Apple was running on the Mac. Windows dominated, but the Mac survived and, in terms of profits, thrived.

Simiarly, there are going to be two operating systems that matter to smartphones. But this will be a duopoly with a difference. Google is not a strong and domineering operating system shepard the way Microsoft was. iOS has 500 million users and is self-sustaining. This time, iOS will be the premium operating system while Android will be the majority operating system.

Prediction #4: iOS will become the premium model, Android will take the rest

iOS will appeal most to businesses, government and education. (The irony of predicting Apple as the preferred operating system for business is not lost on me.) Android will take the rest.

Both operating systems will unhappily co-exist with developers flocking to iOS and cost-concious buyers flocking to Android. The dollars will continue to flow to Apple and the market share will continute to flow to Android and both sides will continue to insist that the other side doomed.

In the meantime, RIM and Nokia will continue to fade and Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 will stubbornly cling to third place. But a licensed operating system does not fare well as a minority player.

Trend #3: Freemium v. Premium

The chief divide between tablets will not be their size, but their business models. Amazon and Google follow the freemium model. Samsung and Apple follow the premium model. The Freemium’s give away their hardware at or near cost and seek to make money on the sale of content and services. Apple’s premium model seeks to sell their hardware at a profit and encourage those sales through the use of both content and services.

Prediction #5: Samsung Will Be Forced To Create Their Own Ecosystem

In a world where your operating system provider (Google) is undercutting you by selling hardware at cost and taking in all the content and service dollars, there is simply no other choice — Samsung needs to create their own content and services ecosystem. Samsung has been preparing for this moment for quite some time. And we’ll see the fruits of their labor in 2013.

Trend #4: Multiple Screens

I think the biggest trend that is receiving the least attention is that of multiple screens. In 2001, we had one computer screen and it sat on our desktop. In 2006, we had, at best, two computer screens – our desktop and our notebook. In 2013, we have 4 computer screens – our phones, tablets, notebooks/desktops and TVs. And the when and why we use those screens is going to help to shape the future of computing.

I’m going to cop out here and not make any predictions other than to predict that this trend is going to change everything. People are already using two screens – a television and a phone or tablet – to watch TV. And the way we rapidly switch from phone to tablet to notebook and back again is already baffling that way pundits think about categorizing and pigeonholing our computing buying and using habits. Multiple screens deserve not just a simple prediction on our part but ongoing examination and analysis. It is not an emerging trend but an existing trend. It is the consequences that we haven’t yet fully fathomed. Expect to see us talk a lot more about the effects of multiple screen computing in 2013 and beyond.