The New Microsoft and Apple OS Wars–Game On

Tim Bajarin / February 20th, 2012

After years of lagging behind Apple in terms of innovating around their user interfaces on both their smartphones and Windows, Microsoft finally took a big step towards competing with Apple head on last year with the introduction of their new Metro UI. Introduced first on Windows Phone 7, this new Touch UI, which uses a tiling metaphor to deliver a more graphical way of dealing with data, is also coming to Windows 8 this fall and in essence, will finally unify the way people interact with Windows based software across smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops in the future. And while touch is critical to smartphone navigation, Windows 8 is also built around a touch UI that, especially on tablets, will be key to navigation and input on all Windows based devices soon.

Of course, this move is basically copying what Apple has been doing for over five years with their iOS strategy in which they use the same OS, UI and touch architecture on iPods, iPhone and iPads. And while direct screen touch is not built into OS X, Apple has gone to great pains to create a touchpad experience that very much emulates these same touch movements on all MacBooks and with an external touch pad for iMacs. And with the recent introduction of OS X Mountain Lion, they now add much of the great features only available on iOS devices to the Mac as well.

What’s interesting about these developments is that in some ways, history is repeating itself. In 1984, Apple brought to market the Mac and introduced the world to graphical user interfaces and the mouse. It took Microsoft a couple of years and some real false starts until they finally got their own GUI right on Windows 95 and continued to ride this new OS and GUI into further PC domination. And during this period Apple had major changes in management and inconsistent strategies that played perfectly into Microsoft’s hands and Microsoft grew exponentially without any real competition.

But when Steve Jobs came back to Apple in 1997 and began crafting a strategy in which Apple would begin to drive the market beyond the PC and launch the post PC era, Apple soon emerged as the real powerhouse in the world of technology. Starting with the iPod and then with the iPhone, Apple saw their fortunes change from an also ran to the lead horse that is mining most of the industry profit today and is now the most valuable company on the planet. Now Microsoft and other competitors are playing catch up again.

From Microsoft and their partners point of view, they are really hoping that history literally repeats itself. Just as Windows was used to bypass Apple in the past, they are “praying” that Windows 8, with its ability to deliver a similar OS and touch UI experience across multiple devices can revive their fortunes and make them relevant again.

Related Column: Dear Industry History Will Not Repeat Itself

But this is a very tall order this time around. Apple’s lead with iOS and OS X, along with their stellar offering of products that use these operating systems is very large. And while Microsoft’s OS seems to be a solid offering, unlike Apple who owns the hardware, software and services aspect of their eco-system, Microsoft has to hope that their software developers, hardware partners and potential service providers can gel and execute in a way that allows them to actually gain ground on Apple. And, they can’t afford to have any missteps. While Windows on Intel X86 chips seems solid, their move to put Windows on ARM is only in its early stages and its success on this new processor platforms, which includes the need to have software written specifically for these chips, is not assured.

Also keep in mind that, while Microsoft and partners are scrambling to play catch up, they have no idea what else Apple has up their sleeves in the way of new hardware, software enhancements and services. If Apple continues to innovate and stay at least two years ahead of the competition, Microsoft and friends may always be playing catch up for the foreseeable future. And this time around, Microsoft will also have to compete with Google and the Android crowd and Google’s Chrome OS that is destined for the desktop. And with HTML 5 emerging as the future of software development and Web Apps becoming the means of delivering applications, Microsoft this time around has their hands full keeping up with a market that is moving much faster then it did in the past.

But now that the Windows crowd finally has an OS, UI and a strategy that is actually designed to compete with Apple, Microsoft and their partners can now look towards what they hope is a promising future and like in the past, are telling Apple that the game is back on.

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.
  • BRR

    Microsoft’s UI on Windows Phones is much more innovative and forward thinking than iOS. I don’t know that Microsoft is playing catchup. I think they caught up with Vista/Win7. What I see is Apple stagnating and locking down. I am happy that MS is innovating and putting some real thought about coming up with something cool.

    • bbrewer

      Caught up with Vista? LOL, talk about delusional. Win 7 is just a ‘fixed’ Vista. The only reason it’s selling at all is that PC people have NO ALTERNATIVE other than Mac. MSFT has worked pretty hard to keep it that way. In all their hubris, they never thought the Mac had a chance. But now, it’s pretty obvious that the iPhone is a bigger wedge than was even Office.

      • Alfiejr

        yeah. but Win7 wasn’t just a fixed Vista. it was as much of an imitation of the OS X UI as MS could make it. if you don’t believe me, go to all the MS fan sites that were wailing about how it was too much like Apple.

        and now that Windows users are generally satisfied with Win7, why are they going to go through the trouble and expense to update to Win8? answer: they won’t, not just for Metro eye candy.

        but the real challenge for Win8 in all its variations is whether it is complicated/confusing or simple/just works. the latter = success, and the former = disaster. we’ll see …

    • xynta_man

      >Microsoft’s UI on Windows Phones is much more innovative and forward thinking than iOS
      Oh yeah? People don’t seem to think so.

    • Rich

      Where do you see Apple stagnating?

    • Jurassic

      “Microsoft’s UI on Windows Phones is much more innovative and forward thinking than iOS.”

      Yes, this is exactly why one out of every 4 smartphones sold has Windows Phone 7 on it, and why only 1% of all smartphones sold has iOS on it!

      … Oh wait, that’s the way it is in that alternate universe where everything is the opposite of THIS universe. 😉

      • Having used both, I have to agree with BRR – Windows Phone 7 is more innovative and forward thinking than iOS. Microsoft have moved away from the iOS-style app-centric approach and moved into a task-centric approach coupled with data organised by type rather than by source. These two aspects alone are very significant because they make a huge impact in terms of how you interact with a mobile device, which turns out to be much better.

        I’m not saying that iOS is bad. Far from it – I think iOS is great. BUT… I think Windows Phone 7 as an operating system is better than iOS. I think Microsoft has delivered a great platform that it can build on.

        • A_holleman

          Bly me man, which planet do you come from? Are you sponsored by Microsoft or something?

    • anonymous1961

      Ha, ha ha ha ha! Oh please, stop making me laugh. I have tears streaming down my face and my belly hurts, you’re so funny. ROTFLMAO!

  • bbrewer

    “It took Microsoft a couple of years and some real false starts until they finally got their own GUI right on Windows 95 ”

    Tim, I love your articles, but you are way to generous. It took MSFT ELEVEN years to come up with Windows 95, and that was after having every version of Mac that ever existed, before anyone else, to copy from. And copy they did.

    Metro UI is a DISMAL FAILURE already. And now they are basing Windows 8 on it. LOL

  • lrd555

    OMG! And you think Android’s is fragmented? Wait until this Metro stuff comes out in the fall. Don’t like 50% or more of Windows users still use XP? All I can say:

    1) Apple’s got a huge lead and not just in software; but in manufacturing prowess.
    2) By this fall, I wonder how many PC makers are going to have the stomach to compete against Apple- wouldn’t be at all surprise if one or two big houses go out of business altogether.
    3) Who the hell owns a Windows Metro phone? Haven’t seen one. Seen lots of iPhones & droids.
    4) Apple’s ecosystem is insurmountable at this point. And with textbook push started a month ago, well, a nine month lead again is going to be hard to breach.
    5) by this fall, Apple will have opened another 30 stores; again weakening the PC retail infrastructure even more

    • At Lrd555,
      I just looked at some log stats for 3 of my sites: hi-tech, real-estate and another high-tech.
      You are correct. 50+% of visitors are using Windows XP. Windows 7 is #2 followed by Vista and Mac OS X.

    • REDGYPSY

      Switched from our business from Windows to OSX/ios last year.
      After an excessive number of security issues. Even with real security software not NORTON/McAfleece.
      While not without headaches it has been great.
      Contract IT spending now almost nil.
      Security problems now nil.
      Windows is screwed.

      RED

  • Jurassic

    “Microsoft finally took a big step towards competing with Apple head on last year with the introduction of their new Metro UI. Introduced first on Windows Phone 7…”

    Actually, Metro is older than that. Metro was first used by Microsoft years ago on their Zune product (remember the Zune ;-)). The failure of the Zune and its Metro interface led to Microsoft’s mercy-killing of that product.

    Microsoft tried a second time to sell the public on the failed Metro interface, with Windows Phone 7 a year ago. Again, this has failed with consumers not buying Windows Phone 7 (sales have been shrinking each quarter).

    Now Microsoft is going for strike three, with Metro (a mobile, multi-touch interface) being used in Windows 8… a desktop operating system for which Metro was not designed in the first place.

    Repackaging a twice-failed interface as something “new” is not being innovative, it is being ignorant.

    Benjamin Franklin: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

    • I’m not surprised that the original Zune player never succeeded because it was never sold outside the USA.

      In many European markets Windows Phone 7 is doing rather well. When it first launch, the product was quite lacking in features and developer support. But the introduction of Mango (Windows Phone 7.5) clearly shows how quickly things have turned around, with a huge increase in developer support and tons of extra features which made the operating system very compelling and delightful to use.

      Finally, you can see how Nokia’s styling has helped Nokia overtake ALL the other WP7 handset manufacturers in the space 2 months. That’s quite an achievement, but when you see the Nokia Lumia 800 (especially the white version) it’s no surprise that it’s selling like hot cakes. What’s clear is that a lot of people have been waiting for a great alternative to the iPhone in terms of style and functionality. The Nokia delivers precisely that combination, which is why it’s beating all the other WP7 devices by a long way.

      • bassie

        “The Nokia delivers precisely that combination, which is why it’s beating all the other WP7 devices by a long way.”

        And that’s exactly the problem, because WP7’s market share is tiny. Two times tiny is usually also tiny.

        • I agree that 2 x tiny = tiny, but you missed my point entirely…

          Nokia has only been available in a very limited number of countries for 2 months, yet in that short time it has comfortably surpassed all the other WP7 handsets that have been available for an entire year. The reason is simple – Nokia have introduced desirability as a key ingredient with their Lumia 800 phone, something which didn’t exist so much with the other WP7 device manufacturers.

          It’s the desirability factor which is the key. That’s one big reason why the iPhone sells so well, and it’s also why the Nokia Lumia 800 is selling very well. Obviously you can’t compare 2 months of Nokia Lumia sales in a limited number of countries with several years of iPhone sales worldwide. But it clearly shows that WP7 does indeed sell very well when paired with desirable hardware.

          • yes, “desirability” is a huge factor for me LOL

            Had a Blackberry for two years until the contract was done. Went to iPhone and cannot possibly imagine ever going back to anything like that. Granted the Windows phone would be better than Blackberry

            yep, there is just something about “desirability” that attracts me. My iPhone is desirable because it WORKS! I think desirability kind of works for me.

          • Exactly! So you see why the Nokia Lumia 800 running WP7 is such a good alternative, because it is desirable and it just works.

      • rattyuk

        “In many European markets Windows Phone 7 is doing rather well.”

        The issue is, doing rather well compared to what? I suspect that Windows phone will sell well to people who will buy anything but Apple, which means it is going to steal marketshare from Android, not Apple.

        The thing that people haven’t noticed yet is that Apple’s ecosystem is building and now has five years of purchases that can be downloaded to the latest iOS device. That is a significant reason alone for iOS’s stickiness. With free apps on Android the commitment to the given platform isn’t as serious as having shelled out for stuff on iOS.

        My prediction: Windows phone will make some inroads, but against Android and not Apple.

        • Would it be a bad thing if WP7 / W8 made inroads against Android? Would it be a bad thing if it made inroads against Apple? The latest data I read showed signs that Nokia is starting to make inroads into both. But that was localised, not worldwide. Still, would that be a bad thing?

          • Dithers

            No, it wouldn’t be a bad thing, as long as the software/hardware combination is any good.
            Apple has 800,000 apps for the iPhone and the iPad – how many can Nokia expect be available for their new phone? Is there a simple music purchase and playback available?
            Will updates for the software be available?
            Apple is the only company that has regular and organized updates for its iOS system – Android doesn’t.

            Microsoft must be judged on its products – and we have already heard here that Metro is a re-issue of Zune software, which already bombed.

          • Well, during the 2 month period of Nokia’s WP7 launch there were 70,000 apps available. So it’s perfectly good start.

            Don’t forget that the Zune Player is not the same thing as Zune music service which comes standard on all WP7 phones and is the equivalent to iTunes.

            Microsoft have already issued several updates over the last year.

            So the answer to all your questions is YES. That’s why it’s a great platform.

  • Jurassic

    Apple’s motto for Mountain Lion is: “Inspired by iPad. Re-imagined for Mac.”

    Microsoft’s motto for Windows 8 should be: “Designed for the Zune. Stuck on top of Windows desktop OS”.

    • rattyuk

      Actually some obnoxious Windows devotees have pointed out in tweets that Microsoft used the word “re-imagined” to promote Windows 8 in their promotional material, leading them to moan on about Cupertino starting their copiers. Oh the irony.

  • HammerOfTruth

    Well, they better do something quick. I love Apple stuff, but I hate it when one company is bigger than the other and stifles competition.

    Ballmer should be put out to pasture and get someone else who isn’t delusional.

    • Jurassic

      Yes, I hate it too when one company stifles competition by being innovative and producing products that people love to use. 😉

      Let’s give more power to other companies that produce mediocre products.

    • mhikl

      HOT, I’m not sure I understand your point. Is it a) A large company’s size stifles competition?
      I agree, size does bring advantages; we saw that in the times of PC-Macintosh computers.

      or is it b) A large company (Apple) goes out (of its way) to stifle competition?
      I don’t think so. I don’t think Apple needs to do anything unscrupulous to succeed. It just has to be the best by doing better than the others. That is sort of how MicroSoft won the microcomputer war, or is how I was told by PCers. Who am I to suddenly want to change that point of view.

      MS did it the honest way and Apple is following along this fine proven trail.

      That Ballmer is the best weapon Apple has going for it doesn’t hurt.

  • mhikl

    MicroSoft is back on its feet and that is good. There is no honour in kicking your opponent when he is down. Standing tall, gloves on, bets placed, let the games begin.

  • Yazoo

    I use Windows 7 all day at work. We just had an issue on quite a few machines where the mouse just decided to move like someone else was controlling it. An OS that is still having issues with a mouse working properly after an update? In 2012? Piece of junk OS.

    • Probably some Chinese hackers controlling your computers from the other side of the world.

    • I bet that it’s nothing to do with Windows 7 itself, and is something to do with the mouse drivers or hardware instead. It’s so easy to blame the OS when there are so many other variables that are conveniently ignored. If Apple licensed OSX to OEMs, I can guarantee that you would have exactly the same kinds of problems. Everyone knows that Windows 7 is an excellent OS. Yazoo, you are in a tiny minority who thinks otherwise.

      • Walter Dithers

        Thats the point – if you want your system to work, design the ‘drivers’ to work yourself.
        Windows is like a DIY store – just grab a bunch of bits and pieces and chuck ’em all together.
        MS is finished really – who cares about them anymore?

        • Most of the world cares about Microsoft products.

          Microsoft is finished? That is a typical fanboy comment, rather than a considered argument based on fact.

    • REDGYPSY

      That is because someone else was controlling it!
      Winblows has no real security.
      This is why we dumped it.
      T

  • John Davis

    Microsoft’s only possible solution is to offer a cheaper alternative to Apple’s. This more or less guarantees poor standards.

    Man, if I had shares in Microsoft, I’d sell them as soon as possible at any price.

    • MSFT has hardly moved in over a decade.

      Dead Money.

  • yetanothersteve

    In the 90s, MS was the incumbent with a huge installed base lead. Mac (at least until 1995) only had a technological advantage. MS was always the incumbent, and when it caught up technically, it began to win even more share.

    In mobile, MS is at a standing start, while Apple has huge volumes and all the ecosystem advantages that confers. All they have is the Hail Mary of making tablets an extension of Windows some how.

    The Metro UI may be wonderful. But Apple’s experience 84-95 shows just how inadequate that can be against a leading ecosystem.

    Apple, of course, knows the game is on. Against google.

  • Rudolf Charel

    Let’s wait until Microsoft actually launches their product and we’ll see how well it does. Now it is only pie in the sky.

    Apple’s iOS and OSX are real products in daily use and well liked by those who use them. Microsoft should be so lucky.

  • Life works a lot better if you control your variables.

  • I have never used or have even seen a WIN 7 phone, but judging from the press reviews, it appears to be a “different” approach. In some ways better, but in other ways worse. My concerns with WIndow 8 is the confusion of different OS versions with the same name. Windows 8 with metro is for Intel desktop, laptops and Tablets, Window 8 for ARM will be for the new low power consuming tablets. Developers will need to write different versions for both. Consumers that have Office for their older machine will need to buy maybe 2 or more new software versions for their new WIN 8 OS device(s). And don’t forget that you can buy 3 different versions of Windows 7 right now. Will their be a home, pro and ultimate version of WIN 8?

    Most XP users will need to purchase new hardware to upgrade, as well as learning a new OS and buying new software, essentially starting from scratch. If that is the case, then the idea of switching to a Apple OS might be even more tempting. A huge chunk of XP owners will already own an iOS device. Why not get the Tablet/Laptop/Desktop that compliments what they already own and familiar with?

    • You could also argue it the other way round… instead of switching their desktop/laptop Windows computer to a Mac, why not switch their iPhone to a new Nokia WP7 phone instead?

  • Dan Andersen

    Microsoft? No thanks. As a former President once said, “Fool me once…shame on you…fool me…you can’t get fooled again!” Or something like that…

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