Posted by: Onuora Amobi
Apple, Google, Microsoft, Microsoft Surface, Windows 8, Windows RT
While Microsoft has been in the video game hardware business for a while now, there were quite a few individuals shocked when the Redmond giant made its move into the PC hardware space. Previously Microsoft left hardware to its partners, and many companies like Acer were quite offended by the notion of Microsoft moving into their territory.
With Windows Phone 8, Windows 8 and the Surface, we seem to be looking at a very different Microsoft than we’ve seen in the past.
Microsoft is continuing to push towards a more direct approach that is considerably more “Apple-like” in nature. With Windows 8/RT we see a more controlled UI (Start interface) that only allows one marketplace and limited customization. This isn’t much different from the dynamic seen with OS X and iOS.
Even Microsoft’s store designs are VERY similar to Apple’s approach. The Surface is a sleek, solid looking tablet that again brings Apple to mind.
The problem is that Microsoft isn’t Apple, and it doesn’t need to be. Microsoft built itself up on working closely with hardware vendors and partners. It was never a controlled, one-man effort and that worked for them.
Apple on the other hand, has always preferred an approach where they have their hands directly in everything. They pushed beautiful aesthetics and due to needing to support limited hardware models, were able to create a stable mobile and desktop OS that didn’t have the same problems you find with an OS that is designed for a broad range of computing drivers and hardware.
So why switch to Apple’s model all of a sudden? Microsoft saw the writing on the wall. They realized that the PC wasn’t as significant as it used to be and wanted to find a way to change its image and approach to better reach out into new sectors, including the mobile market.
What was wrong with their old approach?
Microsoft’s older method of allowing a somewhat-open UI and working closely with their partners – not alienating them – wasn’t a bad way to go. Apple found success with a different approach, but that doesn’t mean anything.
Take a look at Google. Google has an open OS, but they control certain elements (like having solid Google tools, including their Google Play store). They do technically own a hardware company but haven’t directly branded anything as “Google” as haven’t given any special priority or attention to Motorola. Google’s Android continues to expand at a rapid pace. Even their Chrome OS is starting to see some growth.
Google is proof that working with partners, and not controlling the hardware game is still a profitable solution. So really, why change?
Fear of Competition?
I personally enjoy Microsoft products and want nothing more than for them to succeed, but you have to wonder if Microsoft is a bit scared of Google and Apple. They see their PC marketshare declining and they feel that hunkering down and “controlling” things might save them.
This is evidenced further in the rumor of Microsoft’s involvement with Dell’s privatization effort. If this rumor is true, Microsoft is planning to pitch in around $2 billion into helping Dell buy “itself back”. In exchange, Microsoft wants more control over Dell’s direction.
Its possible that Microsoft believes that this ownership could keep one of their biggest partners from considering further Linux and Android alternatives going forward. By controlling its own hardware and directly controlling “certain partners” through partial-ownership, Microsoft could be attempting to limit Android’s growth and keep vendors and customers from jumping ship.
The problem though is this could all backfire. Google is continuing to reach out to vendors and make them feel “welcome”. Microsoft is starting to alienate them. Like it or not, Microsoft needs its partners if it wants to continue to grow.
What should Microsoft be doing?
I don’t know what the future will bring for Microsoft, but I personally believe that Microsoft needs to pick a direction and follow it. They don’t need to be Apple, they don’t need to be Google. The problem with their losing PC marketshare wasn’t that their old “partnership approach” was broken. Honestly, it was more that Microsoft had become out of touch when it came to reaching out to consumers. Their products weren’t cool, and people were only buying “if they had to”.
Microsoft has solid products with Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. They just need to find a way to market their products in a way that reaches out to consumers, while at the same time working tightly with partners not trying to “control them”.
Does that mean that Microsoft shouldn’t be doing the Surface line? Not necessarily. They can have their own hardware, but they need to work closely with their partners and make sure that the Surface isn’t getting “special treatment” that further angers these partners.
Microsoft is at a crucial point. They can go forward and expand into the mobile marketplace or they can continue to slowly fall out of grace.
The next few years are extremely important for Microsoft and will likely shape their future and seal their fate– for better or worse.