Microsoft is in a very unique position these days, caught between alarming dismay and customer delight. While Apple may have afforded the latter for years, positive reviews and word of mouth must be a new things to the folks in Redmond.
What I’m referring to, of course, is Windows Phone 7 (still a terrible name, yet I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate, maybe I just hate the word Windows). Users, for the most part have been delighted by it. And although few have actually purchased them, sorry Nokia, those who have are, dare I say it, delighted by it. I’m certainly not saying I prefer Window Phone 7 over iOS as that would be absolute nonsense, but I will say users are happy with it, and possibly developing loyalty to it.
Loyalty to the operating system may be a great trigger to have users become loyal to other products a company offers, ask Apple. The only problem is Window’s came up with an original, unique and user friendly operating system five years too late. And while they have, arrived, it unfortunately appears to be too late. There is a lot of respect that loyal Apple fans should give to Microsoft… for once, they have developed an operating system that borrows very little from a similar Apple version, and it’s actually a quality platform. Google is the new copycat, but for once Microsoft is outside the box, but they were hiding in it for too long.
And then comes Metro…
Microsoft must’ve read the very first positive review of Windows Phone 7 and immediately started creating Metro. But what to do with their legacy, Windows? Their cash cow? Just throw it in. This bothers me because lately Microsoft has gone on the record of saying ‘one OS for all your devices is better than specialized operating systems for your many,’ (I’m paraphrasing). They can’t believe that. They developed an entirely new mobile friendly UI, and then deliberately tacked it onto their newest version of Windows, and not to ramble, but other than the Metro interface, have there been any changes to Microsoft’s core operating system? To me it seems they just made an iPad version of Windows Phone 7 and stapled it (or rather super glued it) to Vista. What new features does the Vista portion of Metro tout? I haven’t heard anything mentioned specifically.
And Metro is a very good thing for Microsoft, its a great mobile operating system. A great MOBILE operating system, yet they’re acting like just because it comes bundled with Vista that it is somehow a unique unified ‘one OS fits all’ solution to all your tech needs. Microsoft shouldn’t be fooling anyone, they combined two OS’s without any functional transition aspects to speak of. They are giving you mobile and desktop OSes in one hardly seamless package. Apple is wise not to abandon the desktop, but they know where they’ll be eating their main course from now on. Microsoft is digging for scraps at multiple tables, not realizing they’ve only gotten appetizers. Metro is good — mobily speaking, but they’re acting like its the solution to all things.
So while I’ve gone on the record to say that for once Microsoft is doing their own thing, they’re still, albeit subtlely, reading from Apple’s playbook. Their plan appears silly to the untrained eye, but looking closer you can see it’s a simple copy of one of Apple’s greats plays, the ‘halo’ effect. The halo effect, as analysts saw it, was a way to draw satisfied iPod and iPhone users to the Mac. I’m not so sure that was what Apple had in mind. I think Apple’s halo effect was more in service of brand. If you loved your iPod you’ll love your iPhone. You’ll definitely love your iPad, hell maybe you’d be delighted by our Macs, but I don’t think it was ever solely about selling Macs. And based on their profits these past few years that clearly wasn’t their only intention.
What Microsoft is trying to do is manufacture a halo effect. Most (of the few) Windows Phone users are very happy with their experience, and it seems like it would translate well to other mobile devices. If you love your Windows phone, perhaps you’ll love the Windows Tablet experience (metro). They’re trying to ring users back around in their direction. They think their retail stores will help, and they might, but I doubt it. They’re trying to use Xbox Live to corner the market from both sides, because let’s be honest, domination in the future of tech will come from mobile technology like iOS, or home entertainment centers like Apple TV and Xbox. They both have hands in these markets, and they each have respective leads (well, they did, Apple TV outsold Xbox 360 significantly this past quarter; I know they are different devices but for the companies in question, the goals are the same).
The halo effect has proven a solid strategy for Apple. They have wisely incorporated certain iOS features back into Mac OS X, and increased unification across their platforms with iCloud. Microsoft is trying to do the same things, except they’re overly eager for it. Apple moved slowly to creep into the public’s mind, to become the new Sony of consumer electronics, to convince the public that if you want a good product you’ll buy an Apple one. Microsoft is trying this same approach, but they’re rushing it. Opening stores before they really have anything to show has only cemented the fact that the public believes there’s nothing to see there. Free concert tickets have already made Microsoft stores desperate, and it appears they are going to be for quite some time. If they want to draw users backs to Windows (which is obviously what they want), then they’ll have to separate themselves from it. Create something new like Metro, and let that redirect users to Windows.
I do think the promise of a tablet device that can run any full functioning desktop application is enticing à la Surface RT, except that it won’t. The tablets will be too underpowered for Photoshop or Halo. And most users don’t want these desktop standard apps on their mobile platforms. They want mobile versions that work with their desktop versions, or mobile versions that don’t need a desktop counterpart. Instead Microsoft wants you to make some apps for Vista and some for Metro. How is this a unified OS? Just because they are tying them together does not make them one. Users with desktops and laptops will want nothing to do with Metro. And mobile users will want very little to do with Vista. The combination approach is going to fail, and I believe they only have the combination approach to encourage a halo effect. Again, taking pages from Apple’s book and totally mistranslating.
I have a feeling that Apple’s focus on Apple TV has been more than a hobby for the company. I think it’s a foothold, something to keep their name in the space until their ready to blow it out of the water. I think if Apple were more aggressive they could take out the Xbox 360’s successor in a fell swoop. If they even spent anytime courting video game developers, those developers would realize the Wii U’s potential is already here and it comes in the form of iOS devices. And certainly $100 for a home console would put all of Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo on blast (as if they haven’t been already).
(For those doubting the console quality gaming potential of iOS devices see: Horn, Infinity Blade, Dead Space. While these are mobile versions, if they were designed to utilize both the Apple TV and the iOS device used as a controller they could go tremendous amounts further. The only true drawback is the lack of tactile controls.)
Microsoft has a tremendous opportunity on their hands, but I wish they would stop acting like they have some philosophical difference from Apple in their approach. They’re identical save for the fact that Microsoft still isn’t sure how to do it, and combiningg Vista and Metro will NOT be the solution.
[Jonathan R. Yoho is a MacDailyNews Reader who sent us his article for publication. You can do the same, just email email@example.com.]
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