Does Microsoft finally know what they’re doing? Or are they just misreading Apple’s playbook?

by Jonathan R Yoho

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 webmaster@macdailynews.com.]

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43 Comments

    1. The takeaway for me is the guy pointing out that Microsoft somehow sees this as a philosophical struggle. Hamlet in the Holodeck, indeed! Whereas Apple’s approach is pure business. Microsoft used to be pretty good in business but they got sidetracked and now they’re little better than a lonely man in a raincoat, stalking the Apple of his eye.

  1. Apple creates great software then perfects the hardware. A little pat on Microsoft’s back for trying or rather, finally doing what Apple did six years ago.

  2. msft’s attempt at a unified OS is less trying for ‘halo effect’ than as Windows managers wanting to retain power and top dog status in Msft.

    Windows together with Office makes more than 80% of Msft. profits. The lords of Windows would never allow Windows to suffer the fate of iPod (dropping market share). Apple allowed iOS to beome much larger and profitable than iPod. In TRADITIONAL companies, managers of more profitable and larger divisions are rewareded with promotions, raises and hefty bonuses.

    I’ve said for years that power lords of Windows would never allow a Win Mobile platform: Win CE, Win Mo, Kin, Zune, Courier, Danger, Pink, WP7 etc to TRULY SUCCEED and eclipse the Windows Desktop division. The power holders in Msft i.e the Windows Desktop guys (who made all the $$$) put barriers in the progress of these ‘rivals’.

    When they designed Win 8 they didn’t really think about users but marely how for win desktop division to hold on to power.

    They didn’t even care a rat’s azz about betraying their ally Nokia using WP7 — the WP7 phones are not upgradeble. (Win Desktop guys weren’t connected to Nokia. Nokia worked with the Win Mobile division which is part of the Entertainment and Devices division of Msft).

    Now with Win 8 Metro, the Windows desktop dudes control mobile.

    1. thats a wildly good point, and should’ve been mentioned in this article. They are totally shooting themselves in the foot. Metro may be good, but they’re doing every thing to sabatouge themselves by straddling it with vista (and I love that the author refers to it as such because how much has it really changed since then??)

    2. dave,,,,, I cannot open the pod bay doors…:-) Sorry dave.

      “The lords of Windows would never allow Windows to suffer the fate of iPod (dropping market share).” But dave, the iPod is not experiencing a true dropping market share..

      The iPod exists inside every iOS device. The iPhone and iPod, together… no duct tape needed. Get the picture.?????

      Actually understanding where Apple is moving (to where the puck will be) is a mistake made by pretty much all anal……ysts and many others.

      What is the iPod, if not a player of iTunes music… Make a change to iTunes and you impact a hundred million iPods. Consider the power that Apple has….

      And yes the number of stand alone iPod sales has been dropping, but the number of iPods in iPhones and iPads has been soaring. Each Android device has a music player… but what kind??? How many of each type are out there and are they improved by any one getting better or just left in the dust.

      My iPod has music in iTunes and in the cloud…. When I buy a new iPhone, it gets ALL that music, for free and in a standard format. Now think AppleTV.

      Apple, skating to where the puck, the home, the iCloud, will be. Just a thought.

      1. @ eldernorm:

        you don’t understand my post or my discussion of office politics

        of course iPhones etc can play music. Of course apple (as a whole) is still making money and a lot more as iPhones take over from iPods…

        But the point of what I’m trying to put across is that the iPod DIVISION (if you consider it as a sort of ‘ stand alone business entity’ — it’s profits for example is listed separately in financial reports) is suffering a decline because the iOS division is taking it.

        IF apple was like many companies the iPod managers would be trying to hamper iOS growth so that they won’t be overshadowed. In traditional companies managers from fading divisions don’t get promoted (to CEO for example) or get the big bonuses.

        My argument for Msft is that the powerful Windows desktop managers (powerful because they made the big bucks $$$) for years hampered Win Mobile group (part of the Entertainment and Devices division) to stop it from overshadowing it. Win Ce, Win Mo, Kin , Zune, Courier, Danger, WP7 etc etc didn’t really have a chance to succeed. (Go read ex Msft managers accounts of how their ‘non Windows’ projects were shafted over and over again).

        My argument is that Win 8 wasn’t built in considering what’s best for the user as much as Win Desktop mangers trying to control mobile (Win desktop will now be on tablets, phones instead of Win Mobile like wp7).

        (something similar happened in HP where WebOS headed by outsider Jon Rubinstein never really had a chance)

    1. Windows 7 was termed, by Microsoft, as Vista just cleaned up and polished. Not wanting to put down Vista in public, when Windows 7 came out, Microsoft made a statement like the above. Don’t remember it exactly. So Windows 7 is really just a polished turd. 🙂

      Just saying.

  3. You gotta love “articles” by fanboys. As if Apple is all original and everybody else is copying them. Oh, and everybody else is evil and blahblahblah. Of course Apple loves these people. Who else spends days in line to throw $800 away for an iphone, and then upgrades every six months to a year.

        1. Steve, you are right… You were not cheerleading for any company… You were trolling about how bad Apple is. Since the only other OS out there is MS, well, that makes you selling for MS or Android, by default.

          If you do not understand this, see your mom and ask her.

          1) Apple is original as in a fresh look at an old theme.
          2) Everyone is copying Apple. Actually.
          3) Apple products are not upgraded every 6 months, that would be Android. Microsoft updates every 3-6 years.
          and if you like your iPhone / iPod etc, keep it. It works just fine for many years.

          So, trolling season is not appreciated here…… unless you are very humorous (Zune Tang where are you??) .

          Just a thought.

  4. Just had a chat with a Software Vet from the Washington area at a party last night. He was so dejected and distraught, and confessed he’d ‘switched over to the Apple stuff’ ages ago. Go ahead, say it, Beleaguered Microsoft.

  5. Indeed qka.
    I didn’t even get beyond the first line.
    “Microsoft is in a very unique position these days, caught between alarming dismay and customer delight.”
    Oh dear.

  6. Well, I got half way through te article before deciding to stop…

    I will admit tat what MS has down with the UI is quite impresive. I really never thought id say this, but I kind of do like the Metro UI a tad bit that the iOS UI, as far as aesthetics go. But it is the functionality that is of great importance, and I have not yet had a chance to do more looking into the full list of features. My only reference (to Windows 8 for Tablets) is the Surface presentation. Amd the fact that the demo had issues kind of got me thinking…

    But my hat’s off for Microsoft’s latest innovation. They have not had one in a long time.

    But for now, te UI is very elegant.

    1. Have you actually used it? Or are you just looking at the shots of Metro UI?

      I have an advance Samsung Series 7 Windows 8 tablet at my disposal (for testing purposes), and it is a horribly disjointed experience.

      Also the multitouch gestures the way MS has implemented them make no sense. There is no “flow” to them whatsoever, and most people I let play with it begin just trying random gestures because they can’t figure out what motions will do what.

      Unless they make some HUGE changes between now and October, this thing is going to be a total fail.

      1. Oh, and I forgot – my favorite thing is that when it first comes up it asks the user to hit CTRL + ALT + DELETE or use the Windows unlock button. The fact that they put CTRL + ALT + DELETE first shows that they really weren’t very focused on tablets when they made it (not to mention that on the Series 7, there IS no Windows unlock button – you have to hit the Windows button the bezel and the POWER button at the same time – I love MS.).

        1. HTML5 Gordon,

          Great comment. That is what I love finding here. Someone in the know who can specifically point out good and bad issues with examples. It makes me more knowledgable.

        2. I think I may have gotten you confused. When I said I was impressed by what they have done with the UI, I was only coming from an aesthetic perspective. I only believe it looks better. I did not mean to say it performs better.

          Sorry, should have been more specific.

  7. Lame article with an even lamer following. Apple products are for people that have more money than brains. The lack of grey matter is quite apparent in the comments. More power to those of us with brains, the rest of you continue overpaying for iOS.

    1. “Apple products are for people that have more money than brains.”

      how do you make “more money” without brains?

      doesn’t ‘more money’ prove we have ‘more brains’ ?

      lol.

    2. Steve, is that you again. Changing your name does not disguise your prose…. Hate Apple, go to Microsoft.crap and have fun there. I hear that the Zune is still popular over there. LOL

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