Thoughts on Apple, Microsoft, and tablets from an ex-Microsoftie

A disturbance in the Force

Because I had Star Wars on the brain at that moment, when I saw the announcement that the iPad Pro would feature keyboard cover and stylus accessories, this twist on a famous Obi-Wan Kenobi quote came to mind:

disturbance in the tablet market

…and if you Google (or Bing, if you must) around, you’ll hear these cries of annoyance. Hey, I’m expecting a few myself, just for that “hundreds of Surface users” jab. I kid because I care.

Sometimes, the future predicted in jest comes true

five blades

Click the image to see it at full size.

When it comes to predictions made in jest that came true, The Onion can claim the throne. Back in 2004, when four blades was considered to be a wacky maximum, they ran an op-ed that purported to have the CEO of Gillette up the ante by announcing a five-blade razor. If you’ve been to the drugstore lately, you know it’s no longer a joke.

(I don’t want to wade too deep into political waters in this article, but they were even more bang-on with their January 2001 joke prediction titled Bush: ‘Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over’.)

The now-defunct webcomic Hijinks Ensue seems to have had an equally eerily prescient moment in this comic from back in June 2012:

hijinks ensue comic

The strangely prophetic Hijinks Ensure comic from 2012.
Click the comic to see it at full size.

Before you go all “rabid Apple fan” and compose an angry reply on his site, you may want to look at the notes that went along with the comic. Here are some excerpts:

As an unapologetic Apple fanboy, I am probably not the most expected source for seemingly anti-Apple sentiment. But a fact is a fact, and chief among Apple’s key strategies is waiting for years after a new service, feature or function is adopted and implemented by EVERY other competitive platform before putting their own spin on it and taking all the credit as if it were their own invention. They are almost always the last to the party, but they are always the best dressed, the most interesting, the sexiest and the only one everyone remembers the next day.

I don’t fault Apple for this type of behavior because all they are really doing is letting the other guys take the risks and make the mistakes and gauging public response based on other products before taking all of that knowledge and refining the hell out of their own product before launching it (2 or 3 years after the first one came out). Then WE, not Apple, create the notion that Apple did something new, different and spectacular. Apple is the only tech company not frothing at the mouth to be the first to a milestone. They have the foresight to know that in 5 -10 years, no one will remember who did it first. They will only remember who did it best. No one will ever say, “Did you see Apple’s new Diamond Rio Mp3 Player? It’s called an iPod.”

There will be whining…

…and highly-placed whining, too! Here’s Steve Sinofsky, former President of the Windows division  and Microsoftie since 1989 on Twitter:

That’s pretty rich coming from a guy whose fortune in the industry comes from helping build the company that popularized the acronym “FUD”, whose internal mantra was “Embrace, extend, and extinguish”, and for whom this editorial cartoon is rather apt: windows 95

Pioneers get the arrows, settlers get the land…

…and if anyone should have internalized that lesson, it’s Microsoft. When IBM was looking for an operating system, Microsoft saw an opportunity, bought and re-jiggered an operating system, and packaged it as theirs. When an opportunity arose to put a Mac-like GUI on commodity computers 20 years ago, they capitalized on it, and pointing and clicking is now an everyday skill. When Microsoft saw the twin threats of Java and Netscape, they took the internet tidal wave head-on, countered with .NET and Internet Explorer, and helped put the latter out of business.

Microsoft may not have been original, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t creative (people often confuse the two), and they could execute.

tablet pc It should be noted that Microsoft was into tablets and wearables long before the iPad and Apple Watch were even announced. Microsoft’s Tablet PC, SPOT watches, and Pocket PC devices were all available in the early aughts, but they failed to define their spaces in the same way that Windows did. Just as Microsoft out-IBM’d and Apple’d IBM and Apple on the desktop, Apple and Google would end up out-Microsofting Microsoft in the online and mobile worlds.

Presentation matters

For the people who invented a piece of software is practically synonymous with the word “presentation”, Microsoft have a lot to learn about giving them. Compare and contrast the original iPad “Stevenote”…

…with the original Surface keynote:

While not as polished as the Apple keynote, it was passable right up to that point where the device locked up during Sinofsky’s demo:

You can almost see the PIP being issued in his eyes.

“That was years ago!” a friend of mine who still works at Microsoft retorted when I recently brought it up, but if the recent Windows 10 keynote at IFA is any indication, they still have to clean up their presentation game. The reception for Windows 10 has been quite good so far, and they had an opportunity to get people even more excited about it. However, they dropped the ball so badly that even Windows super-fan Paul Thurrott was disappointed:

If you have about 45 minutes to spare and nothing — and I mean nothing — better to do, here’s their IFA keynote, where they show a lot of computers to the tech press that they’ve already seen before:

If Microsoft needs a new slogan, they can take the full candor approach and go with “We never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”.

It’s a shame: they’ve got a decent device in the Surface Pro, a decent OS in Windows 10, and some decent “develop with our platform, deploy anywhere” potential with their latest development tools; they just need better ways to get their points across.

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