JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

The Applefication of Microsoft

Date

Zoom in on this story. Explore all there is to know.

Video settings

Please Log in to update your video settings

Video will begin in 5 seconds.

Video settings

Please Log in to update your video settings

Surface trouble for Microsoft tablet

After the hype of its Surface tablet launch event, Microsoft gets a harsh dose of reality as its iPad rival gets the cold shoulder.

PT0M0S 620 349

A last-minute invitation giving journalists and analysts just four days' warning; a US West Coast unveiling of "a major product" touted as "something you won't want to miss"; a presentation of an own-brand device by the company's chief executive, touting its design aesthetic and magnesium-sintered parts in exploded view. You could easily have mistaken Monday night's unveiling of Microsoft's Surface tablet range for an Apple event - though you would never mistake Microsoft's bombastic Steve Ballmer for a charismatic Apple executive.

Yes, Microsoft is getting into the iPad space; after sitting on the sidelines for years, it has now started running after the fastest-growing sector of the computing market with its Surface.

The fascinating thing about the announcement, though, was how dramatically it shows the Apple-ification of Microsoft.

Looking to the future ... Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer during the  unveiling of the new table Surface this week.

Looking to the future ... Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer during the unveiling of the new table Surface this week.

The company that brought the world Windows, and got rich on it, has for years had serious Apple envy.

When Bill Gates was still working full-time at the company, he would fume during visits to London at Apple's Regent Street store, opened in late 2004. "We need to have those!" he would complain, to the despair of his minions, who would forbear from pointing out that Microsoft didn't really make things like Apple did; it made software.

Apart from the Xbox, a Microsoft store at that time would have been a showcase of lots of boxes of software, and a few mice and keyboards. The laptops and desktops on which Windows ran were all made by other companies, such as Dell or HP.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer unveils the Surface, a tablet computer aiming compete with Apple's iPad.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer unveils the Surface, a tablet computer aiming compete with Apple's iPad.

And that was a good arrangement for Microsoft: software is wonderfully profitable, because once you've made one copy, the next billion or so cost nothing to copy. It made Microsoft the most valuable company in the world by the end of 1999.

Yet now Microsoft is not just snubbing those companies that made it rich by making PCs that ran Windows; it's positively apeing Apple, making something the same size as an iPad, putting its own name to it, deciding the price, and selling it through its own stores, both physical and online. (Gates will be happy.)

But is this just some bizarre financial bromance? Or something deeper?

"Why would Microsoft hedge against what it has, the most brilliant business model of the 20th century?" muses Horace Dediu, a former Nokia executive who now runs the Asymco consultancy. "Because," he answers, "it doesn't work any more."

He says that's because of the rise of mobility - the fact that increasingly we use smartphones and tablets to work anywhere and any time, where just 10 years ago we would have had to sit in front of a desktop, or unfold a laptop. Now iPads are used to create art or hold flight manuals for pilots; meanwhile, nearly a million Google Android smartphones are being activated every day.

Mobility is big. Smartphones have been outselling PCs since autumn 2010; and though the tablet business is only two years old, a total of 108m are expected to ship this year (against about 400m PCs); the research company IDC upped its forecast ahead of Microsoft's announcement. IDC has consistently lowered its forecast for future PC sales while it keeps pushing it up for tablets.

"The rate of growth in these platforms is almost vertical," says Dediu. "Microsoft's for Windows is pretty much flat."

Google is following the same path: it has bought Motorola Mobility, the US smartphone and tablet maker, and later this month is expected to announce an own-brand 7in tablet. (Larry Page et al won't be pleased at Microsoft stealing their thunder; Ballmer, who hates Google, will be delighted; it might also explain the last-minute nature of the announcement.)

The Appleification of Microsoft is happening because the company has got no choice.

The smartphone and tablet pose what Benedict Evans, an analyst at Enders Analysis, on Tuesday called "an existential threat" to Microsoft: if it can't get a credible foothold there, then its growth just stops. So far it hasn't managed it in smartphones.

Tablets suddenly look like a necessary product.

Of course, this adventure could go horribly wrong.

Think of the Zune - a Ballmer-ordered product (he literally snapped his fingers in a top-level meeting and said: "We need one of those!") that came far too late in 2006 to compete with the iPod, which had already passed its glory days; Apple already had its eyes then on the iPhone, which has supplanted and far exceeded it for profitability. Zune never went anywhere (literally; it was never sold outside North America) and was quietly killed last year.

Then again, the Xbox 360 games console has done well, cementing the company's position in millions of living rooms around the world.

Except when you look at the numbers: total sales are put at 67.2m since 2005. Next year is expected to see a new generation - the Xbox 720 - for which a leaked internal document forecasts 100m sales in 10 years.

Dediu laughs: "A hundred million? That's equivalent to a hundred days' of Android activations. And that's their ambition for 10 years?"

Nobody's expecting that Microsoft is going to stop Dell or HP selling Windows computers - or that they're going to stop doing so immediately. But the signs of strain are there already.

Last summer, HP said it would quit the PC business because the margins are razor-thin (it dumped its chief executive and recanted); Dell keeps trying to push into services, and makes nothing on consumer PC sales.

But in making the first big move into the Windows tablet market, Microsoft has shown that it realises the need for reinvention.

The old Microsoft would have let a thousand PC makers build tablets - big, small, great, awful, pricey, cheap. The new one will control the apps that run on the Surface, via an online store, will decide the price and the models.

It's a long time since 2004, when an ebullient Ballmer came to London and told an audience of journalists (then prodding him about the iPod): "With great respect to Apple, there's no way anything gets to critical mass with Apple, because Apple just doesn't have the volumes."

Even then, the iPod was outselling Microsoft's then mobile offering, Windows Mobile. If you can't beat them, join them - and ideally, steal their clothes too.

Guardian

twitter  Follow IT Pro on Twitter

45 comments so far

  • You'd think if it was going to make them themselves (or at least contract them out to someone like Foxconn) they would at least know what the selling price will be just a few months out from availability.....
    Knowing the specs would also help so people could make a real evaluation against the iPad, Galaxy, Asus, etc to figure out what might suit them.
    This seems like more of an effort to buy time and maybe slow down sales of the competition than a real product, they couldn't even provide a demonstration of their own Office software running on it.
    In any case, I don't think I want something that runs so hot it requires ventilation resting on my lap in bed as I tap out a few emails or surf the net - ouch!

    Commenter
    drewski
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    June 20, 2012, 1:13PM
    • Actually it does not run hot, probably cooler than the quite hot "New Ipad" actually. Microsoft Windows (RT edition) now runs on ARM processors/socs which are the same thing that Apple and Android tablets use. And even the Intel ones are becoming cool and efficient and soon won't need any cooling at all.

      Except in this case Ms does have full fledged OS and Office on this thing giving it a clear advantage over the iPAD.

      Commenter
      Boogie
      Location
      Sydey
      Date and time
      June 20, 2012, 3:10PM
    • @Boogie "Except in this case Ms does have full fledged OS and Office on this thing giving it a clear advantage over the iPAD."

      - It runs Windows and Office? I would class these as clear DISadvantages. Ghastly bloatware, both of them.

      Commenter
      tony p
      Date and time
      June 20, 2012, 6:46PM
    • I was referring to the Intel model, which has a vent for cooling. The RT does not, so the ARM comment and comparison with the iPad is irrelevant.

      The fact is that the Pro model will be running laptop chips in a tablet form factor which many people - including myself - rest on their laps during casual use, such as while in bed or on the couch. If it needs a vent, then it must need to run hotter than an ARM-powered model and we can therefore reasonably assume that it would be a bit of a worry to have in one's lap.

      Commenter
      drewski
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 21, 2012, 3:42PM
  • Oh dear, here we go again. Microsoft introduced a tablet PC way back, well before the iPad that a lot of people got excited about. So I contend that there is no applefication of Microsoft in the slightest. From my observations of the past 40 years of computing, Apple waited for products, like tablets, to be introduced by others and tested in the field before they developed their own - which was quite a trick, really. Many people operate that way as well. The iPad is an OK product even if mutually exclusive. I hope the Surface does well. I also hope some Apple devotees stop acting as if ANY Apple product is better than anything else and that Apple invented everything. Crikey!

    Commenter
    madhouse
    Location
    Launceston
    Date and time
    June 20, 2012, 1:52PM
    • @Madhouse - How can you even compare Microsoft to Apple. Haven't you seen those Apple Vs Microsoft commercials, they explain it all !!

      Commenter
      orangekid
      Location
      Tamworth
      Date and time
      June 20, 2012, 2:26PM
    • This.

      And a wise man once said: the best way to get hits to your website, is to post negative articles on Microsoft :)

      Anyway, bothered. I'm going to be picking up both Surface computers.

      Commenter
      TechHead
      Location
      in your base
      Date and time
      June 20, 2012, 2:28PM
    • Too true. Having worked in IT for many many years, this isn't Applefication of Microsoft, it's just MS updating products they had before Apple launched the iPad. In fact many other companies had tablets long before Apple made the move - something a lot of people conveniently forget especially the Apple fan base who oddly enough seem to think Apple invented everything IT/gadget related.

      It will be good to have another player in the market, mainly in the area of enterprise (business) which Apple cannot compete with as their product is consumer based and as such lacks the security framework required for protecting data. Apple also controls how you use the device, for example forcing you to use iTunes for everything. Having the freedom to use your device as you wish (like with Microsoft or Android) will be the big draw card for the majority of tech savvy people.

      Commenter
      Not Again
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 20, 2012, 2:42PM
    • > Microsoft introduced a tablet PC way back, well before the iPad

      And well before that Apple introduced the Newton, so what. The fact is people actively like the iPad but only use MS products because they have to or are unaware there is any choice.

      > Apple waited for products, like tablets, to be introduced by others and tested in the field before they developed their own - which was quite a trick

      Exactly as MS have always done. They have never innovated anything, they pursue a fast-follower strategy; stupidly their tablet is a slow-follower and has not the ghost of a chance in the market.

      > I hope the Surface does well.

      Why? Because it wasn't made by Apple? Reflexive anti-Apple people like yourself are exactly as bad as any reflexively pro-Apple people. My prediction is the Surface will tank just like the Zune and Windows phones did; because it's too late, too slow, and about as cool as bodyshirts.

      Commenter
      AndrewT
      Date and time
      June 20, 2012, 2:50PM
    • I don't think this article is implying that MS is copying products, more a business approach. There own hardware, stores, apps. It's the business model not the product as such.

      Commenter
      Krusty
      Date and time
      June 20, 2012, 3:03PM

More comments

Make a comment

You are logged in as [Logout]

All information entered below may be published.

Error: Please enter your screen name.

Error: Your Screen Name must be less than 255 characters.

Error: Your Location must be less than 255 characters.

Error: Please enter your comment.

Error: Your Message must be less than 300 words.

Post to

You need to have read and accepted the Conditions of Use.

Thank you

Your comment has been submitted for approval.

Comments are moderated and are generally published if they are on-topic and not abusive.

Advertisement
Featured advertisers
Advertisement