In the same week of October, Microsoft and Apple both debuted new products. In past years, creatives, especially Professional Creatives, would drool over the latest slick and cool Apple products. But here in 2016, the bulk of the reactions I found online and through direct communications were all about Microsoft.
It seems that Microsoft has decided to take advantage of the current stagnant nature of Apple in the computer world. Oh sure Apple introduced a “touch strip” calling it “new” but PCs have had a version of the touch strip for a few years now. And of course, Windows PCs have been available with full touch screen displays for years now as well. But Microsoft sees an opening to not only the creative world, but the general public through some very innovative and “Mac-like” products.
Apple has, rightfully, become a lifestyle company built around “things” with the centerpiece being the iPhone. The iPhone put Apple on a completely new track arcing away from computers and towards consumer goods. The iPad, the Watch, the AppleTV. All consumer goods designed to make the lives easier of those who own them. They’re all mini-computers to be sure, but they’re consumer items with more or less specific purposes. And consumers have rewarded the company well. So it appears that Apple’s current position is the general consumer doesn’t need much more than a laptop these days and they don’t really want a touch screen. I personally believe Apple is just waiting for the death of the “computer” as an item in the home and you’ll just use your phone / tablet / watch as all the computing you’ll need along with a wireless keyboard to use cloud based apps via your TV or tablet.
Now how did Apple come to be “THE” lifestyle company to the masses? Well it wasn’t through blazing computer sales. Apple computers sales ALWAYS lagged behind PCs. Generally far, far behind PCs because you could only get them from one company, they were more costly than PCs and you couldn’t just build one easily of the shelf. Only “artists” would use a Mac because….. well we liked working with them and they were generally “cooler” than PCs.
That “cool” factor helped Apple when it was ready to make the leap from computer to lifestyle company. Enter the iPod. 10,000 songs at your fingertips and in your pocket. No matter what the competition threw at Apple, the iPod was too cool to beat and Steve Jobs was the ultimate cool salesman. The iPhone sent the company to the stratosphere and suddenly computers were no longer front and center at Apple. The iPads and MacBook Airs followed along with the Watch as the old bread and butter towers of yore faded to the background. But it was those cool computers that gave Apple the clout and the consumers the confidence that their innovative devices not only looked good, but would work reliably. And now we’re at the point where Apple is no longer a computer company first.
I believe Microsoft sees an opening into the hearts and minds of both consumers and professionals alike by re-inventing the computer experience around touch screen. Consumers are already used to touch screen tablets and phones. While the Surface Tablet has steadily improved, sales are far behind the iPad, though Apple is no longer the dominant tablet maker with less than 25% market share as of Q2 2016. So by taking a step “back” and re-invigorating the personal computer experience with an over the top Surface Studio and more powerful Studio tablets, Microsoft has suddenly become the “cool” computer company. Their Surface tablets run full desktop software putting it on par with the MacBook Air. Microsoft has a buzz around their products that resemble the Apple buzz of old.
So taking a page from the Apple playbook, Microsoft could use the reinvigorated computer experience which includes Windows 10 as an entryway into the full lifestyle experience. The Windows Phone failed to catch on and the Zoom audio player never got anywhere. But the living room is probably the next great battleground with streaming video services and devices. If Microsoft gets the Surface re-launch right, they could re-introduce Microsoft as an innovated lifestyle company. Right now Microsoft, HP and other PC companies are getting noticed for innovation in the computer space while Apple treads water.
As for me personally, I have probably made my final Apple purchase as I’ll trade in my current MacBook Air for a Surface Tablet. For my professional computers, the 27″ 5k Retina iMac will be my final Mac for work. What will replace it remains to be seen, either a custom PC desktop or the Surface Studio.
Where does the computer and lifestyle space go from here? It will be interesting to see how this Apple / Microsoft story plays out over the next 2 – 5 years.