Microsoft's Case Of Apple Envy


Apple's playbook centers on looking at the market, finding product categories that are proven but can be exploited with significantly better execution. It was not first to music players; Sony was. It was not first to the cellphone market; dozens of others beat it there. It was not first to the tablet; Amazon beat it there.

But in each and every category, it brought a product to market that was so superior it left the competitor without a ride home from the dance. In essence, Apple shows up late to the prom but it understands that when you do, you have to be prettier than everyone else.

In October, Microsoft is finally coming to market with an operating system that is optimized for the tablet. The challenge is that it's not only late on this one, it is going to have to compete against Apple, which takes a vertically integrated approach where it controls every element of the products it builds.

Despite the odds being in Apple's favor, I believe that in the enterprise Windows-based tablets will do very well and have a high likelihood of being bigger than Apple. Microsoft's channel is going to make tablets from Lenovo, HP, Samsung and a host of others successful because it has the relationships and Windows will integrate better with the network. For reasons of security and compatibility, Windows based-tablets have an advantage -- not to mention that Apple does not yet have a large value-added channel and Microsoft does.

But Microsoft has a serious case of Apple envy these days and has convinced itself it can copy Apple's model and effectively compete -- think Microsoft stores and its own vertically integrated tablet.

It feels as though Microsoft believes that to compete in the consumer space it has to copy Apple. Trouble is, Microsoft can't seem to envision how to do what Apple does better. The Apple store to Microsoft store comparison is a perfect example.

First off, just look at the traffic in any Apple store and compare it to a nearby Microsoft store. One problem it has is it can't provide the level of support that Apple does via its Genius Bar because Windows is just an operating system and the rest of the product is built by someone else.

The Win tablet OS looks slick from the little I've seen of it and the few minutes I've had to play around with it. Again, I believe it will do well in the enterprise, but it has some really big hurdles in the consumer space and will not get the pull that Apple is getting from the BYOD phenomenon.

When Microsoft was late to the personal music player market with Zune it got no traction because it was flat-out not as cool as Apple, and the thought of buying Zune over iPod was a big hurdle.

It is going to face the same thing in the tablet consumer space. In addition -- and Microsoft knows this and is working to get where it needs to be -- the number of apps that are available on the Win tablet is and will be woefully behind iOS for the foreseeable future.

In the end, Microsoft has a very real shot of beating Apple in the enterprise space because of its channel and that of its OEMs.
It's in the consumer space where Microsoft's hurdles are higher and its leverage points far lower. Two years from now I'm betting Windows tablets have high penetration in the business world and low penetration in consumer.

BACKTALK: Make something happen. Robert Faletra is CEO of UBM Channel. You can contact him via e-mail at robert.faletra@ubm.com.