Most people that know me would never expect to see a pro-Apple post on this site but having seen both the "keynotes" from the big camps, with a little reflection and having read an internal Microsoft email from MS Exec Jim Allchin [PDF], I’ve got to say that I’m starting to see things the same way as him. Microsoft sell to companies to lock them in and sell dreams to customers saying "one day, if you stick with us, you’ll have technological bliss" while delivering poorly designed bug ridden features.
Their problem is partly to do with their lack of roundedness. They either provide half a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist or attempt to provide the whole thing and cock it all up. Apple seem to be providing the whole thing.
Take iTunes for example. There’s one player that it needs to work with. Slightly buggy in some respects but there’s nothing that comes close as far as a complete (and usable) solution. Look at OSX. They control all the hardware (except graphics cards and peripherals) that go into them and can spend less time supporting abstract hardware setups. It’s a completely proprietary lock in that works!
Microsoft tried this with the Zune. It’s not a swear word yet, is it? The problem they had with its launch (versus Apple launching the iPod) was it only had a few genuinely new features and didn’t look nearly sexy enough to outsex the iPod or other players on the market. When the iPod came out, there was nothing — and I do mean nothing — that could come close to competing either on design or specifications.
The Zune started it’s slow death when Microsoft bodged the release marketing. Until they started handing out the review copies, everything was pretty strong. People genuinely wondered if this was the mythical iPod-slayer. As soon as the review contracts got handed out, there were massive up cries on almost every front:
- The review contract (that reviewers have to agree to before getting one) was ridiculously limiting, making full impossible [via This Week in Tech]
- The software "infects" your music with DRM, invalidating some licenses
- Wi-Fi’d music will only play three times or stay for three days
- The DRM used by the Zune is incompatible with all other Windows Media DRM
- The Zune was incompatible with Windows Vista at the time of writing
Things didn’t improve too much after release with stories of there being the random possibility your new Zune might be pink (very manly) or it might come preloaded with images of a pornographic and homosexual nature. Exactly what you want to explain to your child on Christmas.
This is by no means a terrible wave of issues when you compare it with the 122 points I argued against Sony’s PS3 but this still meant for a very untidy release.
Back on topic, Microsoft@CES vs Macworld
Bill (et al) spent their time talking about the "digital dream"; that they, along with their partners, will deliver before the end of the decade… Naturally, there was a lot on Vista and Office but we’ve heard it all before. "Here are a load of things to lock you with Microsoft for another 5 years." The Windows Home Server looked so dull it was almost interesting. Nobody was impressed because there’s nothing revolutionary about any of it.
Over in the Apple camp, people had been expecting an iPhone for so long they were on the blink of explosion. Steve Jobs is known to be a bit of a showman and he made people die with anticipation while he trudged through the usual "we’re great and we’re selling tons" speech.
After a lot of faffing around with the Apple TV, that nobody cared that much about, he casually announced that they’re doing a touch-screen iPod, a phone and a mobile internet device. Everybody synchronously exploded. After a pause he added that they weren’t three devices, but one that does the lot.
Between the two events, you can quickly and easily see the massive difference in prowess of each company. Microsoft might be the big dogs of the corporate world (for now, at any rate) but they just don’t have a clue (save the xbox division) what consumers want or how to tease them with leaks and misinformation.
Don’t get me wrong. There are serious misgivings with the iPhone that, since they’ve come to light have scared many people away. Microsoft do have (the occasional bit of) good software. Visual Studio and .NET are awesome but the way Apple can get so much more hype for their consumer products should be something Microsoft should be very aware and scared of as the iPod generation are going to be the next technology buyers in companies.