Microsoft seems to have reinvented itself since the company fired then CEO Steve Ballmer a few years ago. The company cash cows– Windows and Office– remain such but the whole PC industry is in decline so the future needed to be reinvented at Microsoft. New CEO Satya Nadella has moved to the cloud, put Office to other platforms, notably iOS and Android, moved rapidly into the subscription software business, and even expanded Microsoft’s presence into hardware with the Surface line of PCs; and in the process received plenty of accolades and applause instead of the usual acrimony and disdain.
Has Microsoft become more innovative than Apple?
Apple’s critics point to the Surface Book with the touchscreen as innovation. Microsoft proponents compare the giant 27-inch Surface Studio desktop PC with Apple’s MacBook Pro Touch Bar and declare the Mac maker a loser while Microsoft has become the winner.
What’s the truth?
Remember, desktop and notebook PCs are an industry in decline, so whatever cool new innovations Microsoft has pushed to the surface with Surface have yet to change the PC industry’s direction. Even Mac sales, which bucked the post-PC era decline for years, is itself in decline. Of course, one can argue that the giant Surface Studio is merely a very, very big iPad that runs Windows, not the operating system of choice among graphic designers or media makers, but that’s a separate issue. And, yes, one can argue that putting Touch ID into a Mac is a good thing, and a visible Function system that is context sensitive to frontmost applications is a good idea that’s long overdue, there is one thing we must remember about innovation.
Microsoft and Apple continue to innovate with every product iteration, so, dear critics, market analysts, and tech writers, stop living with members of the nattering nabobs of negativism why cry that Apple has lost what Microsoft has found. That’s rubbish. Both continue with iterative innovation on many fronts. That new iPhone 7 which was roundly criticized as being nothing new is completely new inside; the best iPhone ever.
Microsoft Office works everywhere, including places where macOS and Windows do not, and, for those who need such productive power, that’s a good thing.
Then what’s the difference?
Microsoft is not much on disruptive innovation while Apple has an entire industry track record littered with examples of disruptive innovation that changes markets. Ask yourself, ‘What has Microsoft done that disrupted an entire industry?‘ I can think of a few. MS-DOS. Windows. Office. I could let you put Xbox on the list, but that device is less disruptive and far less profitable than the others.
What about Apple?
The list is long. Apple II, Mac, iMac, Apple Stores, iTunes (Rip. Mix. Burn). iPod. iTunes Music Store, iPhone, iPad, Watch; to name a few that disrupted markets during the same time period.
Microsoft’s foray into PC hardware is hardly a market disrupting event. It’s like naming Andre Dawson MVP in 1987 when his team finished in last place. Had my father– who told me the story– played on the Cubs’ team instead of Dawson, last place would still have been the result.
Yet, here we are, five years since Apple’s co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs death, and what has Apple done– again– that disrupted an industry?
Apple’s only truly new market disruption under Tim Cook came three years after Jobs’ death, but wasn’t released until 2015 and it took until 2016 to make Watch a truly delightful-to-use device topped only by Rolex in the industry.
Much of the tech world is devoted to criticizing the past and various players, while heralding as the next great thing something that turns out not to be so great. Disruptive innovations do not arrive on a schedule every year. But they arrive. When Microsoft changes a product category with a disruptive innovation, let’s applaud. But until that happens, pomp and circumstance does not a disruptive new product make.