By Greg Mills
As a long term observer of the two companies, the differences between the Microsoft marketing style and Apple's approach couldn't be more stark. I submit that the differences are a lot of what has seen Apple soar while Microsoft flounders. Following-the-leader assumes you will never really get ahead of the leader, at least while playing that game.
Microsoft announces plans to do things, while Apple only announces things already being shipped from China to the US. Desperate to get positive press, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's tongue often dangles like a dog with its head out the car window, constantly spills the beans on what they have planned, rather than what they have actually accomplished. Even the portion of the tech press favorable to Microsoft joke about the constant bragging about future products that consistently fail to measure up to the hype.
Microsoft's success at marketing the PC operating system amounts to a franchise that is beginning to show its end stage. With 90% of the PC operating system business, Ballmer has run Microsoft into the ground with a profound lack of insight into what lies ahead. The now famous quotation, "this is the post-PC era," didn't come from Ballmer ,who's livelihood depends on PCs, it came from the late Steve Jobs, whose company had already diversified into the hottest electronic markets.
Bill Gate stated in one of his more inspirational moments: "The company that fails to obsolete its own products, is doomed to see the competition do it." Not only has Microsoft failed to enter the mobile computer market, smartphone market and cloud computer markets in a timely fashion, they tend to consistently offer a stodgy product when they do offer such products. There is no zing to anything they do anymore. Even with decent hardware and operating systems, the lack of apps is killing the new Surface computer. Apple -- simply by selling the iPad mini -- is likely to pull the rug out from under the Surface tablet's market.
The cash cow PC operating system upgrade path seems to have dwindled with a combination of irrelevant incremental improvements in PCs recently and a general fatigue in PC users upgrading their software. The ever more bloated PC software, with ever more irrelevant features, has hit the wall. PC sales are slowing so much, a lot of the fringe players have begun to lose money. Some of the biggest PC makers are likely considering getting out of the business.
At the same time all this is happening in the PC space, mobile computing, as in smartphones and tablet computers, has taken off. Microsoft ought to have owned the market share in the mobile computing market that Apple does not control, but a few years ago Microsoft (Ballmer), slept at the switch while Google stole the bacon.
While many people find Apple fanboys' fascination with Apple amusing, Microsoft has its share of tech writers with endless enthusiasm for the latest vaporware Ballmer hints at. Never mind the Kin phone that lasted six weeks before being canned, the Zune ... and so on. Ballmer has just announced that Microsoft is planning to follow the Surface tablet (which seems to have belly flopped) with another Microsoft branded smartphone. Being four or five years late to the party isn't fashionable, it is absolutely disastrous in the tech industry.
Jobs once stated that Microsoft doesn't need to fail for Apple to succeed. I am afraid that while that statement may be true for those two companies, I am of the opinion that Google's Android platform must fail for Microsoft's mobile aspirations to ever get above the irrelevant status it now holds.
Ballmer may buy his way into the hardware market by buying Nokia. It is a cinch that the people at Microsoft are clueless, and outside help will be required to actually enter the mobile computing hardware business and capture a significant market share. Time will tell if money alone can buy enough of a market and brain power to sustain Microsoft in the post-PC era.
That is Greg's Bite.