Late on Sept. 22, a report from Gizmodo showed off what the blog claims is Microsoft’s tablet prototype. Dubbed Courier, it features a day-planner-like look, it works with a stylus and, according to the publication, it sports dual 7-inch screens. There’s little debating that this is exciting news for those who were expecting something big in the tablet space.
But it also underscores what I think is an interesting trend: Microsoft is becoming more like Google and Apple. The software company that once ruled the industry is now finding unique, innovative ways to not only mimic what the competition is doing, but in some cases, improve upon it. That’s a new vision for Microsoft. It’s a new way of doing business. And, ironically, it might just help the company achieve even greater success.
Microsoft’s Courier prototype is the latest example of Microsoft trying to do more than provide software to consumers and the enterprise. It’s also Microsoft’s latest example of taking a few pages out of Apple’s book.
Granted, Apple has yet to even announce the highly anticipated tablet that has been the subject of so many rumors over the past few months. But the very fact that Microsoft is even getting into the PC business is shocking. For years, the company has offered peripherals, but that was where it stopped. It allowed companies like Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Acer to sell the computers.
It worked. And it helped Microsoft make billions. But if Microsoft releases Courier, the company will be doing what it hasn’t done: release a neat, “next-gen” product that Apple might also be releasing in the near future. Cool hardware is Apple’s niche. Now, it looks like it could be Microsoft’s niche too.
The Apple focus doesn’t quite end with Courier. Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 6.5 and Windows Mobile 7 promise to take on Apple’s iPhone far more effectively than the platform has up to this point. According to Microsoft, Windows Mobile 6.5 will improve upon certain areas of Windows Mobile 6, but it will be Windows Mobile 7 that will be the company’s next big release in the marketplace. That operating system promises to have some of the features that make consumers desire the iPhone. So far, though, Microsoft has stayed relatively tight-lipped about exactly what the software will offer.
Regardless, we do know that it will be Microsoft’s attempt at taking down the iPhone. It will be supplemented with Windows Marketplace for Mobile, a mobile app store that will launch later this year.
Seeking Signs of Fundamental Change
At a developer conference earlier in 2009, Microsoft told those in attendance that offering apps for free or 99 cents wasn’t what the company was looking for. It wants developers to charge “what the apps were really worth.” This was a shot at Apple, which has enjoyed strong support for its App Store by offering so many free or cheap apps.
Microsoft’s App Store will launch later this year with an obvious mission: to do what Apple does, but do it a little better.
The same can be said for Microsoft’s focus with Windows 7. Although the company is in a dominating position in the operating system market, Apple has done a fine job of delivering an experience that Windows Vista can’t quite match. Mac OS X is extremely user-friendly. It boots up in no time. And for the most part it works quite well. Windows Vista suffers from issues that limit many of those functions on the PC.
But with the release of Windows 7, all that will change. Windows 7 now looks quite similar to Mac OS X. It operates with readily available icons, like Mac OS X. And the software’s taskbar makes it much easier to sift through open windows than on Mac OS X. I don’t think it’s outrageous to say Microsoft was inspired by Apple’s software. Once again, Microsoft saw its target, examined it and did what it could to improve it to benefit the user.
We can also find similarity to Google in Microsoft’s strategy in the search engine space. Although Bing’s market share is nowhere near Google’s, Microsoft has done a fine job of delivering an experience that’s both similar to Google and more innovative than the leader.
Bing has the simple search page with a prominent search box, making it intuitive for people to input a query. Its search results are similar to Google’s. But where Bing improves upon Google Search is in all the extras, like social search feature Bing & Ping, and visual search. In both cases, Microsoft once again took what the competition was doing and improved upon it. So far, it has worked-the company has captured about 10 percent market share in the space.
So what does all this mean? Perhaps it means that Microsoft has changed. Years ago, Microsoft did what it wanted and expected everyone to follow. Today, the company is more aware of the competition, realizes what those companies are doing right and is doing everything it can to improve upon that. As a result, Windows 7 is highly anticipated, Bing is gaining ground and there’s a possibility that Microsoft’s Courier could be a hardware success.
It’s an exciting time for Microsoft. And ironically, Microsoft might have the competition to thank for it.