Microsoft’s announcement event yesterday made Apple’s recent events this year pale in comparison. The grey giant from Redmond has become colorful and creative, and has shown that where innovation is concerned, it has overtaken its mythological competitor for the first time
A short note to “talkbackists” hurrying to the end of the post to respond after reading the entire headline: I have been using Mac for almost 20 years and have had an iPhone since 2007, so you can’t dismiss what I say as coming from some kind of fanatical Microsoft partisan. At my job, I work with computers, tablets, and smartphones that run Windows, Android, and Linux, and I still voluntarily chose to work with macOS and iOS.
Now that I have made it clear where I stand, let’s talk for a minute about yesterday’s Microsoft announcement event.
At a time when we’re eagerly awaiting innovation from Apple – mainly because for years we’ve gotten used to the company setting the tone in technology and coming up with real innovations – if we compare Microsoft’s recent announcement events with those of Apple, we have a clear winner by a knockout. While Microsoft yesterday demonstrated their advanced AR and VR capabilities, together with a stylish device that instantly turns an ordinary desktop computer into a science fiction-like work station, at its recent announcement event, Apple bragged about its “courage” in getting rid of the headphones connector in the iPhone 7.
The “wow” has moved from Cupertino to Redmond
The innovation shown by Apple in its line of products has long been less colorful and more limited than it once was. The “wow” effect that typified the company’s announcement events during the Steve Jobs era has receded. While the company is still making good and reliable products, the innovation has been long gone from Cupertino.
The most exciting and innovative product unveiled by Apple at its recent announcement event was its Airpods headphones, which presented a substantially different user experience compared with competing wireless headphones. The concept itself, however, has already existed for a long time among Apple’s rivals, who have previously demonstrated similar devices. I will also take the opportunity to point out to those of you who have waited patiently for the launching of this product in late October that Apple has officially notified TechCrunch that it was postponing the Airpods launch to an unknown later date.
The iPhone’s design has so far remained unchanged, and its waterproof feature is reaching the market way too late, this time with no real justification as the extra time did not result in any extraordinary development justifying the long wait.
Furthermore, what about the high-speed and wireless charging? These two features, which became standard for Android years ago, are still absent from the iPhone, and it’s not clear why.
Satya Nadella marks a new era for Microsoft
Satya Nadella became CEO of Microsoft in February 2014, bringing the long and tedious reign of Steve Ballmer, his predecessor, to an end. Ballmer led Microsoft for 14 years, during which the company prospered financially, but at the expense of very poor public relations. In 2007, when Apple first unveiled the iPhone, completely upending the world of technology and overthrowing the cellular oligarchy of the time, Ballmer referred derisively to Apple, saying that no one would buy such an expensive smartphone. He was wrong. Very wrong indeed.
He was worse than wrong. Microsoft and Nokia, which ruled the mobile market at the time, lost users quickly to Apple, Google, Samsung, LG, HTC, and others, who realized exactly which way the wind was blowing. Microsoft, together with Blackberry manufacturer RIM, which chose to completely ignore the iPhone and Android, woke up the next day to find that it was no longer relevant.
The spirit that Nadella brought with him was completely different from Ballmer’s. Arrogance gave way to modesty, stagnation to creativity, and most importantly, Microsoft shed its ego and stopped treating its competitors as enemies. Microsoft started taking advantage of its competitors’ strong ecosystem, and bolstered its presence there. Why should it avoid the App Store, when it could conquer it? Microsoft began extending its software and excellent services to iOS and Android users, making a considerable proportion of its services platform-transcendent, and started investing in what it was best at – software – which it also adapted to competing platforms.
The innovation test: Apple Watch versus Hololens
One of the new categories Apple has entered in recent years is smart watches. The company pulled out all of the stops with this gamble. While the Apple Watch is the world’s most popular smart watch, its success cannot be compared to that of the iPhone, iPad, or iPod.
Smart watches still amount to a not-so-successful pilot that refuses to take off. How many people do you know in your neighborhood who have an iPhone or iPad, and how many have an Apple Watch? Smart watches are a solution looking for a problem to solve, which is to say that their development was back-to-front. They provide good functionality for only a small part of our daily use, and at this stage are relevant to a rather niche audience. It is no accident that in Apple’s quarterly financial statements, which list iPhone, Mac, and iPod sales in great detail, the company includes its smart watch in the miscellaneous category order to obfuscate the exact volume of its sales. Apple is selling quite a few watches, but it hasn’t really changed the market, and this product is still responsible for only a negligible proportion of its profits.
Even more importantly, how much innovation is there in the Apple Watch? What real added value and breakthrough does it represent, in comparison with other smart watches in the market?
Now let’s talk about Hololens, Microsoft’s virtual reality headset. They are also designed for a limited niche. Nevertheless, how much innovation do they represent, and how badly do you want to try them out? How much potential do they have? Which of the two products, the Apple Watch and Hololens, would you say generates the “wow” effect?
Don’t give up on Apple yet
So why do I still prefer to use Apple products, rather than those of Microsoft? Apple still makes reliable products with a user experience that in my opinion cannot be beat. Since the company develops its own hardware and software, it necessarily produces a more complete, intuitive, and stable product, and for me, that’s an enormous advantage.
Nevertheless, where innovation is concerned, for me, Apple has lost its championship title this year, not because it is not innovating at all, but because in comparison with its competitors, it is simply trailing behind.