Remember Aesop’s fable, the Tortoise and the Hare? If ever there was a 21st century battle that played out the same way it’s Apple vs. Microsoft.
While Microsoft (the hare) slept for the past 15 years, Apple (the tortoise) won the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of people by disrupting staid old industries the old fashioned way. That made Apple the richest company on planet earth, but there is a way Microsoft could return to prominence by beating Apple at its own game.
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Simply put, Microsoft has been asleep since the turn of the century, and though the company has returned to its software writing roots, and seems to embrace the cloud, there’s little in the visible strategy that could unseat Apple.
Here’s the problem. To unseat an industry leader the way Apple toppled retail, owned the portable media player industry, bested competitors with online music sales, reworked both the smartphone and tablet industries requires one of two methods.
How? Apple made better products that were easier to use than leader in each industry. If Microsoft wants back into the mobile device industry it must create better products than Apple, but priced the same. Or, create similar products, but priced much lower.
That’s how it works, folks.
If Microsoft could duplicate an iPhone and iOS, at the atomic level on hardware, and feature parity on software, it could sway customers away from Apple but only if the price of each product, smartphone or tablet, were priced much less than Apple.
Conversely, Microsoft could do as Apple has done many times– make a product substantially better and so obviously easier to use than competitors– but charge the same as Apple. In other words, copy Apple at one level or another, but copy both hardware and software as closely as possible. Or, make hardware and software that is so much better that customers would be willing to switch.
That’s all it would take, but that’s the problem. Apple is a moving target which does not stray from a successful formula. For Microsoft to compete head on against Apple in the premium device segment of smartphones, tablets, or even notebooks, there must be clear differentiation.
The hardware and software could be exactly the same as Apple, but the price would need to be much less; otherwise, why would an Apple customer switch? Or, for Microsoft, both hardware and software would need to do to smartphones, tablets, and notebooks what Apple has done– differentiate clearly on quality hardware, secure and intuitive software– but, unfortunately, at the same price or less. Otherwise, why would an Apple customer switch?
That’s the mathematical conundrum that Microsoft, Samsung, Motorola, HTC, Dell and HP and Apple’s increasingly long list of also-ran competitors face. Beating Apple at its own game is not easy because Apple is so good at that game.