This wouldn’t have happened when Steve Jobs was running Apple. Well, actually, it probably would have, but the language would have been more colorful than what CEO Tim Cook used to describe Microsoft’s latest venture into notebook hardware.
Here’s the deal. Under Steve Jobs, Apple decided to build a ‘big iPhone’ and launched the iPad to raging success which lasted but a few years. The iPad, as good as it is, is in decline, possibly– but not necessarily– because of the Windows hybrid craze. Cook called Microsoft’s newest hybrid notebook ‘deluded.’
Them’s. Fighting. Words.
Apple’s strategic decision was obvious. Build a portable, mobile, iPhone-like device that fits between the entry level MacBook Air (and now, the more expensive MacBook) and the iPhone. The iPad was heralded as the beginning of the post-PC era and for a few years it seemed like it was.
For a few years iPad ruled the mobile device world, then sales started to slide at just exactly the same time Microsoft foisted hybrid devices onto the technology world. A hybrid device runs Windows, but works as both an inexpensive notebook without a keyboard, and a heavier-than-iPad tablet.
That illustrates just how difficult differentiation can be in product marketing. Microsoft didn’t have much choice because it was so far behind in the mobile world dominated by Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS devices, so it doubled-down on Windows, putting the same OS into a tablet as a notebook, then calling the keyboard-less device a hybrid and the best of both worlds. While nobody in the Windows sphere spills out real numbers, most accounts say that the Windows hybrid devices have helped to slow the steady drop in Windows devices.
Microsoft also kicked their manufacturing partners to the curb by contracting to build their own Microsoft branded Surface mobile devices, starting with the expensive and heavy Surface Pro, which essentially is a thin notebook without a keyboard, but with a touchscreen.
The new Surface devices are priced even lower, still without a keyboard, and still called tablets or hybrids, and still run Windows, though on rather anemic hardware which would be embarrassed by a Mac mini running Windows.
After writing off a billion dollars or so on the first batch of Surface devices, sales have begun to pick up and that has enabled Microsoft to feel the fresh air of success, which then led to a new product, the Surface Book, a high end hybrid device with powerful Intel Inside CPUs and a removable touchscreen. That’s different than the less expensive Surface models which do not come with a keyboard, but work the same way– notebooks with a touchscreen and no keyboard.
A Windows hybrid notebook-cum-tablet device compares well in a PowerPoint presentation against either or both MacBook or iPad models. Microsoft calls the Surface Book the ultimate laptop (laptop is from 1999, notebook is 21st century, so Microsoft still remains in the last century) because it’s thin, light, powerful, runs Windows, and it’s a tablet.
Cook on Microsoft’s efforts:
- Trying too hard to do too much
- There certainly are more offerings today, more people trying to create a market, but based on all the data that I’ve been able to see, it is still incredibly small and niche and may not be growing to anything significant
What Cook is saying in the last sentence has to do with numbers. Apple reveals sales units. Name another competing company that does the same. Apple probably subscribes to a number of research companies and it may be that the nascent hybrid device market is much smaller than technorati elite pundits think (or, will admit), or that usage of the devices is far less tablet than notebook.
Whatever the numbers, success is measured in different ways. For example, tech media seem to think the Surface line is an unqualified success for Microsoft (without actual numbers to back up the assertion), while Apple’s Watch is something of a dismal failure although all who guesstimate such numbers indicate that Watch is profitable and has outsold Microsoft’s entire Surface line to date.
Again, some numbers are guesstimates, but even as iPad sales continue to droop and are not necessarily going to gain ground thanks to an expensive and much hyped iPad Pro model, the iPad line dwarfs sales of Microsoft’s own Surface line. That should shed a different life on the success vs. failure thinking.
75-percent of all Macs sold these days are notebooks. The iPad outsells the Mac by about double, despite a steady drop each quarter. The jury remains out as to whether Microsoft’s hybrid strategy will define the mobile notebook-cum-tablet market of the future, or whether Apple’s model of a separate product line will win, but I suspect there will not be a clear cut winner until the profits are counted.
And when it comes to profits, Apple wins.