The strategy of MacOS/iOS vs. Windows 8

Posted by Rob Enderle

Apple and Microsoft are fielding two very different interfaces at the moment, with Cupertino using platform differences to accelerate change.

Clearly, iOS is the new way of doing things and MacOS represents the days of desktop yore. Meanwhile, Microsoft is repeating what it did with Windows 95 with Windows 8 by effectively providing a bridge where the new goodies are prominently displayed on the fresh UI, while last-gen programs or features are relegated to the old interface.   

The strategy of MacOS/iOS vs. Windows 8Frankly, getting people to change is often a bitch. What makes this all even more interesting is that both Apple and Microsoft will be competing with each other as each presents their own strategy for OS and UI evolution. 

In addition, Microsoft is essentially hedging with Windows RT - offering buyers a choice of either using the bridge product (Windows 8) or an all new OS (Windows RT).  

The Risk

We all realize that a lot is riding on this. If the Apple method is preferred, then Windows buyers will probably stick with Windows 7 and their old PCs and buy Windows RT - giving Nvidia a huge win over Intel. If they prefer the blended approach, ARM products will be the new Netbook while Intel holds. 

Of course, the frightening choice for all players is buyers who prefer Cupertino's approach and end up purchasing their devices from Apple - effectively handing Microsoft, Intel and Nvidia a loss if they jump on the new 7" iPad Mini form factor and continue buying standard iPads.

One thing is for certain - change always presents challenges for all involved parties. While choice is typically positive for consumers, the above-mentioned choices may be confusing, which could possibly prompt buyers to save their money until a later date or buy something new like a TV or car instead.  

Now you might think Google and Android or the Chrome OS would play some role in all of this, but neither operating systems have been real players in the tablet or PC space, meaning, they will likely just add to the overall sense of confusion. 

Hardware/Brand Confusion

I recently managed to score a look at some of the hardware hitting physical and virtual shelves in the 3rd and 4th quarter. A lot of it is non-touch and the best laptop product in market - at least from a design standpoint - is the MacBook Pro. This is because it is a perfect touchpad laptop without a touch screen and a touch operating system.  

Sure, there will undoubtedly be a number of tablet hybrids, but there isn’t necessarily a lot of consistency in the designs. Buyers will likely struggle with their decision and hybrids come at a premium, a pretty stiff premium indeed. So if you combine higher risk with a higher price, well, you probably won’t move a lot of volume.  

On the tablet side, consumers will be faced with Intel (x86) and Nvidia (ARM) based tablets approaching, matching, or beating (depending on vendor and configuration) iPad prices. On the premium side? Microsoft’s indigenously designed Surface Tablets.   

Now I obviously understand that Microsoft covets a product line capable of competing head to head with the iPad, but I'm almost certain buyers will struggle with the decision to purchase a product from a licensee like Dell, Acer, or Lenovo and going directly to Microsoft.   

In addition, Microsoft has never been positioned as a premium brand - so this will be sort of like Mazda taking BMW on directly - a scenario that obviously won't end well. Yes, the Surface Tablets will probably be the best in the Windows 8 class, but if they don’t convey the status of a luxury offering, like the iPad does, I doubt they’ll be able to perform at the expected premium price level.

Touch

I’ve really taken to Metro (or the Windows 8 UI as it is becoming known) for a tablet or phone, as the UI  really is faster and easier. Nevertheless, I haven’t been able to get the same experience from a laptop or desktop computer. I use multiple monitors and recently started using a large Logitech touchpad rather than a mouse, but as some of you undoubtedly know all too well, it isn’t exactly an easy learning experience.  

Now this may be because I have decades of experience using the mouse. Or perhaps it is due to the fact that the touchpad isn’t yet optimized for multiple screens - although I’ve never had this issue with any prior version of Windows. Even with an All-In-One the screen has to be closer than I normally have it to make touch work well, but once the desk is reconfigured/replaced touch actually comes naturally (this is only with one screen).  

I can see the industry eventually moving to a huge panoramic touch screen or perhaps multiple touch screens, but end users are still going to be limited by reach. As such, I think we are going to need another way to do this - or find a better way of tiling screen views, thus eliminating the need for multiple displays.

Once you start using touch you’ll find (as many iPad users already have) you develop a habit of wanting to touch the screen which can get pretty annoying particularly if the person who has this habit is trying to use your non-touch laptop. It is very intuitive, a bit more fun, and natural but switching back and forth from touch to mouse isn’t - which could make the transition quite ugly indeed.   

Wrapping Up:   Windows 8 vs. iOS vs. Windows RT

You really can’t compare Windows 8 to Windows 95 or Vista because it is a very different beast. This is probably most similar to moving from DOS to Windows, because that was a massive UI change (command line to GUI) and it didn’t initially go all that well. Remember, human beings as a species are really quite wary of change. Now I personally believe touch is the future and I think the way Apple got there may be a better model: cleanly - on new hardware designed for Touch (iPads) rather than the bridge method Microsoft is using.  

My experience with business technology has always taught me clean cuts between old and new technology, while more painful initially, are also more successful. Of course, I recognize the fact that  gradual migrations are far more common, as most companies are simply incapable of quickly moving between the old and new.

In the end, this may be a real test to see who owns the PC market (including tablets) this decade. If it is business, rather than consumer, then Microsoft has likely made the right choice. Apple is obviously on the consumer side, Microsoft on business with a Windows RT hedge. So in the end, the success of the above-mentioned strategies are obviously contingent upon whether business or consumers are driving the new PC/Tablet market.