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  • Here We Go Again: First Apple, Then Microsoft

    December 22nd, 2011

    It stands to reason that Microsoft has spent years trying to emulate what Apple does. Sometimes they accomplish the move with great success, with Windows being a notable example. Although many of the ideas for Windows came from the Mac OS, Microsoft did a better marketing job for a mostly inferior product, and hence earned over 95% of the global market. These days, Windows market share has eroded somewhat, basically at the expense of migration to Macs, but few would suggest that Apple will ever gain dominance.

    In keeping with that tradition, when Apple introduced the iPod, it didn’t take very long before Microsoft introduced the Zune. Typical of a Microsoft product, the Zune was a couple of years behind the iPod. Typical of Microsoft, they promised the next version would be better, but so was the iPod, so the Zune kept playing catch up. But it never did, and Microsoft couldn’t fool the public into accepting an inferior product. So Apple won the digital music player wars, such as they were.

    With mobile phones, Microsoft has never dominated, and Windows Phone languishes at the expense of the iOS and Android. Even the fading BlackBerry does better nowadays. But Microsoft never gives up, so they took the failed Zune interface, dubbed it “Metro,” and they’re busy adding it to Windows 8.

    Now over the years, Microsoft has touted other products as being a potential next great thing, quite often during company keynotes at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which is held in early January. That’s where most tech companies introduce their latest goodies, such as 3D TVs, smartphones, tablets and other stuff. Well, except for Apple, which has never, ever considered a presence at CES. Indeed, in recent years, Apple has timed product or service announcements to supplant the CES.

    For many years, you could depend on the Macworld Expo for a keynote from a key Apple executive — for years it was Steve Jobs himself — announcing a new Mac, iPod or some other marvelous product.

    But Apple eventually changed their tune.

    First it was the Macworld Expo in Boston. The concert promoters, IDG World Expo, decided to move the event to New York City, hoping the Big Apple would attract bigger crowds. But it didn’t take long for the higher expenses and red tape to consume the Expo planners, so they decided to return to Boston. But Apple balked, and simply quit the event. It didn’t take long for the east coast Macworld to vanish.

    In 2009, Apple pulled out of the San Francisco event as well, asserting that the event didn’t necessarily coincide with their own product development schedules. Besides, they could get far more media attention by staging special press events, accompanied in-store demonstrations at an Apple Store. People didn’t have to travel across the country or around the world to go to a singular event devoted to Apple products.

    Yes, there is still a Macworld Expo, although it’s now known as the Macworld/iWorld Expo. Attendance and vendor support was decent enough for the first two years to sustain another event, but it’s not at all certain how the thing will fare beyond 2012 what with trade shows, in general, no longer being the venue of choice for consumer companies that sell their stuff around the world.

    Indeed, that may happen with the CES next.

    For years, Microsoft used the CES to announce new products, or demonstrate future “innovations.” Microsoft’s executives, originally Bill Gates and later Steve Ballmer, would tout the technology du jour, such as tablets. Each and every year, for example, you were told that tablets were the next great things. Yes, that has happened, but it took Apple and, it seems, Amazon to get the public to take them seriously.

    As of this week, Microsoft has decided that trade shows are no longer their thing. The 2012 CES will be the last for Microsoft. According to corporate spinner Frank X. Shad, corporate vice president of corporate communications (yes, the redundant title is accurate): “We’ll continue to participate in CES as a great place to connect with partners and customers across the PC, phone and entertainment industries, but we won’t have a keynote or booth after this year because our product news milestones generally don’t align with the show’s January timing.”

    In other words, they’ll do private meetings, but not public sessions.

    To me it almost sounds as if Microsoft is once again following Apple’s playback. Indeed, they plan to stage their own media events for future product announcements, and attempt to leverage the social networking universe through Face-book and Twitter. But certainly not Google+.

    More to the point, you have to wonder how many members of the media will travel hundreds or thousands of miles to receive a briefing about the latest and greatest from Microsoft. Do they truly believe they can garner anywhere near the attention generated by Apple whenever they hold an event of this sort?

    No, I do not believe that Microsoft will get nobody, but the level of coverage won’t approach Apple’s unless they truly find something useful to say.  But you have to wonder if Microsoft will ever try an original approach to receive press coverage, rather than, once again, follow in the footsteps of Apple.



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