God bless those tech journalists that write about the demise of evil giants like Microsoft. Really. As a long-time Apple fan I find it somewhat vindicating that I trusted my instincts when Mac OS X was first released, abandoning my pursuit of learning tech via Microsoft programs and instead delving into the ins and outs of Apple’s operating system.
Kurt Eichenwald, writing for Vanity Fair, is one of those tech journalists that recently published a “Microsoft is doomed” article. The big story that’s permeated the Internet the last few days has been the realization that the iPhone (and only the iPhone) is now outselling Microsoft’s entire business (yes, XBox, Office, and the OS).
The numbers are facts, something that even the most rabid Microsoft fanboy cannot deny. When I was graduating high school, the numbers were reversed, something I could not deny at the time, but was made very aware of in any nerdy conversation with a Microsoft loyalist.
Eichenwald, though, takes the easy way out, attributing the rise of Apple (and the subsequent fall of Microsoft) to a factor of “coolness”.
I cannot disagree with this any stronger. Eichenwald’s assumption is that executives at Microsoft were once the “cool kids”, knocking IBM from the throne with the neatest computing option on the planet, and now Apple is doing the same to Microsoft — out cooling them.
First of all, Microsoft rose to success in the 90′s because Bill Gates was a shrewd and ruthless businessman who understood that licensing his OS to hardware manufacturers would ensure a quick gain in market share. IBM was a corporate giant that was stuck in the mud as Gates made his moves and lost because of its inability to innovate itself.
None of that was predicated on cool. I don’t recall kids shaving Microsoft logos into their heads, getting Office icons tattooed on their bodies, or Windows stickers on every other automobile rear window. It was just a great business move by a great business mind.
Fast forward to current and Eichenwald is telling us that Apple is out-cooling Microsoft and is “winning” because of it.
I don’t buy it. Microsoft fell victim to satisfying money-grubbing investors instead of focusing on creating products that fit the needs (both realized and yet-to-be-realized) of the consumers. Apple, on the other hand, had always maintained that philosophy. The iPod was the first sign that Microsoft had lost touch with the emerging consumer electronics world and Apple had its finger on the pulse.
Was the iPod made because it was cool? No. It was made because the existing products in that space were crap and Apple (Steve Jobs) decided that digital music players would be a great umbrella for his Mac lineup. The decision paid off, the iPod was one of the most successful consumer electronics product to date, and Apple’s rise began.
Microsoft, on the contrary, hired Steve Ballmer to replace Bill Gates atop the chain and innovation came to a sudden halt. None of this having anything to do with cool.
Since the iPod, the Mac has been slowly but surely creeping up in market share, though its profit share is much more impressive. The iPhone was released to Ballmer (and almost every other tech giant that is now in shambles) saying it would never work. Microsoft failed to innovate, released Vista (a joke of an OS if ever there was one), and waited what seemed like an eternity to decide that getting in the phone game would make sense. Apple released the iPad. Microsoft released… what? Nothing yet.
Most of us remember all that. And yet, so many tech journalists want to attribute Apple’s successes to “cool”. They are cool, yes, but the success didn’t start with Steve Jobs or anyone else at Apple saying, “let’s make it cooler than Microsoft.”
Apple is successful because it identifies what consumers want, what they need, and what they will need. Apple then takes that information and comes up with a way to integrate those wants and needs that gives its users the best possible experience. Apple also manages to create these products in a way that allows for tremendous profit margins. Its software is better. Its hardware is better. Its services are better. Its content is better.
Apple did not win because it is cool. It is cool because it won. And it won because it is the best.
Of course, there will always be a place for low-cost, mediocre quality PCs, phones, tablets, and other consumer electronics. There will always be money to be made on knock-off devices and similar services. But, Apple’s hold on consumer experience is unmatched and unwavering and unlikely to budge.
Cool is a rating you get by giving the people what they want and the people responding. That’s why we have Apple tattoos, stickers, and haircuts. That’s why Apple fans wait in lines all night for phones. It’s because the products are made for them, not for investors or shareholders. Did Apple out-cool Microsoft? No, they beat them in business by creating customer-focused products that continue to innovate. And that’s cool.