Apple, Microsoft

Apple’s OS union is Microsoft’s missed opportunity

For years Microsoft has been the de facto desktop operating system. Now Apple is using its mobile devices to steal market and mindshare.

Pundits have long expected Apple to integrate its desktop and mobile operating systems; however, recent announcements at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) show that the company is doing far more than borrowing user interface elements. After some tentative starts, Apple has embarked on a full-scale integration between the company’s phone and desktop devices. With new releases of the software powering each, your laptop will soon be answering phone calls, and your phone will share text messages with your desktop, allowing you to fire off a missive from your MacBook to a colleague’s Android smartphone using standard text messaging. While not totally unexpected, the depth of integration is fairly impressive, and doubly so since I couldn’t help wondering during the announcements: why hadn’t Microsoft done this?

A constantly unfinished puzzle

By nearly any metric, Microsoft was years ahead of Apple in the smartphone and tablet space. While Apple was restructuring a fractured business and “playing” with handheld devices in the form of the Newton, Microsoft had produced several generations of its own PDA, and eventually a full-fledged smartphone that was feature rich, but failed to build a compelling user interface around its advanced feature set. Over half a decade before the iPhone launched, a lifetime in mobile technology, Microsoft was introducing tablets, only to be wiped off the face of the map by the iPad. Microsoft’s most obvious advantage in the mobile space was its dominance of the desktop.

If anyone built a mobile device that integrated tightly with the desktop, it should have been Microsoft.

Technology versus usability

While Microsoft may have missed a historic opportunity, more recently the company has been touting its merging of significant portions of its mobile and desktop code. Even user interface elements have begun to cross-pollinate, with the “modern” user interface that first appeared in Windows Phone featuring prominently on desktops and tablets. However, this technical integration is indicative of Microsoft’s larger problem.

As a company, Microsoft’s Achilles’ heel has been an inability to fully integrate different elements of its computing empire, and to present a user experience tailored to the task at hand, not pounded into a contrived, pre-existing Windows metaphor. From the Start button and stylus on a mobile phone, to its most recent technical integration of its environments that completely lacks in end-user benefit, Microsoft is missing the boat on developing a holistic computing experience. Frankly, I don’t care if my desktop and smartphone are running completely incompatible code from totally different vendors, as long as they’ll share information and work seamlessly together.

The Switzerland of computing?

While Microsoft may have missed this opportunity for its own devices, it still represents a key player in the overall computing landscape, and the long-predicted “demise of Windows” is likely several years away, if it occurs at all. An integrated experience between Microsoft smartphones and Windows desktops won’t meet with much excitement, primarily due to the limited market penetration of Windows phones. What would be interesting, however, is if Microsoft were to use its desktop dominance to integrate tightly with devices from Apple, Google, and others.

Such integration might seem far-fetched, but Microsoft already does this to an extent, with its Exchange server happily sharing mail, contacts, and calendars between everything from phones and tablets to laptops and web apps. Microsoft also has decades of experience integrating diverse hardware, and producing operating systems that run well on millions of combinations of hardware is no small feat. Just as Apple’s original iPod hit its stride when the company made it available for PCs, Microsoft could accelerate its cloud services and desktop OS, and ultimately make a compelling case for Windows Phone by providing tight integration with several mobile vendors.

In the mid and long terms, “winning” the mobility wars is not going to be about who sells the most devices, especially as computing transitions away from single devices and into a multi-platform, multi-device world. Microsoft has a chance to regain lost ground by tightly integrating its desktop and cloud services with today’s devices, allowing it to define tomorrow’s computing experience.

Kristina Kozlova

Marketing Manager


6 thoughts on “Apple’s OS union is Microsoft’s missed opportunity”

  1. Microsoft has already done this with Windows 8. The Surface Pro is both a laptop and a tablet, something which Apple has yet to do. The challenge Microsoft is facing is that their phone platform, while now quite good, has historically been terrible. And the app landscape is underdeveloped. So the real question is this: will more consumers adopt Apple desktop computing environments because of their iPhone, or will they adopt Microsoft mobile environments because of their desktop/laptop?

    1. You have missed the point. I worked at MS for 15 years and no matter that we were developing it was always developer focused. Windows 8 was disaster because no it was only really designed for touch and they did not have the design talent at apple. If you read the press or know anyone in MS you would figure out they are totally rebooting the interface and focusing on enterprise users. They lost the consumer market and can never catch-up. So back to my first point. iOs is the first platform people develop for and MS is left as fringe mobile player and the desktop will suffer.

      1. One thing we can always count on in tech: no one stays the king for long… and a dethroned king can come back. Technically Microsoft has always been more of a Jack of Clubs, but I’m not counting a rebound out. I think they know where the errors were.

  2. The author is misinformed. She needs to actually try Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 to see the true high degree of connectivity and interoperability. I get the sense from this factually incorrect article that she hasn’t.

  3. I find this article really annoying. Apple’s OS union is seen as something very exciting. But, MS have already done that, with Windows 8.1/Windows Phone 8.1, and, as long as you code in HTML5/JS, there is some cross-over to the XBOX also.

    For too many people, everything Apple does is great and everything MS does is stupid.

    I agree that the quality of integration and the final product from MS is often not up to scratch (for example not having a modern version of office when they introduced Win8 in the first place (or for a long time afterwards)), but people need an open mind and to stop just whacking MS all the time.

    The article does hint at the real problem for MS… people have iPADs and Android tablets, and they have them because the choice of apps on Win8 sucks. They would like to integrate those apps with their desktop machines, which means staying in a family of OS’s instead of cross-pollinating. Personally I would love a Chrome-cast device, but since my tablets and phones are all Windows, what’s the point. Yes, you can cast from chrome running on your Win device, but, it sucks. So the article has some good points in it. But, the author is really just repeating the same old same old… Apple is great and MS is terrible. I’m fed up reading it. I don’t care if it’s true… I’d just like to read something new.

    Personally I think the Win OS is much easier to use than Mac OS, and has been since XP. And I love the Win8.1 phone. As for Win8.1, well, I think there is a problem there in that the modern apps compete with desktop apps and most devices are (or should be) Intel anyway, and the desktop will work, there is less justification in writing modern apps. Universal apps that will work on your phone too, are a great idea. But, we need carriers to update everyone to Win8.1 before that becomes a reality. And we also need more people buying Win devices so that the market justifies creating modern apps.

    NOTE: MS needs to get XAML/C# working for XBOX as they’re still giving a poor position to developers who have to dev in HTML5/JS if they want something that will work on all 3 platforms.

  4. “But, MS have already done that, with Windows 8.1/Windows Phone 8.1, and, as long as you code in HTML5/JS, there is some cross-over to the XBOX also…..”

    And that is EXACTLY why the article is on point. No one cares what you code in, just that the thing works and does what you need it to in a way that is intuitive and coherent. I say that as a big fan of Windows Phone who is totally let down by Windows 8. Give people the same consistency offered by OSX and IOS and then we can have some real competition.

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