Device vs Ecosystem Innovation
I was initially very excited for the Microsoft Surface. But once I came down to reality I realized price and apps are going to be crucial to its success. I did however notice a very different strategy from Microsoft. Microsoft has been making various computing peripherals over the years mice, keyboards etc. But this announcement was different. To me Microsoft decided they needed to radically change how they communicated with their hardware partners. They put their money where their mouth is and they developed their own Surface prototype. And based on the presentation given, in my mind this product was designed to shake their partners awake from their design “daze” as it were in order to show them how they want the hardware to perform as opposed to just telling them nicely. I also noticed while using Windows 8 consumer preview that Windows is becoming the operating system that I always wanted. I have envisioned for a long time a computer that would synchronize all my settings and files when I logged into that machine regardless of machine or machine form factor. And this is where I see the road dividing once again between Microsoft and Apple. Apple has wonderful industrial design, but I have never felt comfortable using a Mac OSX. Seeing the feature set of iOS 6 and the iOS evolution has shown me that Apple’s innovation perspective revolves around hardware. And they are great at it. But I have always believed that non-technical people really don’t care what device they are using, but in fact just want to get work done or play a game or write a paper. As technologists it is easy to fall in love with a piece of hardware. But normal people usually don’t intrinsically love technology — rather they see it as a tool that allows them to be productive or to have fun. I realized that Microsoft’s strategy isn’t to make the device you are using invisible which Apple is so great at but rather Microsoft is attempting to make all computing devices: phones, tablets, desktops, laptops disappear. They are saying: regardless of the device you are using or where you are using it — the stuff you need to be productive in life is right at your fingertips.
Microsoft is trying to make an entire ecosystem of computing devices disappear so you never have to compromise something based on the device you are using.
Microsoft’s strategy has the potential to be much more valuable than Apple’s device-based approach. Their task is in no way easy — price and app availability will be key factors in the success or failure of the Surface. I have no doubt the battle will be fun to watch.