Smartphones

Hey, Microsoft: Google is the real competitor to beat

Microsoft is missing the mark and foregoing an opportunity to win customers away from the real competition -- Google.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about why I think Microsoft should stop emulating Apple if the company wants to build a bigger market share in the mobile space and keep customers happy in the desktop domain where they already dominate.

It's understandable that the top folks at Microsoft see Apple as their main competitor. After all, Apple is the one that last year surpassed Microsoft in market capitalization. Apple is the one that ran all those nasty but clever commercials directly comparing its suave, cool Mac guy to the fumbling, bumbling PC guy.

Heck, Microsoft and Apple have been direct competitors since Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were nerdy kids fighting over who could best copy the ideas they got from Xerox PARC. (If you're too young to remember those days, kick back with some popcorn and spend an evening with The Pirates of Silicon Valley.)

But, I think in focusing on Apple, Microsoft is missing the mark and foregoing an opportunity to win customers away from the real competition, and -- let's face it -- that's Google.

Apple users are a lost cause

Now, before the lynch mob comes for me over that headline, let me explain what I mean. Of course, there are exceptions, but in general Apple fans tend to be "true believers." They really and truly believe that the house that Jobs built makes products that are superior in every way to the lowly offerings of other technology companies. That makes them an extraordinarily loyal bunch.

No matter how great a Microsoft product is, you aren't going to be able to convince most hardcore Apple fans to even try it out, much less switch. They feel the same contempt for Linux and Android. If it is not magical and revolutionary (or even if it is, but it doesn't have the Apple logo on it), they don't want to be bothered with it.

Apple products are different. You either love those differences or you don't. Those who do are going to be sticking with them. Those who don't are already using something else -- and if that something else isn't a Microsoft product, it's probably made by Google.

Google users are more pragmatic

I know a lot of people who love their Android phones, but I've never heard any of them say "I would never buy a phone that's not Android" (whereas I've heard many iPhone lovers proclaim their undying devotion). There are undoubtedly some Android loyalists, but in general I think those who use Google's products tend to be more open to trying new things and will go with whatever works for them, without regard for brand loyalty. I think most of those who are using Google products can be won over if Microsoft creates a product that does the job better.

Google is giving people what they want

Google is doing well right now because they're giving a whole lot of people the functionalities and features they want. Android was able to overtake the iPhone because it provided some key things that Apple wasn't giving its users:

Choice

Google knows that one size doesn't fit all, and they licensed their phone and tablet operating systems to many different vendors that could add their own touches, use different hardware designs, and otherwise create Android devices that aren't all just alike. While this so-called fragmentation has been a favorite point for Android critics, the stunning success of the Android phone platform (and the inroads that are beginning to be made by Android tablets) attests to the fact that many, many users want choice.

Microsoft is trying to play "best of both worlds" here, licensing the OS to different vendors but exerting a lot of control over what they can do with it. That middle-of-the-road approach may prove to be a good one; it certainly beats Apple's "one design to rule them all" model.

Freedom

I choose Android over the iPhone and Windows Phone because I have more freedom to do what I want. I can install apps that I download from the Web as well as those I get in the Android Market. I can hook my phone up to my computer via USB and transfer files. I can change the look of my home screens to suit my preferences and mood. I can't do any of that with a Windows Phone.

If Microsoft were competing only with Apple, RIM, and Symbian in the mobile phone market, I would be using a Windows Phone right now. But because I have the option to get an Android smartphone and operate outside the walled garden, I do.

Features

Let's broaden our focus from just phones and look at some of Google's other offerings. The company has its fingers in so many pies, it's hard to keep track, and (like Microsoft) they have a bad habit of sometimes rolling out products and then abandoning them if they don't catch on quickly. But they're constantly adding new features to make for more functionality.

Let's take Google Voice, for instance. Why doesn't Microsoft have a service like that? Sure, you can get similar functionality with Lync -- if you have a corporate Lync server or subscribe to Office 365. But if they're serious about the whole phone thing, they should offer phone users a service that lets them consolidate their phone numbers, switch calls from one phone to another during a call, and (my absolute favorite part of Google Voice) transcribe voice mail messages to text email messages.

The irony is that those transcriptions are often not very good, especially if the speaker has a foreign accent or nonstandard dialect. If Microsoft could do the same thing but do it better, they could woo me and others away from Google Voice to their own service.

How to compete

Competing with Google requires a different strategy from the one used to compete with Apple. It means being more open and less controlling. It means embracing user choice and customization. In other words, it means going back to some of the design philosophies that made Windows successful in the past.

Windows Phone 7 (and possibly Windows 8) seems to be headed in the opposite direction. However, it doesn't mean just going back to business as usual. It means thinking big and taking chances -- something that Microsoft has done with the new Metro UI.

To successfully compete with Google, Microsoft should find a way to combine what's best about the Apple way (big, bold, innovative ideas), what's best about Google (freedom, choice, openness) and what's best about Microsoft itself (patience, persistence, the ability to keep fine-tuning until it's right). It's pretty simple, really: Take a look at the services and products Google is offering, and do it better. That's how to win over those who are carrying Android phones, using Google Apps, communicating via Gmail, managing their phones and voicemail with Google Voice, and so forth.

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About

Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 add...

18 comments
cnet
cnet

Deb, I think you are underestimating the antipathy some (very many?) have toward Microsoft. Competitors to MS have their devotees, some out of affection, but others because they simply despise all things MS. You won't easily get them to change,

CrispusNevius
CrispusNevius

1- System's architecture is as always has been a way or at most an attempt to emulate in machine the Human Thinking process. 2 . Microsoft is the worse architecture available. It is based on old Von Newman of the sixties. It means that a memory address can contain either an instruction or data. The hardware does not distinguish between both. It falls onto the software to do so. Software can be cheated . Now we have hundreds of viruses. 3- As far as I know, there is only one architecture that has tagged memory, where hardware refuse to execute data as instruction and vice versa.It was invented by Paul Stanley Barton of Berkeley University in California. Burroughs Corp. made a few implementations. The jew Blumenthal, Secretary of the Treasury on the James Carter Government took over Burroughs and sold it to Sperry (many say it was the other way around), ,The result was that he destroyed twmo Some of Barton's ideas have percolated into Apple, probably via Motorola which supplied to Hardware (Field Programmed Gate Arrays) used in Burroughs A-Series, currently known as Clear Path MCP. Because of costs, Apple is using Intel Processors. I do not believe that it is impossible to write viruses for Apple. It's just more difficult, but if Apple takes over Microsoft more and more will show up. Steve Jobs would certainly meet the challenge, but "God kills its children early, just remember Mozart.. It is baout time that hardware manufacture implement decent architectures and do not leave the job to software people. They cannot, just by themselves, solve the problem.

GRAYSNAKE
GRAYSNAKE

Steve is gone. Apple is lost. Not that MSoft is doing much better, but I feel...yes, feel, that MicroSoft is still a leader. I would agree that they spend too much on lousy marketing....yet if they can pull their collective head out of their asses they would be able to offer a sound platform and move forword. Thanks for the shout...g

oneoar51
oneoar51

Gosh , perhaps each of the market shares is different and their are enough dollars (pesos) to go around. So Androids re for tinkers, iphone for people who "just works", and Microsoft for the others.

Technist
Technist

Why is everyone so obsessed with bashing Microsoft? Why does everyone think they have to give them a lecture all the time? Apple is getting bigger with crappy iPhones that don't have stable internet connections,drop calls,low battery life...why don't people see this? How is a phone with 2 hours of battery life instead of what is advertized great?

peter.tees
peter.tees

I'm an average middle-aged joe user - I didn't get Android because it offered more choice or had more features. I got it because it was the OS on the best free handset I could get when I renewed by contract with Orange. And I think I'm not alone.

vezycash
vezycash

Freedom is something Microsoft should consider (i guess they have) but Shareholders / stock buyers are irrationally supportive when it comes to companies with about strong web presence Having an alternative indirect income stream (through the app store) would give Microsoft a Google like image (many uninformed users would not know that Ms is getting cut on all app purchases) So I believe their hands are virtually tied right now, all they need is to: Make that Windows 8 Os work without much (vista like) errors. Work better to making developers jump on board for useful and exciting metro apps - if they don't, they'll lose their main market for nothing. Final and most important, make arrangements for cheap windows 8 touch devices to come out - if this does not happen, they won't get 20 percent in 15 years but if they do, 60 percent in 3 years is piece of cake (apple is already taking precautions on this which is evident in low cost of its previous generation touch devices - the indications are already there as it is the right way to go)

Richard Turpin
Richard Turpin

Do you realise how boring these articles are getting? so and so is better than so and so but such and such can never really be competition for so and so! You give the impression that the whole industry will be dumping all equipment and contrivance???s and work from a phone OS! Is there anything else happening in the industry that will interest a real techie? I must say TechRepublic you are not on your own all the other so called tech sites seem to only have journalists who are pontificating phones and their various OS???s. I for one am getting tired of reading about these overpriced simple devices, are there any techie journalists left or do we only have Sales pitches on sites like this. Ok have got it of my chest now!

mark16_15
mark16_15

Just today a was saying that Android is the iPhone as Windows is to the Mac in the PC arena. Android is the more flexible phone OS to iPhone's tighter it simply works phone. Your article is so true. Iin the phone arena MS is just an also ran. MS needs to produce a phone OS which is as good as their PC OS and then they can get back to pretending to compete with Apple.

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

I agree that Google is the real competition. Apple has never wanted to take over the market otherwise they would release a broader range of products (lower end and enterprise friendly). Google targets a range of markets including the enterprise market. If Google is willing and able to provide premium support services to enterprises then I think they could seriously eat into Microsoft's profits. Note about enterprise friendly. Taking your Apple product to a local Mac store is not enterprise support. I have read forums where this appears to be the standard support structure for Mac equipment in the business, but is really unacceptable to larger organizations. Bill

robo_dev
robo_dev

Of course now they do about $30 Billion a year in revenue for products that are all free. Microsoft does about $70 Billion a year revenue from products...none of which are free. In terms of competition, how do you compete with Free? Start paying customers to take your product?

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Do you agree with Debra that Google is where Microsoft's real competition lies?

Technist
Technist

You just hit the nail on the head.I am equally tired of hearing all these apple paid pundits talk about phones day in day out.How can a phone ever replace a computer at this moment? I just need a simple phone that won't drop a call like the iphone does on every opportunity it gets.Creepy crappy devices.

adornoe
adornoe

and, money can only be made when a value is derived from "selling" that service and/or product. Google's services and products are not free. Their revenue is made by their use of people's information and their clicks on their pages and visits to the pages that people visit via Google's services. Just like over the air TV and over the air radio aren't free, Google's services are not free. Somewhere along the line, somebody is paying Google, and that someone is paying Google to market to you via Google. The users of Google's products and services are the real products that Google is selling.

pdegroot
pdegroot

I find it hard to take seriously the suggestion that if MS does what Apple does best, along with what Google does best, and keeps doing what it does best, it will be best of all. Duh. Yes, a deus ex machina can always solve the problem, but divine intervention isn't an actionable strategy. While it's at it, maybe it could do what China does best and what the Yankees do best. These companies' respective strengths are embedded deep in their history, culture, and management. Microsoft doesn't do big bold strategies, never really has (at least since the early '80s,when it realized that software could be a business all by itself, a fairly radical idea at the time), and probably never will under current management. Freedom and choice are anathema to a company that relies on two long-established monopolies to generate 95% of its profits. Basically, you're suggesting that if Microsoft were really different, it would be really different. Thanks for the insight.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

But asking Microsoft to take on some of Google's attributes would require a huge culture shift within Microsoft. I just don't think they can pull that off.

mswift
mswift

I think you are way off base here if you think that Windows and Office provide 95% of MS profits. Those two account for about 1/3 of current MS revenue. On line services, Live products, Server products, developer tools, Dynamics, Entertainment, and Corporate services account for the rest.

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