In 2006, Microsoft’s operating system had a desktop and notebook monopoly. They were also one of the leading smartphone makers – the favorite to dominate that category for the next decade.
In 2010, Apple introduced the iPad. Microsoft had just spent an entire decade trying, and failing, to create the tablet category. Apple created that new category in less than three months. Why did Apple succeed where Microsoft had so utterly failed?
History will show, Bill Gates was so very close to getting it right as he forsaw the coming of tablets long, long before others did. But Bill thought of tablets as a way to make desktop operating systems more mobile. If you want to move a mouse-driven desktop operating system to a tablet, the only way to do it is with a stylus. A stylus is required to provide the pixel specific input that a mouse driven operating system demands.
There are (at least) four reasons why the Apple’s tablet succeeded: a) instant on; b) all day battery life; c) a Touch (finger) Operating System; and d) because it cast the magical Apple spell. Of those four, I would contend that the loyal iFans led the charge and evangelised the experience BUT the shift from Hi Tech to Hi Touch really meant the Operating system was the most important, by far. Apple realized that a new form factor required a new input solution. and they realized that a new input solution required a wholly new Operating System.
This is the one great lesson of the iPad: A tablet requires a touch operating system built specifically for the form factor. In the Spring of 2010 you could be forgiven for not seeing this. Few people did actually many Apple supporters bemoaned the fact that Apple had choosen to go with iOS rather that a “real” operating system like OS X on Apple’s upcoming tablet.
You could also be forgiven for not seeing this one great truth in the Spring of 2011. But it would be utter folly not to see it today. And yet, that appears to be exactly what Ballmer is doing. He continues to maintian that the world is flat even as his competition circumnavigates the globe. He continues to maintain that a tablet requires a desktop Operating System optimized for the form factor rather than acknowledging that a tablet requires an Operating System that is uniquely its own.
So now it’s 2011 and from Microsoft’s perspective, what do you have? The first thing you have is the loss of your monopoly. Windows Operating System – both your Golden Goose and your impregnable fortress that could not be breached – has been flanked. Apple didn’t attack Windows – they simply bypassed it by creating an alternative Operating System. I’ll bet that if you went back to 2006 you wouldn’t have found 100 people who would have said that it was possible to create a brand spanking new Operating System that could successfully compete with Windows. And I’ll further bet that half of those people who said that it could be done, worked for Apple.
The second thing you have is a competing Operating System that is so different from your own that any software that runs on it must be built anew from the ground up. And that means that your other Golden Goose, the Windows Office Suite, is no longer the de facto standard. How can it be when it does not – and more importantly CAN NOT – run on iOS or ANY Operating System suitable for a tablet?
So wither Microsoft? They can try to catch up – a herculean task that they seem unsuited for – or they can go in a different direction. So long as Ballmer heads Microsoft, I think that Microsoft will stay the course and try to catch up. And that is why I don’t think Ballmer will be heading Microsoft for very much longer.