Why Microsoft Should Copy Apple (in Ten Ways)

Wednesday Oct 24th 2012 by Mike Elgan
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The trouble with Microsoft is that it's not copying Apple enough.

Microsoft’s shiny new Surface tablet does not copy the Apple iPad. It doesn’t steal Apple’s intellectual property in either hardware or software. It’s a truly original product. There will be no lawsuits.

Having said that, Microsoft does copy Apple in some ways. For example, had Tablet PC and/or the Ultra Mobile PC initiatives succeeded, or if Apple never succeeded with the iPad, I’m convinced there would be no Microsoft Surface tablet.

Microsoft’s retail store concept is a blatant copy of Apple’s stores, both in the fact of their very existence, and also in overall aesthetics.

Clearly, Microsoft wants what Apple’s got, namely dominance in the mobile space, super high brand affinity, a highly profitable business and high stock valuation as a result primarily of its line of multi-touch iOS products. But most of all, Microsoft wants to be on the rise again, not on the decline.

But in order to have what it wants, Microsoft needs to do a better job copying Apple, and in the following ten ways.

1. Copy Apple’s OS branding simplicity

Windows 8 ships Friday. But wait! There’s more! Microsoft also ships Windows 8 Pro, for power users; Windows 8 Enterprise (for people with jobs), and Windows RT (for tablets). Oh, and you can buy the Windows 8 Pro Pack for upgrading from Windows 8 to Windows 8 Pro.

Two of these versions (Windows 8 Enterprise and Windows RT) aren’t even available to consumers directly.

So why confuse the market with all these versions?

Microsoft should copy Apple’s non-differentiation between versions. It should sell only Windows 8, plus hide the Windows 8 Pro Pack in the install in a way that the power users will find it and grandma will not. And it shouldn’t have a public-facing name for either the Enterprise or RT versions.

That way, consumers would simply use “Windows 8.” Period.

2. Copy Apple’s iMac

Now that Microsoft is in the PC business, Microsoft should build a PC. A desktop PC.

It should be a sleek, all-in-one PC like the iMac. But with with an optical drive built in like the old iMacs, and built-in Kinect for Windows cameras.

And Microsoft should also copy Lenovo, and make the PC tilt down to be usable as a touch-screen PC.

The whole industry will move to touch-based desktops anyway, and Microsoft needs to copy from Apple’s playbook and be the first major company to market with the Next Big Thing.

3. Copy Apple’s targeting of children

Apple deliberately targets children more than anyone except Ronald McDonald. It’s a long-game strategy. Apple has a kids’ table in their Apple Stores, where children play with iPads and get programmed to become Apple fanboys and fangirls. And Apple obsessively targets the education market, creating brand loyalists years before those kids grow up and start buying stuff.

Microsoft needs to do the same -- create play areas in Microsoft stores where kids can play games on Surface tablets, PCs and X-Boxes. And come up with a cheaper version of the Surface for schools, and compete with Apple on education publishing.

4. Copy Apple’s ability to surprise

Microsoft needs to copy Apple’s ability to keep ‘em guessing up to the launch.

Of course, Apple isn’t always able to keep secrets. But it tries hard. And Microsoft should, too. Microsoft needs to grow the discipline to not promise new products for years before disappointing everyone with the delivery.

It should become part of Microsoft’s corporate culture to maintain secrecy around hardware products until the actual launch. Doing so drives interest in the launch, and results in a feeling that the company has under-promised and over-delivered, rather than the reverse.

5. Copy Apple’s one-feature advertising

Apple’s advertising these days is hit-or-miss. The ones that hit are those that hawk single features. For example, the iPhone ad that’s all about the camera, or another that’s all about Siri.

That’s what Microsoft needs to do. Pick a feature of the Surface and advertise just that one feature heavily in prime time. Later, pick another feature. Over time, people will grow familiar with Surface and why they should choose it.

Right now, the public is totally unfamiliar with both Windows 8 and Surface tablets. Microsoft has money, and it should spend some of it communicating clearly about Surface features, rather than generalized image branding.

6. Copy Apple’s iPad Mini

Microsoft says it has no plans for a 7-inch Surface. Microsoft needs to develop such plans. The “mini” space, of course, was created not by Apple but by Asian companies selling Android-based tablets, and by Amazon.com.

Apple succeeds in part because it has “gateway drug” products that gradually lure people into the platform. The original was the iPod, which millions of Windows users enjoyed before eventually migrating to Macs.

A low-cost, small Surface tablet would be one such gateway drug to earn people’s loyalty to the Microsoft brand.

7. Copy Apple’s Retina screen

Although Microsoft’s “ClearType” sub-pixel rendering technology is nice, it’s no substitute for more pixels. We live in a visual online world now where pictures rules, and whichever tablet has the best visuals will be perceived as being the highest quality. Microsoft needs to at least match Apple’s pixel density and screen quality.

8. Copy Apple’s fragmentation avoidance

If Microsoft is to succeed with the Surface, it will probably come out with multiple sizes. If so, it needs to avoid the pitfalls of fragmentation, and make sure that developer efforts are rewarded by making sure their apps run natively and beautifully on all Surface models.

9. Copy Apple’s set price point

Apple’s approach to pricing appears to be: Set a price and stick with it. The cheapest full-size iPad has always been $499. They keep shipping newer and better and higher-resolution devices, and each one starts at the pre-set price.

Initially, Microsoft’s partner/competitors will launch Windows RT tablets that are the same price or more expensive than Surface. Over time, these prices will come down. Microsoft should hold the line at the current price, just like Apple does.

Remember: Part of Microsoft’s goal here is to give the Windows RT world a high-end model to improve its image. Microsoft should stick to the current pricing for Surface, and let other companies sell cheaper ones.

10. Copy iCloud

Microsoft’s SmartGlass is nice, but what Microsoft really needs is a free, brain-dead easy consumer cloud service that automatically unifies files across Windows devices.

Inevitably, Microsoft’s Surface tablet is going to have a rough start. But if Microsoft is good at anything, it’s championing a product or technology and sticking with it. And the Surface initiative needs a long-term strategy.

Microsoft did the right thing by not copying anything about the iPad. But Microsoft should definitely copy Apple in all these other ways.

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