Microsoft’s Surface is Apple’s Ping
October 19th, 2012
Daniel Eran Dilger
Imagine if Tim Cook based his “post-Jobs” future strategy around one of Apple’s biggest failures of the past, only because he lacked the time and resources to start over. That wouldn’t bode well, would it?
Imagine how badly this would be received by the tech media. Say Apple was embarking on expansion into something that it has historically failed in: social networks.
Now granted, everyone is failing in social networks, most notably Google+ but also the perceived leader Facebook, which is having trouble supporting its initial revenue expectations. Nobody can really say how will Twitter monetize itself, or why previous social network fads were unable to maintain users’ interest, from Friendster to MySpace and so on.
Not an ideal business to be invested in, but lets say, for the sake of argument, that somebody out there actually was making tens of billions on social networking and Apple was wanting to get in on that business. And to do so, Apple was building its entire strategy on Ping, rather than having quietly replaced it with Facebook and Twitter integration inside of iTunes.
In our imaginary world, Apple was instead building out a huge expansion of Ping that intended to add all the features one might associate with Facebook and Twitter, the very same me-too strategy that Google tried to accomplish with Buzz and then Google+. Wouldn’t that be stupid? And wouldn’t Apple deserve to be mocked in the same way Google wasn’t?
But lets crank up the situation a little bit more. Because Ping wasn’t really a huge new effort by Apple, but instead was just a minor experiment that added a feature inside of iTunes to allow users to share what they were buying. It had a pretty simple user interface, because Apple didn’t devote much resources into creating some rich new environment to support what was essentially a way for users to advertise content within iTunes, something Apple pretty clearly understood was not a huge new opportunity.
Two years ago, Steve Jobs launched Ping with a line or two of introduction during a release that otherwise focused on iTunes and Apple’s commercially successful hardware products.
Now imagine if Tim Cook got up this week and explained that Apple isn’t going to release an iPad mini that everyone is expecting, but was instead launching a huge new effort to reboot Ping, using the same simple user interface that it was half-assedly launched with a couple years ago.
And that the company would blow out a billion dollar campaign to sign up even more users on Ping, which would serve as Apple’s new focus going forward, even as Cook admited that its Mac, iPhone and iPod businesses have reached their apex of maturity and that he knew Apple’s hardware sales would all be downhill from here and that social networks are where it’s at going forward.
Oh the humanity! Time to sell Apple, right?
Except that’s exactly what Microsoft is doing. While the kowtowed tech media keeps fawning about how fresh and new and “exciting” Metro is, and how Windows 8 is fated to turn around the lack of interest in PCs as a mature market that peaked sometime around 2007, the reality is that Metro (or whatever they are calling it these days) is a user interface developed for the Zune.
And the Zune was a low budget effort to develop an iPod. And its user interface was designed, not just under the constraints of Microsoft’s limited funding apportioned for the Zune, but also under the very real constraints of a low powered device charged principally with playing songs and videos. Because that’s all Microsoft envisioned for the Zune up until the iPhone appeared a few months later, making it look like a joke.
And when the Zune HD appeared years later to take on the far more sophisticated iPod touch, nobody cared because it offered no compelling value. It wasn’t cheaper, it wasn’t better at anything useful, and was really just a bit behind in a variety of areas.
And then for the last year we’ve seen seen Microsoft try to retread the Zune interface to sell Windows Phone, with disastrous results. The user interface, despite all the expert marketing trying to position it as fresh and exciting, is really just the results of trying to deliver a simple layer of web based UI over the top of functionally limited mobile device hardware.
And now, inexplicably, Microsoft has taken this thin layer of web UI, which might as well have been crafted in Adobe Flash and targeted at Chromebooks, and made it the centerpiece of its Windows 8 strategy. Which is exactly what the Surface is: an HTML5 interface on an ARM-based netbook.
Yes, despite all the media wonks who are bending over backward to lend their credibility in support of Microsoft’s assurance that Metro is fresh, new and exciting, the reality is that the whole Metro UI is the product of a low budget effort to make something minimally functional on resource limited mobile hardware.
Microsoft betting the future of Windows on Metro is exactly the same as Apple ditching its hardware to bet everything on Ping as a social network: a billion dollar marketing campaign around a commercial failure designed to get some tread out of intentionally castrated hardware.
This makes it interesting to observe how the same people who are denigrating Ping (a feature Apple gave about 15 seconds of airtime to) are “excited” about the new, fresh look of Microsoft’s 2007 Zune and how it will bring the company’s Windows platform into the future by creating an iPad alternative.
They seem to have forgotten how well that same strategy worked out for the Zune copying the iPod two years too late, the Zune HD copying the iPod touch two years too late, Windows Phone copying the iPhone three years too late, and now the Metro Surface copying iPad three years too late.
RIM and Nokia need to make room at the bottom of the barrel for Microsoft, because the Surface isn’t going to float.