Microsoft has been fielding some new anti-iPad commercials that, on the surface (see what I did there?) seem to take a page out of Apple's old "I'm a Mac" ads of days long gone by, or even Motorola's "Droid Does" campaign of a few years back. They show an iPad side by side against a Windows 8 tablet, and then demonstrate several areas in which they, Microsoft, think the Windows 8 tablet beats to iPad.
The ad shows Live Tiles, and contrasts them with the iPad's static Home screen. It shows multi-window computing, and contrasts it with the iPad's one-at-a-time app experience. It shows Power Point, and contrasts it with Apple's Keynote. They show the price of the cheapest Windows 8 tablet and contrast it with Apple's mid-capacity, full-sized iPad.
A second spot shows similar comparisons, but adds bullet points like built-in support for SD card support vs. requiring an adapter, and printing only to AirPrint-capable printers compared to printing to standard Windows-compatible printers.
Ads like these, comparisons like these, can work and work well. "Droid Does" helped put Android on the map. When it comes to tablets, however, they been tried before, and haven't proven successful in the least. In most cases, they've touted the advantages of a more desktop-like experience, and Windows is, perhaps, the most desktop of desktops.
And it's precisely what mainstream customers have resoundingly said is the absolute last thing they want on a tablet.
BlackBerry tried it with the Playbook. Various Android manufacturers have tried it with their Galaxy, Xoom, and other tablets. Hell, Microsoft made Tablet PC for years, based on full-on Windows XP or other releases. Nobody besides us geeks cared, not in any number, and not any more then than they do today.
For years mainstream customers have felt alienated by desktop operating systems.
For years mainstream customers have felt alienated by desktop operating systems. They've struggled with their archaic file systems and confusing windows management, their intermediated control schemes and their sheer complexity. And those frustrations are the last thing those mainstream customers want on mobile.
They want to pick up a device that they can understand. That doesn't make them feel stupid but rather makes them feel empowered. They want their apps, they want their media, and they want it without all the inhuman bullshit traditional computing platforms like Windows (and OS X for that matter) have been forcing on them for decades.
They want iPads.
Steve Jobs understood that. Even after helping launch the Apple II and bringing about the Mac, Jobs understood the need for ever simpler, ever more direct ever more mainstream computing.
Bill Gates once said what he envied most about Apple was Steve Jobs' taste. But Jobs didn't have taste in the fashionable sense of the word. He had product sense. He had the ability to look forward, past his own current product portfolio, beyond his corporate investments to date, beyond any brands he might hold dear, and see what his customers needed. He had sensibility.
With these latest commercials, Microsoft shows they're no closer to learning that lesson today than they were back with Bill Gates and the Tablet PC. They're still mired in Windows and in Office. They're so afraid of letting go of past success that they'll take future failure instead. They'll refuse to compromise on anything other than making the user experience horribly, needlessly, compromised.
The features shown in Microsoft's ad are compelling to existing Windows users who want to replace their PC and might be interested in or at least open to a tablet form factor. That's the audience Microsoft has, because it's the audience they've targeted.
To mainstream customers, tiles that change pictures seemingly at random are disorienting, multiple apps at once is stressful, Power Point is something best left locked in beige cubicles (even though Microsoft could make it, and all of Office, available for iPad any time they so choose), and the price paid up-front isn't always as important as the value obtained throughout the life of a product.
They go, they buy an iPad, they use it. They don't have to worry about RT or Pro, "Metro" mode or "Desktop" mode, and which version of the same named browser does what and when. There's no duality, no confusion, no feeling caught -- and yes, compromised -- between the OS that was and the OS that needs to be. There's just the iPad.
There's the escape of the Home button, the consistency of the Home screen, and simplicity of full screen apps, and the singularity of the experience. Those things, taken together, for the vast non-geek market, make the iPad the best personal computer they've ever owned.
it doesn't matter what something can do, it only matters what you can do with that something.
Instead of competing with that, trying to out do Apple at that, Microsoft, like almost everyone else before them, has fallen into the feature set trap. Here's the problem with that -- it doesn't matter what something can do, it only matters what you can do with that something.
These ads will help Microsoft convince some people to buy a Windows 8 tablet rather than an Android tablet or another kind of Windows PC. It won't convince the hundreds of millions of iPad customers and iPad-inclined customers to do anything other than to continue buying iPads.
To do that, Microsoft will need to find the testicular fortitude to let go of Windows. To let go of the desktop. To do on mobile what they did on gaming and create an a Xpad (or whatever) as courageously as they created an Xbox. (I'd use Windows Phone as a better, closer example, but shoehorning the name Windows into that product, good as it is, highlight the same symptoms of the same fear and creates a similar problem.)
In 2010 Apple showed everyone in the world how to sell hundreds of millions of tablets. 3 years later, there's no evidence that most competitors have paid the slightest attention. It's 2013 and Microsoft is still trying to sell a PC in a post-PC world, and a truck to a family that just wants a car to get around the suburbs.
And that's unfortunate not only for the tablet market, but for all of us.