By Harry McCracken | Friday, September 17, 2010 at 10:06 am
Back in the 1990s, Microsoft was king of the world and Apple seemed to face death. So everyone told Apple that it was obvious it should follow Microsoft’s business strategy and segue from building its own computers into licensing its software to other hardware makers. Apple finally tried the idea, without much success.
Fast forward to this century. Apple seems to be doing rather well, and Microsoft–though still crazily successful–is a company whose products and business models can feel like part of tech’s past rather than its future. And so everyone is telling Microsoft that it should follow Apple’s lead and sell integrated software-hardware products in certain product categories rather than licensing its code to other companies.
Sometimes, Microsoft listens. Its Zunes have been decent products, but haven’t gone anywhere. The Kin was a disaster. And now Jeanette Borzo of the Wall Street Journal is quoting a Microsoft executive as saying that the company has no plans to sell any more phones under its own name. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be any other Microsoft phones, ever, or that the company won’t try to do everything itself in other categories. But it does sound like the folks in Redmond intend to focus on successfully licensing Windows Phone 7 rather than competing with their phone-manufacturing customers.
Microsoft does have one major software/hardware hit to its name, but it’s the Xbox 360, a product in an Apple-free category. When the company tries to channel Apple, it doesn’t work. And Apple, in the second Steve Jobs era, is smart enough to avoid channeling Microsoft.
Maybe the lesson here is that it’s easier to triumph by sticking to your core competencies than by pretending to be something you aren’t?