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Apple vs. Microsoft Marketing: Spark vs. Spork

Apple vs. Microsoft Marketing: Spark vs. Spork

Why force customers to buy both an iPad and a MacBook Pro in order to get both tablet and powerful computing abilities? They won't do it! Except, they are. Microsoft might be better off by marketing the Surface Pro 3 as a tablet called the "Surface." It's smartphone? SurfacePhone. Laptop? SurfacePC. But Microsoft has the Windows branding problem and the third-party business partner problem.

By Chris Maxcer
06/09/14 5:00 AM PT

During Apple's WWDC keynote event last week, it became exceedingly clear that we won't be seeing a converged iPad/MacBook device anytime soon.

Unlike Microsoft, with its Surface Pro 3 effort, Apple doesn't seem at all interested in forcing iOS and OS X into a single unified operating system. In fact, Apple doesn't seem to be interested in making OS X touch-based or touch-enabled. Nor does it appear to be working too hard to turn the iPad into a multitasking, laptop-replacing workhorse that resembles anything like the Microsoft Surface Pro 3.

The two companies have two very different marketing jobs on their hands, one of which seems to be working and the other of which seems to be fading -- despite it's being about a product that by all rights and measures seems to be what people say they actually want.

That, it turns out, might be the key difference in the success of the two companies. Microsoft seems to be reacting to this grand idea that people want a converged tablet and laptop that offers the best of both worlds -- that can do everything. Instead of buying a laptop and a tablet and trying to coordinate the use of two different devices, why not have just one?

Why not pound the keys and work the mouse all day long with spreadsheets and email -- and then just rip off the keyboard, sit down in a quiet place, and relax to Game of Thrones on your tablet screen? Work. Entertainment. Super portable, super versatile. What's not to love?

Crazy Irony

There's nothing inherently wrong with the Surface Pro 3 or even with Microsoft Windows 8. The hardware is good, and Microsoft's converged take on a touch-enabled OS isn't all bad, either. (And in case you don't know me, I'm an unabashed Apple fan.)

Check out the marketing pages created by Microsoft to introduce and share the Surface vision. Microsoft is covering the bases of getting more done, finding entertainment, and using the Surface Pro 3 for creativity. It's all reasonably personable, directed at "you," trying to find a way to fit the Surface into your life.

Yet, somehow Microsoft is saying all the right words, at supposedly the exact right time, and I'm just not hearing them. I want to listen, I want to be moved -- and heck, I even used to think that I myself wanted a converged device: that I wanted a touchscreen Mac that could bend into a tablet or an iPad that could snap into a keyboard.

But now I'm not sure if one device to cover converged computing is psychologically possible to successfully market and sell at all.

Balking at Convergence

For people who work from home, one of the hardest challenges is walking away from work and returning to your own life -- to your own family, to your own hobbies. If your office is always in your home, it's all too easy to go back to work after hours and get a little more done. It's always in front of you, always calling your name, always demanding attention.

If your work device is also your play device, there is a psychological barrier that can mess with a person's mind. Work is nagging at play, play is nagging at work, and what is the sign, the signal, the signifier that tells you to switch your brain to spreadsheets, sales strategies and supply chain challenges?

Some people get dressed up for special meetings, wear certain shoes for certain work days. Is it fashion? Not always. Sometimes it's about framing your state of mind to accomplish a certain task. The same goes for play time. You leave the office, change your clothes, and put on a ball cap.

These sorts of things affect lots of humans, and sometimes they are aware of them and sometimes not. I think the Surface Pro is boiling right in the middle of this psychological stew. If I were a smarter human, I could sort it out for you. Instead all I can do is stir it around a bit.

Apple, on the other hand, has managed to avoid these elements of psychological confusion. Maybe because Apple is smarter -- or maybe because Apple doesn't listen to its customers. Instead, Apple builds the products it wants to make -- and then markets the heck out of the product as if it were an extension of a consumer. As Steve Jobs famously said, "People don't know what they want until you show it to them."

Somehow, either by accident or design, Apple's seemingly slow plod toward convergence has resulted in discreet products -- phone, tablet, computer -- that instead of becoming one are becoming more connected. Damn, this somehow makes immediate sense to me.

I can instantly see how I can use apps and features like Handoff to start working on one device and seamlessly transfer working to another device. I can start an email on my iPhone... and instead of getting mad at the little touchscreen keys, just pick up from where I left off on my Mac.

I can create a presentation on my Mac and let iCloud let me update it from my iPad right before I present it at work. A kid can start a homework assignment at home on a Mac and finish it up at school in a Web browser. I can leave my iPhone on a charger upstairs (or in my bag) and answer an iPhone call on my Mac.

Notifications, Notes, Reminders and my Calendar start reacting in similar -- but not the same -- ways on my iPad, iPhone and Mac, and I understand what each device brings.

The physical nature of the device and operating system provide my overworked brain clues as to what experience I'll get -- and what experience I want in a given moment.

In some ways, the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is a spork. It's a spoon and a fork. While a good spork has its place, there's a reason our silverware drawers aren't filled with practical sporks. If I'm eating soup, I want a spoon. Can it be as simple as that?

Flying in the Face of Reason

Computers are not sporks. They cost a lot of money. Therefore, how can this idea make sense? For Apple, this doesn't make intuitive sense: Why force your customers to buy both a high-priced iPad and a MacBook Pro in order to get both tablet and powerful computing abilities? They won't do it! Except, they are.

Ironically, the buying process for humans is easier to spark when the product is clear: I'm buying a tablet. Furthermore, I can buy an iPad this year and a MacBook next year, and suddenly I can spread out my purchase activity and get more things that function well within their device identities.

Microsoft, it turns out, might be better served simply by marketing the Surface Pro 3 as a tablet called the "Surface." It's smartphones? SurfacePhone. And laptops? SurfacePC. But Microsoft has the Windows branding problem and the third-party business partner problem: Partners want to build their own Windows-based devices. Rock and hard space.

Sadly, I've got to wonder if my Apple goggles have me seeing an Apple-made Surface Pro 3 differently. I'm not sure. At first glance, after work, I would like to be able to rip the screen off my MacBook Pro and go sit on the couch and tap, flick, zoom and edit some photos or make some home movies.

Wait, I can do that. I can leave my MacBook Pro on my desk -- work at work -- and pick up my iPad. Come this fall, all my photos will be stored on iCloud, letting me seamlessly move from device to device and interact with my life. It's Apple's "continuity" message, and it already feels better than trying to use one device for everything. Crazy, I know.


TechNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at WickedCoolBite.com. You can also connect with him on Google+.


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