Do you think Microsoft will be the next Apple (after almost killing it)?

Microsoft certainly has a strong case for becoming the technology world's darling like Apple; they have a very strong installed base, they have had some very successful hardware launches from scratch like Kinect and Xbox (although Zune and so far Windows Phone are the counterbalances to those two), they have a very strong and well-funded R&D team, and they have very smart people working for them.

However, I like Balaji Viswanathan's comparison of Microsoft to IBM more than the Microsoft-Apple one. For starters, IBM fits the criteria Microsoft is going after better (big budget customers, enterprises, and people who are more concerned about functionality than design), and I think company DNA-wise the two are a stronger match. I would recommend anyone interested in this question to read the Economist article titled "IBM's Centenary: The Test of Time" (http://www.economist.com/node/18...) as it really gets to the heart of what a company needs to be successful in the long term. In my opinion, Microsoft has what it takes.

But can it be the "next Apple"? I do not think so, only because the definition of what it is to be Apple is very specific. Can Exxon Mobil be the next Apple? Can Wal-Mart be the next Apple? In both cases, the answer is obviously no, even though these two companies are equally large in market capitalization and profits per quarter. What it is to be Apple in the minds of today's consumers can be summarized in three main points:

1) Very well thought out designs that offer visual validation of the quality of product, as well as simply being pleasing to look at.

2) A user experience that just works, for people who do not want to see the "wizard" working behind the curtain, and just want to enjoy a seamless and smooth time with their devices.

3) The association with being the embodiment of "cool"; where cool can mean the most anticipated devices, the most fashion-forward (at least, as fashion-forward as tech devices can be) devices, or the most sought-out devices.

So to be Apple, you need all three of these characteristics. Can Microsoft achieve this? The unveiling of Surface definitely added some steam to their case, but I think that is only because people have Apple exhaustion. Apple has been so successful for so long (by technology world standards, 5-6 years is an eternity) that people are ready for an underdog to come challenge Apple for its throne. In the long run, I do not see Microsoft successfully achieving these three criteria. Nor do they have to. They should just let Apple be Apple, and focus on their strengths to be around for the 22nd century.
I love Microsoft (as an ex-employee). But, I don't think Microsoft will ever come closer to what Steve Jobs achieved (2000-12). Steve Jobs is a phenomenon and Microsoft has no such leader. Ballmer is a good executive, but not a leader (leave alone a charismatic leader). Microsoft is also sometimes too democratic for a strong business. Good businesses are dictatorships (during the heydays with BillG reviews, even Microsoft was one).

In short answer, Microsoft is very unlikely to become an Apple. It can become an IBM (which kind of rediscovered its purposed in the past decade). The next Apple could only come from a startup.
Thanks. I also liked a lot Balaji Viswanathan comparison of Microsoft and IBM. Quite true. That is the main difference between Apple and Microsoft, explaining why Apple nearly died, whereas Microsoft is still so strong, even when in bad shape...

My question was oriented to the success Apple has today, and that Microsoft used to have. I really believe Microsoft will have a strong and innovative offering in the next coming months, even disruptive. Wonder what will happen to Apple in few years ...
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