Can Microsoft Keep Apple from Becoming the New Microsoft?

Carl Weinschenk

Past is prologue, those who forget the past are condemned to relive it, etc. etc.



Those old saws are relevant considering the current state of the mobile operating system sector and the results of the top mobile carriers, which I posted about yesterday. To begin with, there is no arguing that those companies are benefiting from Apple's product, much as PC vendors made billions on PCs loaded with Windows back in the day. Here is the lead paragraph in a story on carriers' results posted today at Network World:


The iPhone has become a big business for Apple, with the company selling more than 35 million phones and taking in $22.69 billion in iPhone revenue over the last three months. But it's also bringing in new customers for the wireless carriers that have partnered with Apple to offer the iPhone.


Reuters and Apple provide more numbers. The historical cliches come into focus when reading this very nicely done analysis by Brian X. Chen in The New York Times. Chen's commentary suggests that AT&T and Verizon Wireless are putting some muscle behind Windows Phone as a way to counterbalance Apple.


That's interesting purely because Microsoft's smartphone operating system was thought to be struggling. Beyond that, Chen positions the carriers' interest in boosting Windows Phone as a hedge against the growing power of Apple. Android suddenly is a question mark because of uncertainty-and a dab of mistrust-over the impact of Google's purchase of Motorola Mobility on Android. And, in a sign of how the mighty have fallen, Research in Motion's BlackBerry is not even mentioned in Chen's analysis.


The historical references come with a good bit of irony. The desktop world was famously dominated by Microsoft. That led to problems and challenges that still are being unraveled. The desire to keep that from happening again is strong. The irony is that the company that created the "monoculture" in the desktop world is seen-at least in this analysis-as the best hedge against it in the new world. So, the question becomes: Can Microsoft keep Apple from becoming the new Microsoft?


The truth is, the other players-Android, RIM (despite its troubles, it still is well ensconced) - will keep the mobile OS landscape from ever looking like the old PC world. The genesis of the two just are too different. However, spreading the wealth more evenly could keep Apple to a less dominant position. It also is important to remember that in the smartphone world, the OS being used has significant ramifications on who "owns" the customer. Wrote Chen:


The implied threat of the iPhone's continued success is that Verizon and AT&T are losing control of the customer billing experience. Apple not only controls the design of the hardware and software of the iPhone, but also the store for purchasing additional media. The more the iPhone succeeds, the less leverage the carriers have, Mr. Kuittinen explained. All they have is bandwidth.


The paraphrase in the penultimate sentence is from Tero Kuittinen, the vice president of Alekstra, a company involved in customer billing.


The bottom line is that the interconnected and constantly expanding world of advanced device operating systems continues to be led by Apple. Whether carriers want to or can reign the company in will be one of the interesting questions of the next few years. The prudent bet, at this point, would be for Cupertino to stay in control.

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