To Beat Google, Microsoft Must Learn from Apple

Rob Enderle

Today Microsoft announced a number of new and compelling features for Bing and likely will sit back and wonder why users don't flock to it, much as Apple used to wonder why Windows users didn't flock to the MacOS. People don't use Google because Google has better or more features; they use it because it has become habit and people are content with this habit.


We simply don't like to move, and the only way that seems to work in politics, services or products -- technology or otherwise -- is to make us unhappy with where we are. New features don't do that.


Habits Are Hard to Break

One of the first things any company selling a product should learn is that people are creatures of habit and it takes a lot to break that habit. You'd think, for instance, that no one would ever buy another Toyota, but that company is still selling lots of cars. Hyundai, on the other hand, has had better cars than Toyota, from the standpoint of quality and price, for some time. Yet most Toyota buyers remain loyal.


Think about this for a moment: Hyundai, Korea's top car maker, is well marketed, it offers a warranty years longer than Toyota's, a price (for a comparable car) that is substantially less, comparable or better quality, yet most folks still prefer Toyotas. Hyundai has shifted, much like Apple did with the Mac vs. PC campaign, to changing perceptions. That, rather than features, is what moves buyers. Its videos, including this one on acceleration, try to get people not just to look at the Hyundai differently, but at the brand they drive now.


The problem for Microsoft isn't a feature problem, it is a perception problem that Google search is good enough and it is trusted. To gain share, Microsoft must find a way to get people to distrust Google or to think of its product as inadequate.


Learning from Apple and Politics

Apple had the same problem with Windows. Windows Vista came out and it was kind of a dog. Though people and companies were avoiding it, they weren't switching to Apple in great numbers. So Apple rolled the Mac vs. PC campaign to get people to look at Windows differently. (While writing this I ran into the best Mac vs. PC video I've ever seen.) These spots aren't focusing on Apple's features, but on Windows' shortcomings. They are designed to get you to look differently, not at Apple, but at Microsoft. The PC character actually disparages Bill Gates and through him, Microsoft.


In politics, challengers have the same problem with incumbents. It doesn't really matter if you might be more qualified, the guy in office is generally better known and trusted. This is why successful challenges come either after a scandal that damages trust in the incumbent or in a campaign that successfully does the same thing.


The lesson here is that reality doesn't really matter. Only perceptions matter. And as long as folks are happy with the status quo, they won't move. A great book to read that drives this home, and one I recommend a lot, is Farhad Manjoo's "True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post Fact Society." It goes into some detail on how people are successfully manipulated through campaigns that focus on perceptions that have nothing to do with reality. Most of the examples are in politics, but there are some incredibly compelling stories on technology.


Wrapping Up

I use and like Bing, but like most of you, I rarely even try another search engine, let alone stay with it long enough for it to become a habit. As long as we are happy where we are, it really doesn't matter how much better something else is, we won't move. This is the lesson most companies don't get. The build-a-better-mousetrap story is a lie. You first have to make them dislike the mousetrap they are using and after that, you don't even need a better product. You just need to get them hooked on your offering. Steve Jobs gets that perceptions rule. Look at the iPad; it is basically a de-featured tablet computer or a big iPod Touch. Yet it is widely considered the most amazing product of the year. That isn't reality, that is all perception. For Bing to win, Microsoft needs to learn how to change perception from someone like Jobs.

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Mar 26, 2010 12:58 PM a. asdf a. asdf  says:

Yes, you do have a point. perceptions do matter. But perceptions will catch up to reality sooner or later. Maintaining a certain perceptions while your products are lagging is not a long run strategy. It can only be used in the short term.

Microsoft hasn't learned anything from Apple. For example Windows Phone 7 is just copy and paste of the iPhone OS. Microsoft has decided to copy things like no multitasking and even the copy and paste limitations from Apple. So if WP7 has all the limitations of the iPhone, what is it competing on? Perceptions will not fix these issues at the end of the day.

PS: In your last paragraph I think you meant "Look at the iPad;" not iPod.

Mar 26, 2010 1:51 PM Rob Enderle Rob Enderle  says: in response to a. asdf

Nice catch, iPad is correct.  Typing too fast...

I don't see WP7 as that much of a copy but we'll see.   Both firms have a history of emulating each other and others that goes back to their start.  The trick isn't to be first, it is to be first to get it right.  LG was first with an iPhone like product with the Prada, Apple was first to get it right.   You should read "True Enough", trust me the book does a nice job of both showcasing how to change perceptions and how our perceptions are changed. 

Mar 28, 2010 9:09 AM Michael Jones Michael Jones  says:

Some important notes to consider before trying to write of the entire PC market because Apple is "hot" right now.

CXOs listen to IT.  They don't know what the hell to buy when it comes to computers, so they ask their IT guy(s).  IT managers still rule what gets pushed down because they must support it.  So Apple is very short sighted when it doesn't give them the features they need.

Yes, RIM penatrated the corporate market with a phone because ITS A PHONE.  Not a computer, an appliance.  Quite frankly, more CXO types like the Exchange option on iPhone or Blackberry from what I can see.

You can't accurately judge how surveys reflect customer satisfaction from Apple users.  People who love macs always loved macs.  They are designed with a certain market sector in mind.  Asking an Apple user if they like their Mac is like asking an alcoholic if they'd like a drink.  How apple fares in the rest of the computing world is the question.  Just look at the slide. 4/5 say Apple quality is the highest of the 2 positive levels of satisfaction.  This is because they are the type of people that really love what they love, and really hate what they hate.  But outside the 10% of people in the world who are like that are people who have varying levels of needs and different degrees of happiness with anything.  And the Mac IMHO doesn't have the diversity to suit the majority of computer users (i.e. business users) needs.

The fact that Apple's hardware and software is proprietary and substantially more expensive than PC hardware isn't helping them either.  Premium not making a difference?  Come on!  can you see a CIO saying to the exec board "yeah, were going with apple macs because their users like them. It's going to cost us $500,000 more to outfit all our employees with the same hardware and software than it would if we just upgraded our PCs to Windows 7 (which incedentally people like too).  Plus we have to retrain.  But I'm sure you guys don't care about that $500K you'll shave off your profits.  You want what all the cool kids are getting, don't you?"

In conclusion I love so many things about the Mac, I own one.  I love so many things about the Windows 7 PC, I own one.  Neither does everything I want.  But I could live without the mac, though i'd rather not.

Mar 28, 2010 10:20 AM Rob Enderle Rob Enderle  says: in response to Michael Jones

Actually I'm not trying to write of the entire PC market. However I've watched this happen several times in the past. In the early 90s while at IBM, the folks who were at war with Microsoft and making OS/2 at the time. We brought on board a new AGM who used Apple computers, and he was allowed to do so even though it was a support nightmare. His marketing division went to Windows, because it was within his authority, even though it was a competitive platform under what appeared to be a "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

The reason Dell moved to a stronger design centric strategy was that Michael Dell kept going into senior executive meetings in Dell accounts and seeing Sony machines rather than Dell's on the board room table.  That was in the late 90s.  

As we excited last decade the combination of better Apple products, a massive move to software hosting and services, and better interoperability between Windows/Apple and even Linux led to broad experimentation.  Linux didn't make it, with exceptions, but Apple did surprisingly well. You'll find Apple products widely deployed in Cisco, for example, even though it remains largely a Dell account.  

CEO's have a lot of power, clearly CFOs report to them and CIOs generally report to CFOs these days. CEOs tend to go their own way on a lot of things. Generally they don't have standard cubicles or office equipment;they don't drive a standard company car, and don't fly coach (many have company paid private jets). They can use whatever the hell they want on their desk and I pity the CIO who tries do stop them (or the CFO for that matter).  They are also examples, for when they don't follow security policy, or have affairs or use Macs others feel they should be able to as well whether that is good or bad for the company.  

On RIM it penetrated companies paid for by IT largely replacing pagers which were also IT paid (granted charged back to divisions).  But to get their it came down from the top, not up from the bottom like the PC did. And sometime compare what a current generation Blackberry can do against a PC in the 80s, I think you'll find the PC falls short. The Blackberry is a personal computer, just a small portable one, we just call it something different.  They will browse the web, run applications, and you can even upgrade the OS.  Definition of a personal computer: a small digital computer based on a microprocessor and designed to be used by one person at a time. Google it. 

You're right a CIO going to the board and saying what you suggest would a short term career decision. But a CEO using a Mac and then allowing first executives and then employees to use the product has been spreading like wildfire.  If you do the math as Cisco did it is actually cheaper to use Macs and, as you point out, Mac users tend to be more loyal and happier (so you can argue employee moral reasons).  Retraining is only an issue if you big bang the products, if you make it employee choice it hasn't been an issue. 

What people consistently forget is how PCs came into the enterprise in the first place. IT didn't like, couldn't control them, and couldn't stop them any more than IT has been able to stop iPhones or Blackberry's. On this last, and back to Blackberry's, they didn't even want to because this RIM product was already blessed by the Board and CXO.  Reply

Mar 28, 2010 10:20 AM Rob Enderle Rob Enderle  says: in response to Michael Jones

This survey, and once again I agree surveys can be unreliable, indicates that Apple is getting CXO support. I wonder how many board members use Macs? Go to a board meeting, I'll bet you'll be surprised. I don't use a Mac myself, personally I'd just as soon not learn another platform but this isn't about me. 

Mar 30, 2010 2:18 PM a. asdf a. asdf  says: in response to Rob Enderle

About WP7, I don't see where the sudden copy/paste and multitasking restrictions suddenly came from, when the previous versions of Windows Mobile didn't have these restrictions. Except for trying to copy the iPhone OS. And even the iPhone no longer has copy/paste restrictions and rumored to soon enable selective multitasking.


Mar 30, 2010 2:23 PM Rob Enderle Rob Enderle  says: in response to a. asdf

Microsoft is trying to do an interesting balance between Apple blocking multi-tasking and Google leaving it on by default.  You can do more with Android but folks complain about poor performance.   We'll see if Apple turns it on for all things, or like Microsoft, for just more of them.    Remember WP/7 is a start from scratch release.   Typically that means not all things make the cut, it may have 7 in the name but this is basically a 1.0 product.  We'll get a lot of new stuff but you'll see this platform improve from here a lot as it moves to later versions.   The market wanted them to start over, people forget that starting over comes with a cost. 

Mar 30, 2010 2:58 PM a. asdf a. asdf  says: in response to Rob Enderle

What was the purpose of a WP7 complete rewrite? They broke all the applications in the process and adding insult to injury closed down the OS to only approved apps. And did I mention no flash support? How can you compete by embracing all the shortcomings of your competition?

Mar 30, 2010 3:08 PM Rob Enderle Rob Enderle  says: in response to a. asdf

Flash support is coming.  They had something like 18 months to build a new team, define an OS, and then build it.   Not everything will be there at the start.   6.5 will remain in the market while WP7 matures.   But you point out one of the big reasons that new OSs are rare.  The transition is a bitch.   Given how badly behind the times 6 was, I'm not sure they had any more choice than Apple had when they moved from MacOS 9 to 10.  And they started with BSD UNIX.   Both Apple and Google were lucky, they had no phone legacy to deal with.   They needed a fresh start to catch up, but the transition will clearly be painful.   What would have you done instead?

Mar 30, 2010 3:13 PM a. asdf a. asdf  says: in response to Rob Enderle

How do you define "behind the times"? To me, it's the user interface of WM6. Do you agree?

Mar 30, 2010 3:20 PM Rob Enderle Rob Enderle  says: in response to a. asdf

The way the product was done the UI is core to it and HTC, with TouchFlow, tried tried a UI overlay but the OS really wasn't designed for it. The plumbing of the product simply wasn't designed to elegantly do things like app stores, OEM designed interfaces, and variety of protected media content offering without breaking the user experience badly. With something like Windows you can rely on the excessive extra power of a PC to get you through changes like this but, on a phone, your performance headroom is limited and they had to rethink the product. Recall that this platform was already a decade old when the iPhone launched. The hardware, particularly the graphics, wasn't even thought possible on a phone back then. They could have tried a major patch but the folks they had indicated that the result wouldn't have been competitive so they started over. We'll know in a year or so, once the product matures, whether they made the right choice. The path they were on was clearly going in the wrong direction though as they were bleeding users and developers badly.

Mar 30, 2010 3:42 PM a. asdf a. asdf  says: in response to Rob Enderle

Yes the UI was a bottleneck. You can't make a phone with a stylus. Microsoft should have figured that out long before the 2nd iPhone came out. The touch interface was key. But so what? My Navigon GPS has a touch interface. It runs on WM6. It has a custom touch interface running on top of WM6. Mobile devices have a lot of headroom. Here's a video from 2006: www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KS4PVS6_8U

I don't have in-depth knowledge about mobile OS architecture, but I would presume rewriting the UI would be relatively easy compared to rewriting the entire OS. I would have rewritten the UI, add an app store but allow unapproved app install option. Have flash support. And you have a valid competitor to the iPhone. Not just a carbon copy.

Mar 30, 2010 4:01 PM Rob Enderle Rob Enderle  says: in response to a. asdf

It's actually not a carbon copy.  The UI is more similar to the new Zune and is better tuned to the hardware.  In many ways they looked at both what was and was not working on the iPhone and the Android to create this.   Apparently Apple is making similar changes to their new drop. 

In a thin OS the UI is a lot of the product and you evidently can't just redo it without creating a lot of extra overhead.  Touch Flow is close to what you'd end up with and it is kind of slow.  In the end, and after a lot of work, you'd still have a 10 year old aging code base with a pretty coat of paint on top.  I don't think that would compete well with OSs that were vastly newer.

Apr 7, 2010 7:31 PM A. Mishra A. Mishra  says:

Bulls Eye.

Hence Education should always be about building habits/character and not making them learn more and more facts.

How True.

Leaves me wondering whay Indian Government keeps on pushing itself away from these age old learning.

Arun Mishra


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