Steve Jobs long extolled the virtues of “building the whole widget,” or owning the entire ecosystem of its beautifully designed products. Since the earliest days of Apple (and I know this from having sold Apple computers beginning some 30 years ago…) Apple sold you its combination of both hardware and software, bundled and often unique.
Today’s Apple applies this logic forcefully, integrating into its hardware and software a tighter degree of integration than most anyone in tech today. From iPod to iPad, iPhone to iTunes, the various iterations of the MAC OS and their hardware platforms, and now iCloud, no one matches Apple’s market-leading penchant for deep, design-fueled integration into a single and largely proprietary platform.
But one company is making a stab at it: Microsoft.
While Apple has long nurtured combined ecosystems in a way that kept hardware and software tightly stitched together, Microsoft in the 1990s saw Windows as more of a universal platform, agnostic largely to hardware – a platform that would run on virtually anything (more or less).
Today, Google does much the same with Android – although their recent purchase of the phone side of Motorola, among other ventures, does give them a hand in the combined hardware-software ecosystem approach.
In Microsoft’s case, it is about to unveil its “Surface” tablet, a three year, very hush-hush development project to create its own distinctive tablet PC, and in doing so, following Jobs’ logic of building the whole widget. [We first wrote about Surface, and other new Microsoft developments back in August, in a post here.] Early reports indicate that Surface is well engineered, replete with lots of bells and whistles, and built in a non-derivative manner to ensure a certain uniqueness in the marketplace that Microsoft hopes will distance it from competitors. And let’s not forget, Microsoft is notoriously patient in developing further iterations of key products (see: Windows) until it “gets it right.”
The question becomes whether Apple could lose its historic edge of being the alpha and omega of its own widgets. Losing advantage? Hardly. When viewed across the vast range of Apple’s broad range of well integrated products, it’s hard to see how it will lose its momentum, let alone its lock on consumer devices from phones to tablets to the way we buy music today.
But it’s nice to see that companies like Google and Microsoft are paying attention, and stirring up the competitive waters. The end result, invariably, is more choice and better innovation for all us little guys – the consumers.