To show off the capabilities of its just-unveiled iPad Pro, a $799, 12.9-inch, keyboard-compatible tablet designed for enterprise users, Apple on Wednesday brought representatives of two companies to the stage. One was from software maker Adobe, who demoed a new iOS Photoshop app. The other was from Microsoft, which also makes software that runs on iOS, but you may also recall Microsoft makes its own $799, 12-inch, keyboard-compatible tablet designed for enterprise users.
After Microsoft announced in July it was laying off 7,800 workers, many from its ailing phone division, the company made clear its devices were to be little more than showroom projects. Surface tablets brought in $3.9 billion for the company last year, but according to research firm IDC, just 5 percent of tablets run Windows. Thus, the Surface was to be the ultimate hybrid device to show off Windows 10’s new features and apps. But after today, it appears the Surface’s newest competitor could show off the capabilities of critical apps just as well — that’s what Office executive Kirk Koenigsbauer led us to believe when he took the stage in San Francisco.
It’s compelling that Microsoft played such a prominent role in Apple’s launch event. It is perfectly logical for Microsoft to tailor a version of Office for iOS as Apple’s is one of two dominant operating systems and Microsoft is a software-first company. But Apple yesterday unveiled two products — the new iPad and Apple TV, which features a gaming console — that directly compete with Microsoft products, yet a Microsoft veep was there to tout the development.
Many publications are calling this move indicative of CEO Satya Nadella’s more collaborative strategy, but by collaborating so openly and freely with hardware maker Apple, it appears Microsoft wants to be more like software-exclusive Adobe. One reason folks liked Windows tablets was that they ran Office. Since iOS and Android devices now do that, and there’s a big, keyboarded iOS tablet that meets every physical desire the Surface previously monopolized, there is no reason for tablet buyers to associate Office efficiency solely with Surface tablets.
The iPad Pro isn’t nearly as threatening as Apple TV, though. While Redmond can still make money off app sales to iPads, the new version of Apple TV includes a gaming console that features a motion sensor controller similar to that of the Nintendo Wii. Casual gamers are the target, and it gives consumers one more reason to spend time in the living room with Apple.
Xbox, at its core, is just like the new Apple TV — an entertainment console for the living room. Both have games. Both allow TV streaming. Both have apps. For just over a month, Xbox was the only game console tied to a desktop and mobile operating system, which gave Microsoft and Windows 10 a head start in being the go-to OS in your living room, pocket, and office. Now Apple TV has crashed the party, and no tech company has a better track record with consumers.
Let’s be clear: Microsoft, especially under Nadella’s new strategy, can’t avoid Apple. Keeping Office 365 off Apple products, the iPad Pro included, would torpedo the company’s goal to run software on every device. But Apple is already the hardware king, and if Microsoft wants people to buy Surface tablets to see how great Windows 10 is, it can’t be a public cheerleader for Apple. This embrace of the new iPad also comes a day after Microsoft announced partnerships with Dell and Hewlett-Packard to distribute Surface tablets to more offices, a move that says Microsoft is more committed to its tablets than to its phones.
This isn’t exactly a mixed message — Microsoft products will indeed receive more exposure — but it leaves the company’s devices even more in limbo than they were previously. Instead of wondering whether Microsoft would stop making devices, one now must wonder whether it plans to continue making devices in the long term, or if the company expects products like the iPad Pro and Apple TV to fill the hardware void it leaves behind.