Saturday, August 24, 2013

Krugman on Microsoft and Apple

Paul Krugman's latest post to his blog for The New York Times (The Conscience of a Liberal) is entitled "On the Symmetry between Microsoft and Apple." This is clearly a reflection on the news of Steve Ballmer's resignation at Microsoft. However, it provides speculation about the future for Apple, as well as Microsoft, beginning with the disclaimer that Krugman is "not a tech industry maven." I actually take this as an asset, since it means that he probably does not have much toxic Kool-Aid flowing through his circulatory system.

Krugman's preference is stated early and is highly pragmatic. In his words, "the wonderful people in the Wilson School IT department, who have saved my life multiple times, aren't set up to deal with Apple products." From this he extrapolates to the generally conservative mindset of those responsible for managing IT for large organizations, and he anticipates a better future for Microsoft than for Apple. He then makes what I feel is the most significant statement about Apple's inadequacy:
And if you are an atypical user, you end up putting a lot of effort into fighting iOS in order to do simple things.
My guess is that Krugman and I are in a similar boat. We both do a lot of writing that depends on doing a lot of background reading, and we want to be supported by quality software. However, we also have recreational interests (such as my dependence on the music on my hard drive to get me through an unbearable flight on United Airlines). Laptops do a good job of satisfying both of these needs. Apple at a lot to do with things turning out that way; and I wish Krugman had been a bit more explicit about the extent to which Windows was, for quite some time, a cheap imitation of the Macintosh operating system. The price of that quality was user-friendliness, which is why, even at a higher price, Apple could still promote the Mac with its "computing for the rest of us" slogan.

At some point, however, Steve Jobs lost interest in that slogan. I have suggested that his new motto promoted Apple as "the world's coolest toymaker." That slogan really took off with the launch of the iPhone and the introduction of the iOS operating system. The result is that I am now in the same boat as many who desperately want to cling to technology that helps us get our work done and keeps seeing that technology withdrawn from us, regardless of who the software provider is. Furthermore, if I were to be so bold as to extrapolate, I see the buzz forming around the iWatch as a sign that "the world's coolest toymaker" may now metamorphose into something that will appeal to more mature consumers, such as "the world's coolest fashion accessory."

I think Krugman missed out in avoiding the role that this "cool factor" may play in the future. Microsoft is not, nor has it ever been, cool. That is what its effort to appear cool in its recent round of Surface ads on television were so embarrassingly painful. It basically imagined a world of work run by slackers whose only behavior pattern consists of salivation every time Apple hinted that a new product was coming. Microsoft would do better to appeal to those stodgy tortoises that at least know where they are headed and will persist even when progress is slow. Sometimes they are slow because they think about what they are doing before doing it. It would be nice to know that there are some technology providers out there who do not want that species to go extinct.

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