This last week has been fascinating. Both Apple and Microsoft introduced their new operating system for PCs. Interestingly, folks are raving about Windows 8 and ranting at OS X Mountain Lion. Both products are far from final and, of the two, Mountain Lion has far fewer changes. Given that we don’t like change, you’d think folks would like that. But it seems they are comparing Mountain Lion to iOS and the last version of the MacOS, and finding it either doesn’t change enough or changes too much. In short, Apple may have inadvertently announced a tweener product. I also think we are seeing the first indication that Apple can’t function as well without Steve Jobs. Let me explain.
Early Products Are All About Perceptions
I was looking at the PlayStation Vita the other day, and remembering that, had this product come out two years ago, it would have easily eclipsed the hottest product of that time — the iPad — which cost more and did far less. Over time, however, perceptions changed, and even though it is the best hand held game system ever released, people look at it in the shadow of the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, and seem to find it wanting.
In fact, that has been happening to a lot of non-Apple products for some time now. Apple sets the bar, and no one else has been able to be a better Apple than Apple. Now, with beta products (because very few people actually ever touch them) it is all about perceptions. If influential folks praise them, then the public think they are wonderful (even though most have never touched them). And if they pound on them, everyone thinks they are crap. For me, this influence effect happens a lot with movies. I’ll see one and think it is great, but it will do poorly because movie critics have said it sucked. Folks don’t go to see it even though many, like me, likely would have had a great time.
Steve Jobs seemed to understand better than most the need to manage perceptions. As Apple’s most influential advocate, when he said a product was wonderful, it was wonderful. From the first iPod (which kind of sucked) to the first iPhone (which really sucked as a phone), we drank his Kool-Aid by the gallon, and raved about these products. Don’t get me wrong; while these early offerings had major issues, generally, the products they competed with were far worse. Without Jobs, MP3 players weren’t selling, and neither were touchscreen phones. Remember the LG Prada that the iPhone was supposedly based on? No? That is because almost no one bought it.
Now think about tablets. The market had largely rejected them, and Steve Jobs himself initially said that folks would never buy anything without a keyboard. Then he brought out the iPad. And even though it was really just a netbook without a keyboard, folks saw the result as magical and different. The guy could get us to see products much like a magician can get us to believe in magic.
Windows 8 vs. Mountain Lion
Without Steve Jobs, the magic is gone. Microsoft built Windows 8 to bridge into tablets and optimized it for that experience. People love Windows 8 because it is an iPad experience without the compromises — and because Microsoft is assuring early reviewers get a positive experience by making sure they get the right hardware, software, and services wrapper. With Mountain Lion, Apple is doing the more traditional thing of just tossing the product out there. But without Steve Jobs selling the magic, folks are having a WTF moment. Instead of seeing the world through Steve’s reality distortion field, they are looking at the product critically and finding it lacking.
Wrapping Up: It Is All About Perceptions
In the 1990s, Apple was failing, partially because customers had written the company off as dead in the water. Then came the return of Steve Jobs who, after five years, convinced people to look at Apple and its products differently. The struggling Cupertino computer maker soon became the most successful company of the decade, and clearly overshadowed Microsoft, which lacked Jobs’ skill as a salesman, and focus as a CEO. In this post-Jobs period, Microsoft is stepping up to a Windows 95-level effort and executing, while Apple is showcasing it has lost the Jobs magic. If that doesn’t change, in a few short months, Apple will likely slide again, and Microsoft (if it doesn’t screw it up) will surge.
It kind of amazes me that, after more than a decade of Steve Jobs, no one at Apple can step into his shoes. And, you have to admit, Microsoft deserves credit for hitting the first pitch out of the park. This is looking like a very different decade.
Photo Credit: Geek Syrup
Guest contributor Rob Enderle is the founder and principal analyst for the Enderle Group, and one of the most frequently quoted tech pundits in the world. Opinion pieces denote the opinions of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of Digital Trends.