Okay, I admit the title is a bit misleading: the ‘war’ between these two tech giants has been interesting for years. The developments over the last week, however, warrant some commentary.
I’ve already argued that our mobile and desktop experiences would be converging, and it seems that Microsoft and Apple have both made big moves towards this just in the last week. Microsoft has unveiled what they are calling “SmartGlass,” which functions as an answer to both AppleTV and Nintendo’s Wii U tablet controller. Microsoft is fighting a battle on two fronts, in this case, but it gives them a unique chance to combine different services in an unprecedented way; if Microsoft can turn the Xbox 360 (or its follow up) into a competitor for Apple TV (such that it is used by non-gamers, as well), and then integrate both its Windows Phone 7 (and by this fall, WP8) and its Windows 8 Desktop platforms in a simple and useful way, then I can only see success.
But there is a trick to this, of course. You don’t want to force people to purchase an entire new ‘library’ of tech just to get some benefits. Including iOS connectivity with the SmartGlass is smart, and probably necessary at this point. Microsoft needs to leverage the fact that tons of people are using Windows on their desktops: if they can convince people that an Xbox will enhance the experience they are already having, in addition to giving them something new (gaming, streaming onto a TV, that sort of thing), then expect a different future.
Here’s the thing I find most fascinating: as someone gets more entrenched in a particular ecosystem, it seems less and less likely that they will make the switch. Once I’ve got a Windows 8 computer, perhaps a tablet, an Xbox, and a Windows Phone, anytime I go to upgrade, I’ll likely want to stay with what works well with the rest of my system. Of course, iOS integration for SmartGlass makes a difference here, since an iPhone could interact with this whole system, at least somewhat. We’ll see how comparable the experiences are, however, once the service comes out this fall.
My biggest takeaway from E3, however, is that I was underwhelmed with Sony. I’m hesitant about Nintendo’s Wii U, for a variety of reasons, but at least it is something I haven’t really seen before. Microsoft is pulling in their power from other markets, but Sony just seems to be coasting right now. Maybe that’s enough, since they can always fall back on television and other electronics sales; Nintendo is banking on gaming, and Microsoft is banking on a fully integrated digital system. I’m not really sure what Sony’s solution should be here, either. They’ve stepped it up in the mobile gaming world, yes, but I’m less convinced that they will have long term success. I hate to say it, but I actually am starting to think that world will be dominated by the likes of iOS, WP7/8, and Android. Lack of physical input aside, people are already carrying these devices. For everyone who has a smartphone (and kids are getting them younger and younger), this solution makes a lot of sense.
Apple held their WWDC conference yesterday, and we are seeing the combination of various iOS devices. If you own an iPad and an iPhone, they will connect seamlessly, which is a smart move. Further, OSX is beginning to look more like iOS, to the point where my previous sentence may apply to it, at least partially. Apple, too, is investing in their own cross-platform ecosystem. The price of entry is high (have you priced Apple’s computers?), but the integration has already proven powerful; we’ll see if Microsoft can match it this fall.