Microsoft, Apple & The Battle for the Creative Consumer

Photo of Microsoft CEO Nadella standing on stage with the CEO of Adobe
Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella (left), on-stage at Adobe MAX in 2014

In 1997, via the iconic Here’s to the Crazy Ones commercial, Steve Jobs positioned Apple as being the company for creatives, entrepreneurs, those who wanted to change the world.

And that, via Apple’s suite of products and software, all those who dared to “think different” could bring their dreams and their imaginations to life.

That Was Then…

Now, nearly 20 years later, Microsoft (Job’s biggest rival in his day), is trying to position itself as being the bastion of creativity.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently posited that the difference between his company and its two biggest rivals, Apple and Google, was simple and “pretty distinct.”

He described Microsoft’s core competency – past, present and future – as:

Empowering others to build products.

Which is actually quite true.

For decades, Microsoft’s software products have equipped consumers and enterprises with the ability to create and produce.

To me, the place where Microsoft can be distinct and where it comes naturally to us more so than anything else is from the creator of a document to a developer writing an app, to anyone else who is in the business of actually their own creation, we want to be the tools provider, the platform provider. That’s [our] core identity.

Yet, whilst humbly heralding his company as being the platform for creatives, Nadella managed to give backhanded compliments to its rivals.

First, reducing Apple to being a device company:

To me Apple’s [identity is] very, very clear, and, in fact, I think Tim Cook did a great job of even describing that very recently where he said they sell devices and that’s what Apple is all about.

And then reducing Google to being a data and advertising company:

Google… is about data or it’s about advertising, it is about serving you ads in a tasteful way, and they’ve done a great job of that business.

Ah, Rhetoric

The truth is, the difference between Microsoft, Apple and Google nowadays is neither simple nor distinct.

Apple is more than just a device company, Google is more than just a data and advertising company, and Microsoft isn’t just a company that supports creative productivity.

All three are in the data, device, advertising, productivity and creative empowerment space.

From Google’s free productivity software, to the mass data collection and advertising powerhouse that is the Apple App Store, to Microsoft’s Surface Tablet devices.

And all three companies provide tools and platforms via which the creative consumer can create, produce and share: from Word, to Xcode, to YouTube.

At the end of that day, Nadella’s musings about the supposedly distinct differences between Microsoft, Apple and Google is nothing more than bullshit and rhetoric.

But history has shown that such rhetoric, when marketed in just the right way, can make a world of difference.

It will be interesting to see how Microsoft will attempt to market to the creative consumer moving forward.

And whether those efforts will even begin to measure up to the successful campaigns — and innovative products — Jobs launched in his day.