The Passing of a Misunderstood Entrepreneur

Apple vs. Windows?

Since everybody else is talking, tweeting, blogging, and writing about the sad passing of the brilliant Steve Jobs, why not do it here too? But, of course, with an entrepreneurial twist. And perhaps an unexpected one.

Steve Jobs was an imaginative visionary, a cocky business leader, and a repeat failure. What is also interesting now that most people seem to carry high-tech stuff named i-something, is that his life’s work and ultimate creation is completely misunderstood. While this HBR post gets close to the truth, most people simply don’t get it.

Question: Get what? Answer: That Steve Jobs did not create a head-to-head competitor or an alternative to Microsoft. But that is how most choose see it: “Mac or Windows” or “Apple or Microsoft.”

But Steve Jobs has never fully competed with Microsoft – he has always worked in a different segment. In terms of products, Apple provides fully encapsulated, ready-to-go products consisting of hardware and software produced together; Microsoft produces software to run on other companies’ hardware. But there is a more fundamental difference between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, if you will, than differences in products. And this is the main reason why designers so stubbornly stay with – and “cool” people so eagerly embrace – Apple products. It has nothing to do with the quirkiness or number of bugs in the products, the intuitiveness of the interface, or which product is better for whatever purpose.

Apple provides an experience with a heavy dose of image. Microsoft provides tools for professionals.

Obviously, there is overlap – but the primary mission of one company is at best the secondary mission of the other. There is a reason why Windows is competing with Unix and Linux in the server and networking market – and not with Apple. And there is a reason Apple is competing with Android (software) on Samsung or HTC (hardware) – and to a very little extent with Microsoft.

The reason designers, “creative” personnel, and culture folks stay with Apple has nothing to do with the supposedly better software and applications on Apple computers (a common argument, but evidently false). It has everything to do with image: Apple is #1 in the high-tech market providing image and experience, as are designers; Microsoft is #1 in the efficient but not quite as emotionally inspiring office milieu. Neither has managed to break the other in their respective primary markets, and neither has been able to grow substantially where the other is a market leader.

But Apple is bigger than Microsoft, at least in terms of stock value, doesn’t that disprove this point? No, it doesn’t. What Steve Jobs imagined, aimed for, and attained was an enormous potential for high-tech consumer gadgets. He succeeded, probably beyond anyone’s wildest imagination, through creating the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. The reason Apple’s market value is greater than Microsoft’s has nothing to do with Bill Gates being a market failure.

Contrarily, Windows 7 has been a tremendous success. But while Microsoft’s primary market – the computerized office – experienced enormous growth in the 1990s, Apple’s primary market – consumer gadgets – has only recently done so. And much of it is Steve Jobs’ doing.

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