Apple has released its iPad mini, Microsoft has unveiled its Surface RT, and Google has expanded its play with the Nexus 10 tablet. While there are many advantages to each of these devices, Apple remains unmatched with its ecosystem.
Time and time again, following descriptions of well-designed and built hardware, reviewers have been forced to add some form of, “But the ecosystem cannot compete with Apple’s 275,000 tablet-optimized application.” I think this trend underlines the power of Apple’s amazing developer advantage.
I use three distinct types of computing devices every day: my phone, my tablet, and my traditional PC (laptop and desktop). Sometimes, I use an application which is specific to one platform or the other. Dark Sky, for example, is incredibly useful on my iPhone, but would be pretty pointless on my Mac Mini or Macbook Air. This kind of platform-specific, quality application, is what most would consider the App Store advantage. Not me.
Apple’s true advantage is when applications are available across all three platforms, offering a device-optimized and consistent experience no matter what I am using.
They offer a frictionless experience.
There is a good reason why people were so excited for Tweetbot for OS X and love to use apps like Reeder on their iPhone, iPad, and Mac. The consistency of the look, features, gestures, and even notifications makes them easier and more enjoyable to use.
Google sells Android by offering the best mobile experience with their web products. As an early and voracious user of Gmail, Google Contacts, and Google Calendar, I do find this enticing. But Android apps are never going to be able to offer the frictionless experience offered by Apple across the mobile and desktop space. ChromeOS is Google’s best effort to push a frictionless platform, but it’s entirely limited to non-native applications; any non-Google products require major modifications and just won’t be the same.
Microsoft sees the Apple advantage clearly, and they understand Google’s inability to fully compete. That’s why they are launching Windows 8, where in many ways they’re attempting to integrate the tablet and desktop even further than Apple. The release of the Surface and Windows 8 writ large is a bet that Apple made a mistake by grouping tablets with cell phones. The tablet, according to Microsoft, is about replacing laptops and should be grouped with the desktop.
I think this is a smart play, regardless of some of the rough reviews of both the Surface RT and Windows 8. Version 1 has some awkward transitions on both devices – but that may be worth the cost to take advantage of a near-future where large tablets will have comparable computing power to laptop and even desktop computers. Just as the Macbook Air serves most consumers in the laptop market, soon tablets will be every bit as good as consumer computers are now. Microsoft believes that with that power will come more sophisticated and complex uses, better-suited for applications on the desktop. They’re betting the future is the present – a full multitasking enabled, file-system revealing environment. If that’s what users will eventually want from their tablets, Windows 8 will have these capabilities baked in from the start, while iOS struggles to pump out new features and APIs to mimic (or create) these capabilities.
The future is frictionless. Apple’s true advantage is that they can already offer one version of that future. If Microsoft plays its cards right, and if it is not too late, it can offer an equally compelling alternative. It won’t win over the real, dyed-in-the-wool Apple fans, but it may stem the tide carrying the consumer market swiftly away.