Microsoft Announces ... Everything
Apple, the biggest company on the planet, has just four core products. The iPod (now in decline), the iPhone, the iPad, and, of course, the legacy iMac. Oh sure, those four have spun out in a variety of colors, or prices, or sometimes features. Who remembers the first iMac, the jellybean colored computer than kicked out the beige boxes? Yes, it's had more facelifts than Joan Rivers, but it's still just one thing in just a couple different screen sizes.
When the iPod was introduced there was just one to choose from. It was so classic it became, uh, Classic. The iPhone? Any color you wanted, so long as it was black. Sizes? Steve's size fits all. Maybe you wanted more memory at a steeper price, but heck, at first you had a choice of exactly one carrier. The whole thing was very nearly binary: buy it or don't.
The iPad launched in one size and one color, although there were a few features on the palette: wifi-only or 3G, and different memory configurations. Eventually you could get it in white instead of black. Big whoop! Now there's a little brother, just as the iPod eventually allowed a few colors, then smaller form factors at different price points - but the point is Apple picked a model and ran with it, drilled it into a successful platform, and only then spun out derivatives. By that time nobody needed to explain much about the Shuffle, or the White iPhone, or now, the iPad Mini. You know what it is and what it does before you ever lay hands on it. And that's true for all four Apple product lines, all so clearly defined.
(But wait Goofy! What about all those other things Apple does? Like iTunes? Irrelevant: it's a support vehicle for the iPod. Without the hardware nobody was coming to Apple to buy music. Likewise the App store. Likewise all the peripherals. Even OSX; if the iMac doesn't sell, there's hardly need for an OS is there? There's not any real profit in any of that anyway.)
I bring it up, because Microsoft today announced three products (euphemistically speaking; they've been pre-announced or in beta for months.) There's the Surface tablet using Windows 8 RT, a sort of weird hybrid of the Windows 8 tiles surface, except it doesn't run any Microsoft legacy software (nor will it ever), and there aren't many apps yet either. There's a different tablet coming soon, we're told, that will do that, except it will be incompatible with any software you buy for the RT. Apps too, maybe, depending. And it will come with a variety of configurations, and with or without two different keyboards as you may choose, using different hardware architecture and OS variants.
Also today came Windows 8 for Surface, and a different version of Windows 8 Pro for PC's. Whew! The new Windows will push Xbox music, hoping to drive users to another new, untested platform, once they get past the new UI, which has had two names in four months. ("Metro" lost out in a trademark dispute, so it's the decidedly less memorable "Modern", which is OK because I don't think I will remember which Surface tablet I have much less the name of the UI if I have one, which I probably never will.)
Well, I recall that Microsoft pushed hard to get into game consoles, and after years of losses managed to produce a viable product and brand, although I think it's a bit different since they were pushing one thing and only one thing into the consumer marketplace. Now they're hawking two tablets with two incompatible OS's (although they look alike), a full featured OS for a different platform that's quite different from what users have become used to over the past two decades, and it all comes in a blizzard of advertising and hype unleashed just a few nights ago.
I don't think you launch six things at once and do any of them justice; Apple persevered in a densely competitive and hostile landscape by doing one thing and doing it exceptionally well. Microsoft seems to be playing baseball with 24 men on the field at the same time, and although I expect them to have some decent sales at the beginning (if only for the curious IT managers tied to legacy Microsoft products), I will be surprised if the tablet garners significant traction over the longer pull.
Still, Microsoft has been counted out before and come back. Who can forget the Zune?
OK, bad example.