The Real Reason Apple is Giving Away its Software

When a company, like Apple, makes a bold move, like giving away OS X and productivity apps, it's typically seen as a torpedo intended to sink an enemy ship. So then people argue; that bold move is no torpedo. And they're right. In fact, single, bold actions are more like cannon fire that whittles away at the superstructure of an enemy ship, slowly reducing its ability to function.


We should all know by now that no single action by Apple can take down a competing company. (Although some articles would have you believe that.) I think what happens is that well read observers take in the entirety of the industry and form a subconscious model of what's going on. Then, when we see a single move by Apple, like giving away Mavericks and iWork, it's like a jigsaw puzzle. The pieces fall into place, and there's an "aha!" moment. We see the dominoes falling in that model in our heads.

But if you ask us to explain why this single cannon shot will contribute to the desired, long term effect, we may be at a loss to articulate the whole mental model we've formed. So I'll try. Here it is.

Cascade Failure

The Surface tablet family has been a miserable failure for Microsoft, and there's no sign that the Redmond giant is getting a clue. As Tim Cook said during the October 22 event about the competition, "They're confused...they chased after netbooks. They tried to make tablets into PCs and PCs into tablets." There is no doubt, Mr. Cook was taking a shot at Microsoft.

As I've written before, after a 2.5 year delay producing its own tablet, Microsoft hasn't created a proper stepping stone to the future with the Surface. The reason is that Apple's iPads (and other tablets) are in the process of dismantling and demoralizing the PC industry. If few companies are eager to build PCs, or can't make any money on the low to moderate end (with Apple seizing the high end with the Mac Pro) then there's an ever dwindling market for Windows. Then, Microsoft Office suffers collateral damage.

Next. What Microsoft doesn't want to admit is that the modern tablet is designed for lightweight apps. It's part of the tablet concept, the cultural meme that we tap, drag and create. Keyboards are destined to go the way of the typewriter. Putting MS Office on a tablet is like mounting a Patriot missile launcher on four meter sailboat.

In a case of bizarre self-rationalization, Microsoft sees a two-position kickstand and USB ports as a decisive advantage -- or they wouldn't tout those features in its TV ads. It sees the complexity of MS Office, in a Post-PC era as a critical, necessary feature, much the way RIM/Blackberry saw email security for business as its unassailable, killer feature. How did that work out?

And so, as Apple's lightweight -- and free -- productivity apps, perfectly designed for a modern tablet get better and better, the market for PCs that utilize Windows and MS Office gets smaller and smaller. Eventually, there will be an inflection point. There always is.

On the other side of the coin, Apple has an interest in carving a bigger and bigger piece out of the PC marketplace with Macs. To be sure, there has been some cannibalization going on with its own iPads, but the way to slow that down is to lower the price of MacBooks and give away OS X and OS X upgrades. That's exactly what Apple did on October 22nd. No more periodic fees.

Consider the mentality of IT managers in a few years. Everything their employees need to do can be done on a BYOD tablet. Faced with the prospect that standard desktop PCs are in less demand, and the ever present frustration as they deal with new Windows versions, they won't be eager to continue the expensive licensing fees -- which Microsoft may have to raise to maintain its revenue stream.

It would be investing in a future that isn't.

Over on the other side of the building, the Mac users in the graphics, engineering and accounting departments are happily upgrading their Macs for ... free. It's just more cannon fire on the other ship's superstructure.

All these shrewd Apple moves have placed Microsoft into yet another bind.

Thanks to Microsoft's crucial tardiness in entering the tablet market, customers have figured out that they don't need MS Office to get routine work done. And that's why Microsoft is in a coffin corner, to use another military term, with Surface. If Microsoft ships Office for iPad, they remove incentive to buy a Surface. If they decline, as they have so far, more and more people using improved, free and compatible iWorks apps realize they can get by without MS Office. Lightweight or not.

When the market for PCs inflects, that is when more tablets are sold than PCs in 2015, and Windows begins its collapse, so will MS Office. The Surface tablet goes down with the ship.

With RIM/BlackBerry disposed of and the weakly positioned Microsoft on the ropes, Apple will be able to focus all of its attention on the rest of the competition.

Now that's a model one can munch on.


Tech News Debris for the Week of October 21

Will there come a time when we carry on conversations with an intelligent agent in our smartphones -- or something we wear? I think so. And so I believe this next article bears on everything Apple and everything mobile. "The Man Who Would Teach Machines to Think." This is Particle Debris must reading.

If you love beautiful wallpapers, especially astronomy, there are some good ones hidden away in the Mavericks screen saver. I've already copied some of these into my pictures library. They're awesome. See: "Uncover Mavericks' 43 Secret Wallpapers."

There have been several great reviews of Mavericks. I liked mine because it wasn't a user manual. Rather, it was a tour that introduced you to what's important and why you should upgrade. However, if you're of a mind to read something akin to Mavericks, the missing manual, by some formidable and talented writers, here are the great ones I know of.

In the preamble above, I discussed market forces, but I didn't go into the specific issues with Windows 8.x. Indeed, that's another part of the model.

Brian S. Hall, however, does have some pointed observations, taking some serious shots at major players, but dramatically so at Microsoft. So I'll finish this week with his poetic quote from "The Simple Shocking Failures of Microsoft Google Facebook Apple And Silicon Valley."

Windows 8 — and I promise you, I am no Microsoft hater — is so inexplicably, almost painfully user-unfriendly that, and I am serious here, every other thing Microsoft has done right, and every other thing they have achieved, and despite all their money, and ignoring the ascendency of iOS and Android and the rise of iPad in the workplace, the breadth and scale of of the Windows 8 OS failure is such that it could literally take down the entire company."

Takes my breath away. Maybe Microsoft has torpedoed themselves.


Cannon fire on sinking ship via

Sub firing torpedo via Shutterstock.