Breaking down the Microsoft and Apple ecosystems

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Two massive companies are building out their ecosystems and choosing the one that is right for you will be based on many factors but it is best to take a look at the entire picture before picking your path of travel.

As Microsoft and Apple build out their platforms, it will become more expensive to switch between the two platforms as to get the best use out of your device, you will need the companion products to go with it.

Apple was arguably first out of the gate with this interoperability of its products. We are well aware that Microsoft did have some of these functions well before Apple did but it is all about implementation. A perfect example would be Shadow copy in Windows and Versions in OS X Lion. Microsoft had the idea and implementation first but Apple managed to implement it in a way that is easier to use for the consumer. 

Microsoft and Apple cross paths in many areas as each develop their ecosystems. Apple has had a jumpstart on building its portfolio in terms of interopability but Redmond is pulling out the big guns with Windows 8, Xbox and many other products.


As soon as 10.8 features were unveiled, comparisons of Windows 8 and Mountain Lion (10.8) began popping up, rightfully so. Microsoft has been slowly releasing Windows 8 features via blog posts and with a consumer preview right around the corner, Windows 8 is about to become a mainstream conversation.

Microsoft is betting on its Metro UI and Apple is betting on its blended OS X/iOS interfaces. Microsoft will have its traditional desktop as well as a new start area that is bathed in Metro styling and applications. This metro interface also extends to the tablet and Windows phone with the added benefit is that porting Windows Phone applications to desktop Metro experience is relatively frictionless as seen by this video.

The Microsoft desktop experience will be transitioned heavily with the introduction of the Metro interface and store process as the only applications allowed in the Metro arena will be Microsoft Store applications. Essentially, it will act as its own app environment much like Apple currently exhibits on its iDevices.

Apple has taken a slightly different approach but similar in basis. It is blending its iOS/Desktop experience into one seamless product. Unlike Microsoft that will have a traditional desktop and new metro UI for cross compatibility, Apple is building this all in to the main desktop experience.

It’s a different approach, Microsoft has a hard line currently between Metro/Classic desktop and Apple has blended the lines with applications like Messages that is a free text based service from desktop client to the tablet and phone (we fully expect messages will eventually include free calling as well like Skype).

Apple’s App Store is also a walled-garden experience that is similar in nature to what Microsoft is building in to Windows 8 Metro experience. Apple’s App Store allows for a simple purchase process as well as safeguards to prevent against malicious applications and 10.8 will also introduce a new trusted certificate process for loading applications from third-party sources; Apple is trying to head-off malware as it platforms becomes larger and targeted by malicious individuals.  Microsoft’s store will be more robust in features that allow for trials and returns, something Apple does not currently offer(in most regions) but will also have fewer applications until it can manage to catch Apple.

Both platforms offer a store that contains pre-screened applications and cross compatibility but take on this approach from two different angles. Who is taking the right approach? That’s a bit subjective and it all depends on your needs.  

This is a high level view of both desktop based approaches, certainly Apple and Microsoft offer far more in terms of usability but the division line is simple, Apple is blending iOS/OS X and Microsoft has the classic desktop and the Metro interface.

Cell Phones:

The iPhone and Windows Phone are the yin and yang of the mobile world. In one hand, you have Apple’s iPhone which has been a game changing device and introduced many features to the mobile phone segment and has sold millions upon millions of devices. On the other hand, you have Windows Phone OS, a reboot for Microsoft that delivers a new interface, a wide range of hardware, and Microsoft boasts that it allows you to get things done faster with its “smoked by Windows Phone” campaign.

But, when you remove the branding and the hardware, at the OS level, the devices are relatively similar in functionality. They both surf the web, have app stores, sync with a dedicated software package, allow you to control other vendor specific devices (iPhone can control Apple TV/ Windows Phone can control the Xbox360).

Apple has strict control over updates and applications and is the only vendor who produces a phone with the iOS software. Because of Apple’s tight control, it offers end users assurance that their devices will always been updated in a timely manner provided that are not outdated by Apple’s standards.

Microsoft on the other hand does not produce hardware but licenses its software to vendors such as Nokia, HTC, Samsung and others. Microsoft also has modest control over pushing out updates to its devices and has proven that it can control the carriers to a modest degree but it is not perfect.

The cell phones offer the first step in to the ecosystem world after the desktop, if you buy an iPhone, it’s logical to purchase an Apple TV as a companion device for media sharing and likewise if you have a Windows Phone, it make sense to purchase an Xbox 360 as a companion device so that you have full functionality within your ecosystem.

The division line of ecosystems begins to show its face here as a user with an iMac, Windows Phone and Apple TV, doesn’t reap the full benefits of their devices and a Windows user with an Xbox 360 and an iPhone misses out on some cross compatibility too (although Microsoft did put out an Xbox Live application for the iOS platform).

What it comes down to is that the iPhone is in a tightly locked walled-garden and Microsoft has a walled garden but it’s walls can be overcome by carrier neglect.  The choice comes down to if you only want one option for a phone but has guaranteed updates and carrier support but no ability to differentiate or Microsoft’s approach which is multiple vendors and devices but a modest guarantee of update support provided carriers are not going to inhibit the process.

Both mobile devices have their flaws and strengths; it’s the consumer choice about which device (and ecosystem) fits their needs.


Apple kicked off the tablet frenzy with the iPad even though Microsoft was technically first out of the gate many years before. But, if sales are your measurement stick, the iPad was the start of the tablet revolution and Microsoft once again finds itself playing catch-up.

The iPad runs iOS and Microsoft’s tablets will run either WOA (Windows on ARM) or full-fledged Windows 8. To clarify, and to keep it simple, WOA will be the Metro side of Windows 8 and to get applications you must go through the Microsoft Store; to understand more about this distinction, see this post here.

For this breakdown, we are going to say that Windows 8 tablets are WOA devices as they will most likely cost less and compete head-to-head with the iPad.  With a WOA tablet, you will get a finger friendly Windows 8 that will be identical (from what is known about the UI) to the Windows 8 Metro interface. The idea for Microsoft is to make a WOA device the same experience as the desktop to ease the transition from one platform to the other. Your Windows Store apps will work on both the desktop Metro environment and the WOA device and possibly even on your Windows Phone (this feature is not confirmed yet by Microsoft).

Apple takes the same line as its iPhone, only they produce the hardware and you only have one model to choose with minimal look and feel. Microsoft on the other hand will again work with multiple vendors giving you a wide range of tablets running its OS but the update path is unknown at this point.

Apple has the edge currently in this domain as its tablets are already selling by the millions and peripherals are easy to find. With Microsoft still, at least, a few months away from kicking out WOA tablets, this arena is still in its infancy as some of Microsoft’s puzzle pieces are being built.

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Microsoft has two distinct messaging applications in its portfolio, Live Messenger and Skype. Apple has in its corner iMessages which integrates natively in to the iOS platform to auto-detect other iOS users and avoid SMS fees. Apple has an excellent implementation with iMessages on the iOS devices as it is not a separate application and is automatically deployed as opposed to Microsoft’s offerings. But, Microsoft’s products can work on multiple platforms including iOS/Android/Windows and others which provide more avenues for access whereas Apple’s software (excluding iTunes/Safari) can only be used on Apple devices.

Apple’s product is more intuitive than Microsoft’s, but Microsoft’s applications have broader scope; which is better? That’s for you to decide.


There is one area that Apple has ventured in to that it does find itself considerably disadvantaged and that is the productivity software (iWork). Microsoft, in no uncertain terms, dominates the productivity suite with its Office product. Many have long referred to Office as the ace in Microsoft’s sleeve as nearly every business uses it and the majority of consumers have some variation of the platform at home.

Apple’s iWork integrates in to its cloud offering (iCloud) and Microsoft has it’s sharing ability to save directly to the web too via Skydrive.

Apple’s iWork does work well with a small group who don’t need all the features of Office but that being said, it is not nearly as distributed as other Apple products.

Without drilling down on each platform, Microsoft has the ability or inability to make its products work on any of Apple’s devices and as such, gives Microsoft a leg up in this area.

That being said, Microsoft has been delivering its Office product to OS X but has been slow to adopt iOS with only OneNote being deployed. But, there has been a lot of noise around Office coming to the iOS environment and we already know that it will land on WOA and is deployed on Windows Phone.

Unlike other hardware based products, Office is not as engrained in the ecosystems as other items mentioned in this article as it is a killer feature but it is multiplatform at the moment. 

Image Credit: Apple


Cloud is a simple term for offsite storage that can be accessed from anywhere at any time. There are many benefits to this as your data has multiple storage safeguards but at the same time, if your host has connections issues, you can find yourself without any of your documents.

Apple’s iterations of Cloud is known as iCloud and Microsoft’s is branded as SkyDrive and both have their own twist on how Cloud should operate and both will be deeply involved with the next generation of operating systems (Windows 8 and OS X 10.8).

iCloud is currently baked deeply in to iOS 5 and 10.8 that neatly ties all of the platforms together via the cloud. Take a photo on iPhone and its shared everywhere (for better or worse) if you so choose along with contact management, email, even iWork is all distributed with iCloud.

SkyDrive will be baked deep in to Windows 8 as well that will offer seamless integration between cloud and desktop/metro experiences. The integration will also allow for application synchronization, file sharing, and much much more and will compete head to head with Apple’s iCloud.  

Image Credit: Microsoft


Microsoft and Apple both have their own vehicles for getting content in to the living room; Apple has it’s Apple TV and Microsoft has the Xbox 360.

For Apple, its product is all about getting you to purchase content from iTunes and watch it in your living room or stream music from another Apple device (or iTunes in Windows 7). Put simply, the Apple TV is a content extender and does not offer much in the way of proprietary content.

The Xbox 360 on the other hand is a full-fledged gaming console that has turned in to a media hub for Microsoft. The platform offers you the ability to stream content, purchase content and also play dedicated games for the platform.

Both products have a different approach to the living room but offer similar features with the Microsoft iteration being more robust. But, in the ecosystem environment, if you have mobile devices such as a Windows Phone, you are out of luck interacting with Apple TV. On the other side, an iPhone can not interact directly with the Xbox 360 (the Xbox Live app can not control the Xbox).

We certainly know that many people mix and match iPhone and Xbox lifestyles but Microsoft and Apple both have the ability to lock each other out (which Apple already does on Windows Phone from accessing Apple TV). While not a major issue, its one more step in the ecosystems that shows staying within one vendor turns your device into a more capable piece of hardware.

Lifecycle support:

When you make an investment in to these platforms you expect them to have a useful life of several years. We know that cellphones are typically tied to contracts of at least a year, typically 2 years but sometimes more. For that, Apple is keen to keep its device supported for at least two generations to live out your contract but know that beyond that timeline, in some cases, you will lose features as Apple moves on or your device may not be supported at all.

The same can also be said about Apple’s desktop OS as well as 10.8 will drop support for some of the first Intel based Macs that are now 6 years old. While we could argue that is beyond the useful life, we know that some hold on to their desktop and laptops for far longer than that which could present an issue to some.

Microsoft in the mobile environment is untested as to how long it will support its new OS. For the time being, it would appear to be that 2 years is a safe estimate but until we go through several hardware/software revisions, we will not know this answer and carriers have the ability to block updates that can kill the lifecycle support sooner too.

The desktop environment is a no brainer, Microsoft does an exceptional job at supporting legacy hardware and software and buying in to the Microsoft desktop environment is without worry for support lifecycle.

WOA tablets on the other hand is an unknown variable as to how long the software will be supported as the devices are not currently in the market.


Both Microsoft and Apple offer compelling ecosystems that offer a full range of products that interact well with each other. Each platform has their own quirks and products to choose from but ultimately each ecosystem can do the same things as its competitor. What it really comes down to is personal choice. Apple and Microsoft are feverishly working to make your next dollars go in to their bank accounts but at the end of the day, you can’t go wrong with either platform.


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