Remember when “Windows” was ubiquitous with “home computer.” Even though there were a relative handful of holdouts, there was no doubt Microsoft ruled the home computing universe. This was the status quo for decades, as also-rans came and went. Various Windows versions also came and went, but customers didn’t have too much of a choice.
Apple surged a bit, coming up on the outside to peel away some of the Microsoft market, but the company wasn’t too worried. They launched the XBox, blowing open an entirely new market – gaming. As Apple tried to beg, borrow and steal some Microsoft computer customers, Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft vied for the gaming industry crown.
But Apple had a project that would create a tectonic shift in the modern computing environment. They introduced the iPod, and everyone shrugged. Music in your pocket. Ho-hum. Then came the iPhone … and the world changed. Smartphones were for business, everyone knew that … “knew” that… The iPhone became THE must have item for tens of millions of coming of age Millennials.
Then came the iPad, a portable “computer” with a simple interface. So simple that many older folks who were baffled by their home computers, flocked to the iPad, creating a market boom on both sides of the demographic timeline. Years passed, and versions came and went. Desktop computers gave way to laptops gave way to tablets.
Microsoft began to flounder, to lose ground in markets that were simply disappearing. The company seemed to be a product in search of a customer. Some lines they had come to depend on were not producing, and there didn’t look like there was anything the company could do to change that. Some began to predict that the market was leaving them behind. They were dead wrong.
Microsoft recently reported another straight quarter of stronger-than-expected earnings. The company found a way to evolve to meet a different demand and keep the money flowing in. That focus? Online services and business software. Microsoft, the ultimate example of the massive aircraft carrier of a company, remained nimble enough to shift to an evolving market.
The company managed this by not being married to a product, even a product they perfected for consumer use. If Microsoft has remained stubbornly connected to and invested in home computer hardware, they could have ended up on the scrap heap of American business, but they continued to pay attention to trends and to innovate. And, when necessary, to completely reinvent their brand.
Today the company that ushered in the modern consumer computing era is once again a market leader … in segments that barely existed on paper ten years ago.