Google landed some big hits against Apple yesterday at their I/O developer conference. Reading through the narrative coverage, you’d think they were the only two companies that matter, which leads me to ask, whatever happened to Microsoft?
Clearly, Google was trying to one-up the iPhone with Froyo and their new music system takes direct aim at iTunes. But aside from having “TV” in the name, Google TV really isn’t analogous to Apple TV. Google TV is a platform, not a device, to let you watch web video and run apps on your TV. Apple TV is a device that primarily lets you watch iTunes content on your TV. Windows Media Center, however, lets you do what Google TV promises, plus record live TV. The more accurate comparison should be clear, yet WMC is barely pulling token mentions.
The situation is strikingly parallel to what’s going on with tablets. With Apple’s release of the iPad, it was almost as if the Tablet PC was struck from historical record. People ooh’d and aah’d at the video of the HP Slate, analyzing its UI elements as if they’d never seen the tablet functionality of Windows 7. People are amazed that Bill Gates was talking tablets in 2007, even though he’s been talking tablets since 2001. Tablet chatter is at an all-time high, yet it seems the Tablet PC is less remembered than ever.
If only the blame for that could be placed squarely on the media. Sadly, Microsoft has failed to help matters with their lackluster support for the tablet and media center experiences. At home, the only PCs I use are a Tablet PC and a media PC. I know how unsavory the out-of-the-box experience is for both. They are powerful but not user-friendly. The field is wide open for simpler solutions to swoop in, which is what the iPad and Google TV are doing.
Despite being ahead of the game on both, Microsoft has let their tablet and media center products fall into near obscurity. This situation can only worsen once Google fields a tablet-version of Android and Apple follows through on anticipated plans to beef up Apple TV with the iPhone OS. They might even fall further down the hole when HP starts using webOS in everything.
Make no mistake, these are not tertiary threats to Microsoft’s PC dominance. The more people interact with data on their phones and tablets and surf the web on their TVs, the less they’ll need standalone PCs. Furthermore, those who need PCs will be more attracted to interfaces similar to what they get on these other devices. Google is gearing up to take advantage of that, while Apple’s ecosystem is built around it. I don’t think Windows will ever get unwedged from the business arena, but if Microsoft doesn’t turn things around, I’ll be explaining their home OS to my grandkids for their history reports.