At a recent event on its Redmond campus, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella detailed his views on what Google and Apple do best.
His comments, as the chief executive of the company worth less than Apple, but more than Google, are notable. For context, in his thus-short tenure at Microsoft , Nadella has completed its purchase of Nokia, and also continued the company’s push into cloud computing.
Here’s Nadella’s quote on his rivals:
When I think about what Apple does, what Google does and what Microsoft does, therein lies perhaps the simplest answer to why these three identities are actually pretty distinct. To me Apple’s very, very clear, and, in fact, I think Tim Cook did a great job of even describing that very recently where he said they sell devices and that’s what Apple is all about. And Google is about being, it’s about data or it’s about advertising, it is about serving you ads in a tasteful way, and they’ve done a great job of that business.
Apple’s massive success in hardware has driven its historic revenue and profit growth. Though, naturally, those successes have been undergirded by prescient software choices, including adding an application marketplace to iPhone when that product was in its infancy. The App Store has been a key strength that Apple used to help launch the iPad to strong market adoption, and will, presumably, assist its upcoming Watch product also see quick initial sales.
Google’s advertising prowess is obvious, but again isn’t the full story: The company’s search products made selling ads possible; if Google hadn’t built the dominant search tool for most of the world, its ad incomes wouldn’t have soared as they have.
But that doesn’t mean Nadella is wrong, merely that there is nuance to the point. The executive continued directly, making a case for Microsoft’s own strengths:
Whereas in our case our identity really is about empowering others to build products. It’s not really about us and our products. Of course, we have a revenue model and a business model, but to me the place where Microsoft can be distinct and where it comes naturally to us more so than anything else is from the creator of a document to a developer writing an app, to anyone else who is in the business of actually their own creation we want to be the tools provider, the platform provider. That’s the core identity, and productivity to me that’s why it has deep meaning.
To be most basic, Apple’s core strength is the iPhone, Google’s search, and Microsoft’s selling Windows and Office. Apple wants to get into cloud services, as evinced by its iCloud Drive product, Google wants to win productivity and cloud computing, and Microsoft is setting itself along similar lines, working to convert Office into a cloud subscription service, and growing its Azure cloud platform.
As I’ve written in the past, the large platform companies are combating across a host of surface areas. Apple and Google and Microsoft are each in apps, and hardware, and so forth. The question is which will be the most adept at converting past success into new winnings. Whichever wins a new segment could see its market capitalization advance, and perhaps challenge the other two for dominance in the next decade of technology.