I am an unabashed Apple fan. But I’ll never try very hard to defend Apple software. Hardware, obviously. At the operating system level, Apple reigns supreme. At the individual application level? Not so much.
I have a folder on my iPhone titled ‘Apple Cr*p’. It’s where I put all the stock Apple apps that I don’t use but can’t delete, because there are better versions of each that have supplanted them. Occasionally I’ll scroll through it and think, “why doesn’t Apple acquire all the app developer companies that have built the better apps that have led me to do this?”
Before now, I’ve come up with a list that looks a bit like this:
- Reminders = Wunderlist
- Notes = Evernote
- Calendar = Sunrise
- Mail = Mailbox (or… Accompli)
- Weather = Dark Sky
It’s not as if Apple doesn’t have the cash to acquire a few relatively small development companies. And it would make sense as an extension of the kind of developer support Apple support prides itself on. “We’ve made our platform open, build a better app than we have on it, and we’ll reward you.”
But this is where Apple’s conceitedness undoes itself. To acquire another developer that had bested it on their platform would be tantamount to an admission of failure.
However, I’ve noticed recently that another tech giant seem to be adopting the strategy I thought Apple should have, on Apple’s own operating systems.
Microsoft’s ‘mobile first, cloud first’ approach
It started 52 days after Satya Nadella sat himself behind Steve Ballmer’s desk. 27 March 2014, Microsoft announced its somewhat nonsensical new ‘mobile first, cloud first’ (so… they’re both first?) strategy.
But I didn’t really start to notice it until the acquisition of this email app I’d been playing with, Accompli. I’d only stumbled across it in the App Store, indignant that I couldn’t use the Gmail-only Mailbox for my work email without some hassle-ridden workaround, and here was a gesture-based email app that supported Microsoft Exchange.
Microsoft had snapped up this little hyped but very reliable and usable app. Nice move, I thought. Microsoft has got lucky. But not only did it acquire Accompli, the software giant actually made use of the acquisition, quickly. Just two months later the new Outlook for iOS came out and to my utter shock, it’s good. Microsoft moved fast, essentially re-skinning what was Accompli to release it as the new Outlook app.
Aside from my Xbox, I am not accustomed to conceding that anything purveyed by Microsoft is any good. I use the Office applications, yes, but only out of necessity. Office 2011 on Mac is somewhere in between stubbing a toe and getting food poisoning on the ‘pleasurable experiences’ scale. But I could not deny that here is a Microsoft app that is a pleasure to use.
So I started using Microsoft Outlook as my main mail app on my Apple iPhone. Weird.
Office for iOS
It was around that time, in March 2014, that the previously unthinkable happened. Microsoft launched the Office suite on iPad.
I downloaded Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Despite the anguish it causes me, I spend a lot of my working life using those applications, and it would be handy to use them on the fly, I thought. The reality was I didn’t that much, partly because I carry my MacBook everywhere and partly because it required an Office365 subscription. But still, there they were on my iPad.
Next up, the calendar. Microsoft acquired Sunrise, which was already my calendar app, in February of this year. And recently it started integrating Sunrise with Office365, its cloud based software suite.
But the Microsoft march on my iPhone home screen did not stop there. To-do list app Wunderlist has been telling me what to do for the best part of four years, and as of last month Microsoft has that too.
What is going on?!
With the Wunderlist acquisition, three of the apps on my iPhone’s home screen are now Microsoft owned. Very, very weird.
— Ian McKee (@imckee) June 3, 2015
Could ‘mobile first, cloud first’ actually be… working?
Suddenly, I’m finding myself in the position where despite the fact that I never touch a device running a Microsoft operating system, the majority of the applications in my Apple-based workflow are in fact Microsoft run.
My email, to-do list, calendar, office suite — all Microsoft. It’s only internal messaging (Slack), note taking (Evernote) and design work (Adobe Creative Cloud) left.
Now obviously I am but a sample base of one, but with the user numbers apps like Wunderlist and Sunrise have, I know I’m far from alone.
It’s often assumed that to achieve success in mobile, Microsoft has to gain a decent market share with its own mobile operating system Windows Phone. And it’s not a coincidence that recent news suggests the company is moving away from putting resource in to grow it. Instead it’s going for the ‘device agnostic’ approach, offering the best individual software on other platforms. It’s even updated the painfully neglected Office for Mac. And if it can have this much success with a committed Apple fan-boy, I’d suggest the strategy might just be working.
Photo credit: bagogames