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Microsoft's big shift: Be more like Apple

Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer introduces Surface, a

Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer introduces Surface, a new family of tablets that run Windows software. (June 18, 2012) Credit: AP

Slowly but surely, Microsoft is creeping further into the hardware business. In Tuesday’s annual letter to shareholders, Steven Ballmer, the firm’s chief executive, outlined plans to develop devices to capitalize on the company’s most prized Windows features.

The announcement marks a pivot from the tech giant’s decades-long focus on developing software and licensing it to many of the largest technology manufacturers. And, as several industry watchers have noted, it also indicates the company is paying close attention to the success of its chief rival, Apple, and taking steps to emulate it.

“There will be times when we build specific devices for specific purposes,” Ballmer said in the letter. “This is a significant shift, both in what we do and how we see ourselves -- as a devices and services company.”

Granted, Microsoft has been building Xbox for 11 years, but the June unveiling of the Surface tablet was the true beginning of the push to build devices that run Windows computing software. (Microsoft's discontinued Zune line of products didn't run Windows.)

In the letter, Ballmer hinted at a day in the not-so-distant future, when, in addition to the tablet, consumers will find Microsoft-built personal computers, and more likely, phones on the shelves of electronic stores.

Apple, of course, has been building these devices for decades.

But that’s not the only way Microsoft is becoming less and less distinguishable from Apple. Ballmer noted the firm is continuing its efforts to establish “one platform, Windows, across the PC, tablet, phone, server and cloud to drive a thriving ecosystem of developers, unify the cross-device user experience, and increase agility when bringing new advancements to market.”

Similarly, Apple has been working toward this end for years with, among other initiatives, the growing integration of its App Store to its entire line of products.

Despite the clearly converging paths of Microsoft and Apple, the former isn’t completely abandoning the strategies that helped it to $73 billion in revenue in fiscal year 2012. Ballmer took care to say the Microsoft would continue to work with partners who build devices for Windows software as it prepares for the Oct. 26 release of Windows 8.

“We do this because our customers want great choices and we believe there is no way one size suits over 1.3 billion Windows users around the world,” he said.


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