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Is Google the Next Microsoft and Microsoft the Next Apple?

This past week, two rather interesting events got me thinking about how Apple, Google and Microsoft seem to be changing places. Microsoft announced Windows Phone Series 7, and Google announced Buzz (also known as “Buzz Kill”) into the market.

Microsoft kind of pulled an Apple with this, in that it stepped away from the field and created something distinctly different, potentially more capable, and much more interesting than the products it has been competing with. (Oh, and it looks like it is a complete offering this time).

With Buzz, Google tossed out a turd of a product that was unfinished — and privacy concerns forced it to stop forcing it on its customers. The label “arrogant” has now officially passed from Microsoft to Google.

These things are my main focus this week. I’ll close with my product of the week: an electric bed warmer/cooler that is based on the same technology used to keep race car drivers cool.

Google’s Buzz Kill

Through most of the last decade, Microsoft became known for products that were poorly thought out and failed. Among the duds: Mira, a tablet that required a business version of Windows on a networked PC to work in the home; Origami, an unfinished tablet operating system that was prematurely released; and Vista, which was a train wreck of biblical proportions.

Well, this is a new decade, and coming into it we had Google Wave a product that was both unfinished and so weird folks are still trying to figure out what it is for, and Buzz, also unfinished, which apparently has pissed off more people in less time than anything I’ve seen in recent memory.

It’s safe to say that the Bozo (no offense to the deceased clown) award is moving from Microsoft to Google, as Google starts to recreate the same kinds of mistakes. There are a couple of reasons behind this. The first I’ve seen several times, starting with IBM. What happens is folks who aren’t working out at a big declining company find critical jobs in a new up-and-coming company and proceed to repeat the mistakes they made at the older firm in the new one.

I watched the IBM and Digital folks royally screw up Microsoft. Then Microsoft folks left to help royally screw up Netscape, and then they wandered over to Google, and now we have a trifecta.

Number two is Google’s hiring practices, which favor men and engineers. They’re so bad that Google (and others) are actively trying to conceal their employee mix. I think they know if folks were to realize a company that was trying to do social networking stuff had only engineers and no core of creative types, then confidence in those efforts would fall sharply. However, given how bad Buzz was at its launch, it is hard to imagine how it could have fallen farther any faster.

Number three is Google’s apparent belief that anything that is free doesn’t need to be very high quality. Looking at Google’s offerings — other than search — don’t they generally feel kind of unfinished and rough?

The new Nexus One, Google’s branded phone, came out as a second-generation device, but it felt like a beta, given how rough it was around the edges. Granted, that phone isn’t free, but Google gives away its Android OS to OEMs who then apparently have to finish it. Without the OEM, it’s not much good.

The idea that if it’s free, then it doesn’t have to be good is both common and wrong. Whether it is Wave, Buzz, Google Apps, Gears, or Android, people expect finished products and adequate quality. Free or not, folks just don’t want crap.

In effect, Google is repeating many of the mistakes that caused Microsoft to stall last decade and adding the “free one” as a special bonus. That makes it the new Microsoft — and in this case, that isn’t a good thing.

Windows Phone Series 2: Is Microsoft becoming Apple?

Not exactly — but it seems that the only problem most folks are having with this new platform is the name, which in acronym form would be “WPS,” or “Whoops.” I’m not sure I’d want my product to be called “the Whoops phone,” but then I’m also pretty sure I wouldn’t want my product named after a feminine hygiene product like the “iPad.” Every time I hear that name I think of the Mad TV iPad sketch.

What Apple did with the iPhone and iPod was to not emulate anyone else (well maybe the LG Prada a little with the iPhone) and step around them with something new, innovative and different. It also established a higher level of control over the entire user experience with both offerings, which now assure Apple’s revenue, profit and market valuation.

With the WPS 2 platform, Microsoft isn’t copying Apple or anyone else, but it is using a blend of good ideas from inside and outside the company. For instance, it is being very aggressive on the hardware specification to assure consistency of the experience and reliability of the result.

This should result in a better user experience than either Google or the old Microsoft Mobile platform enjoyed, as well as more phone variety than either RIM or Apple currently offers. There are clear tradeoffs, but this is clearly a differentiated approach.

In terms of UI, Microsoft rethought moving even farther away from the Windows interface than either Google or Apple has done so far (though I’ll bet those two vendors now rethink their own approach) and combined animation with large icons to create clickable interfaces that are informative and not static.

Rather than turning multitasking off like Apple does (except for phone features) — or all the way on, like Google — Microsoft is allowing it only where it makes sense for the application. This allows for a potentially more useful device than the iPhone and a potentially higher-performing one than the Android phones, which can get bogged down by too many running applications.

In short, this is a product that feels more like something Apple would launch then Microsoft, and I hope it is a sign of things to come from that company.

Wrapping Up

You’ll notice I didn’t mention what Apple is becoming. I recently was reminded about some of Apple’s greatest failures, and when I look at the iPad, I wonder if we are seeing the beginning of change for that company. First, there’s the name. Then, there’s the fact that Steve Jobs said it needed to be better than a laptop and an iPhone (something I agree with) — but because it lacks Flash, multi-tasking, or phone features, it can’t be.

Steve Jobs is looking to have an official biography written, and typically you do that at the end of your career, suggesting his departure in likely imminent. In any case, Microsoft does seem to be improving. Windows 7 and WPS 7 are now two clear data points, and Google is clearly drifting to the dark side. I guess the only thing certain remains change.

Product of the Week: ChiliBed ChiliPad

Product of the Week

Like a lot of married folks, my nights are generally spent fighting room temperature. My wife wants it sauna hot, and I want it arctic cool. You can get a hot blanket, but on a warm night that doesn’t fix the cool part, and there are a lot of health concerns (linked to miscarriages and leukemia) surrounding heating pads and electric blankets.

Air-conditioning the entire house at night — or even just the bedroom — seems to be a waste, given you are in a much more contained area. I’ve often wondered why someone didn’t do what they did for race drivers and in some server rooms, and use chilled water to localize the cooling more effectively.


The ChiliPad regulates the temperature of your bed at night.

By accident, I ran across an article about the Chili Technology company, which was doing just that. It had just come out with a mattress product and had a mattress pad already on the market.

Since the mattress for a California King was US$3,049 and I had a new mattress, I went the pad route ($649 for dual zones) and have been using it for about a week. I set my side low, my wife sets hers high, and the damn thing actually works.

Now I would like it if it shut off automatically when I wasn’t in the bed (it has a timer), and if I could more easily tell when it was on and off (it has wireless controllers that send but don’t receive). Still, this is sooo much better than the heating pad I was using.

So, because I’m sleeping better, I’m getting along with my wife more, and I always thought this would be a great idea, the ChiliPad is my product of the week.

Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.

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