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Why Microsoft Is Turning Into Apple

Microsoft’s next big assault was the iPod. It chose once again to control both hardware and software, but the approach garnered few headlines because the resultant Zune was such a failure [though some of us loved it – Ed.]. In 2009 Microsoft opened its first retail store in Phoenix and subsequently many more have followed. The common response: they look just like Apple stores, but with more colours.

The Xbox, Zune and the move into retail could be passed off as coincidence, but Microsoft’s actions in the last 18 months show they were actually foundations for a new business model. The unveiling of Windows Phone changed everything. Having taken a beating at the hands of Apple, Google, RIM – in fact everyone, Microsoft took its most controlling steps yet: it dictated to handset makers strict rules covering every aspect of the internal hardware and the external physical design.

To this day they remain vice-like in their specificity. A handset’s display type and resolution, connectivity, camera resolution, RAM, native memory, chipset, processor, graphics, external buttons and positioning of those buttons are all locked down and updated regularly.

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“If you look at how we’ve built our team and the programme on Windows Phone we’ve really tried to focus our engineering efforts on a relatively narrow set of hardware so we can optimise it,” said Microsoft’s Windows Phone head Joe Belfiore on Wednesday. He went on to stress user experience is more important than cutting edge specs or bargain basement prices.

Yes it is Apple rhetoric and, should Microsoft conclude the long rumoured deal to buy Nokia’s phone division this year, it will also have the business model to match. Unlike Apple, Microsoft also locks down the native search engine in Windows Phone – so unless you load up the browser or install an app you can only use Bing.

Make no bones about it: Microsoft means business. Apple may have made more headlines with its legal disputes in the last year, but Microsoft has been just as aggressive and far more successful. Following a deal this week with LG, 70 per cent of all Android phones sold in the US will see Microsoft receive royalties. And it isn’t finished yet.

The coup de grace will come in October with the launch of Windows 8: an operating system that will give Microsoft control like no other.

Again Bing is hard-locked, Bloatware will largely be a thing of the past (like Windows Phone the Metro UI cannot be customised) and like Mac OS X Lion it introduces an App Store (Windows Store) from which Microsoft will receive a cut of all developer revenue. It also introduces an approval process where Microsoft will vet all apps/programs. Yes users can still download programs from elsewhere and install them, ”but” all apps which integrate with Windows 8’s Metro UI will only be available from Windows Store. Since this will eventually encompass most if not all Windows software, it actually creates a more tightly walled garden than the one enforced by Apple.

All of which poses a big question: Why?

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