For his profile of Apple in Fortune (excerpt here), Adam Lashinsky interviewed an unnamed executive who has worked at both Apple and Microsoft. Here’s how he summed up the difference between the companies:
“Microsoft tries to find unrealized pockets of revenue and then decides what to make. Apple is just the opposite: it thinks of great products, then sells them. Prototypes and demos always come before spreadsheets.”
It’s a great quote — it’s quick, it’s pithy, and it confirms the stereotypes most readers have of both companies.
Of course, reality is not quite so simple.
Microsoft does occasionally launch a product without a business model in place.
Take Surface, its tabletop computer — when it launched in 2007, Microsoft didn’t have a channel or sales strategy in place. The product didn’t even have a price tag. It was basically a research project that Microsoft rushed out with a couple partners to show that it, too, had innovative touch screen technology — Apple wasn’t the only one.
Or what about HailStorm, a set of online services for storing user data that Microsoft floated in 2001? That initiative was killed in large part because Microsoft couldn’t figure out how to make money from it — but only after an entire product team had spent months building a prototype and explaining it to the world.
On the other side, Apple’s genius isn’t only in its ideas — it also executes them brilliantly. Microsoft has had plenty of ideas before competitors — it had a smartphone OS and a number of tablets way back in 2002. But Microsoft didn’t know what to do with those ideas. Apple did.