Is This How Microsoft Finally Beats Apple?

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Somewhere in the deluge of pink slips at Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) -- 10,000 layoffs for the Finnish handset maker in the coming months, to be sure -- Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) dreams of mobile domination are taking a heady blow.

Wasn't it Microsoft that promised Nokia billions to champion its Windows Phone platform last year? Wasn't last month's rollout of the Lumia 900 with a massive marketing campaign supposed to give Mr. Softy a shot at narrowing the growing gap that separates Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Android and Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iOS from the rest of the competition?

Well, if the company that was once the largest handset maker on the planet is cutting costs after agreeing to champion Windows Phone, it's safe to say Microsoft is going to have a very hard time making a dent in the booming smartphone space, where consumers seem to be happy with just two mobile operating system flavors.

The IDC Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker report that called for Microsoft to overtake Apple in mobile market share by 2016 seems woefully obsolete. If Microsoft wants to carve into Apple's empire, smartphones may not be the easiest way in.

Take two tablets and call me in the morning
Now that Apple's WWDC 12 powwow has come and gone, Microsoft is  taking to the California stage on Monday.  Everyone seems to agree on why the company is gathering tech bloggers and financial journalists into a big room -- and it's not just to try to convince them that Vista and the Zune weren't flops. Windows 8 is the company's best shot at making an impact when it comes to tablets, and we'll be seeing exactly what tablets powered by the company's upcoming operating system can do.

Microsoft is slow, but it's not stupid. It realizes that PCs and laptop sales have stalled globally, and it's not just because of teetering economies. Consumers are flocking to tablets and smartphones as "good enough" computing devices, and it doesn't end there.  Apple's iPad is replacing textbooks in classrooms, reservation platforms at restaurants, and even wine-list menus at fine dining establishments. If Microsoft doesn't act soon, "good enough" computing is going to be "Good! Enough!" for the masses.

Microsoft has been designing Windows 8 from the ground up with touchscreen devices in mind. The mouse, navigational keys, and QWERTY keyboards aren't going away, but touch is a necessary component given the hundreds of millions of iOS and Android devices that have been sold in just the past few years. If Windows 8 lives up to its touch-centric billing, Microsoft will be ahead of Apple for a change, with a single operating system that replaces the dual MacOS and iOS universes.

The new wave of laptops that double as detachable tablets will belong to Microsoft, and it will be Apple chasing Mr. Softy for once.

See you on the other side of Monday
There are plenty of ways for Microsoft to blow this, of course.  As slick as Windows 8 may be on tablets, it's going to be hard to get manufacturers on board when Android is available for free. Even freely available, Android is lagging in tablet popularity to Apple's new iPad, failing to duplicate the platform's market leadership in wireless phones.

Microsoft's questions don't end there. What about apps? What if it's buggy? What if it's too late?

The company has been surprisingly humbled in its smartphone endeavors, giving developers financial incentives to port popular titles to its operating system. That's the kind of attitude that will make it relevant initially. Maybe the company has learned from Research In Motion's (Nasdaq: RIMM  ) mistakes, where the BlackBerry maker figured that having tens of millions of enterprise-minded smartphone owners would turn its struggling PlayBook tablet into a hit.

Microsoft is a long shot here, but it seems to know where it's aiming -- and what's at stake. Never underestimate the potential of a hungry company that is cash-rich and self-aware.

Apple jacks
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The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple, Microsoft, and Google and creating bull call spread positions in Microsoft and Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz calls them as he sees them. He owns no shares in any of the stocks in this story and is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.

Read/Post Comments (8) | Recommend This Article (13)

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  • Report this Comment On June 16, 2012, at 7:32 PM, matthewluke wrote:

    "Apple's iPad is replacing textbooks in classrooms..."

    Whoa, whoa. Getting a tiny bit ahead of ourselves. Apple would definitely like to replace textbooks in the classroom. That's for sure. But they aren't currently and aren't close to doing anytime soon. Apple's January education announcement aside, it will be a few years (at a minimum) before anybody is in a position to replace textbooks in the classroom. At the moment, the textbook offerings on the iPad are... well... there isn't much of it yet. That would be a kind way to put it. This is still the first quarter for the e/i-textbook game.

  • Report this Comment On June 16, 2012, at 8:10 PM, techy46 wrote:

    Wouldn't it be funny if Microsoft announced a Windows 8 tablet on Monday made by Nokia.

  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2012, at 1:10 AM, bbrriilliiaanntt wrote:

    Too late...just like apples response to msft in 1988...

  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2012, at 5:37 AM, bugnuts wrote:

    MSFT is about to give us another twisted mash-up that requires too much of users. It has always equated elegance and usability with "dumbing down."

  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2012, at 7:31 AM, applefan1 wrote:

    Well, Microsoft traditionally doesn't do well in their own computer design. People are used to seeing Microsoft OS on top of other company's products, mIcrosoft generally not good a hardware design, plus Apple has their own chip design group, has invested in SSD technology, which is key as well as a lot of traction with third party mfg for hardware products. I think the days of Microsfot seen as the leader are over, I also see Android as ultimately failing due to their inability to get users on the latest OS sooner. they don't make the OS a unified product where every implementation on a phone or tablet is the same.

  • Report this Comment On June 22, 2012, at 1:58 PM, edcpa2 wrote:

    This is all foolish folly.

    To compare Google and or Apple to Microsoft is not even revelant. Google and Apple could disappear today and not much productivity would be missed we might miss the toys and games.

    Microsoft on the other hand at this moment is critical to our productive existance. We should hope that Microsoft stays their course established since the early 90's of providing the backbone of the os world for the vast hardware providers. Any other focus could lead them to canablize themselves not to mention they would be smacked hard with antitrust action at thier first sign of material success in the hardware arena.

    Were at the same point as we were in around 1995 with the pc apple got there first with the vision and no where to go.

    in around 1990 it was IBM first there canabilized themselves by abusive trade practices.

    Microsoft stay the higher course and dont be distracted by self serving shot term folly.

  • Report this Comment On June 22, 2012, at 2:34 PM, edcpa2 wrote:

    Anywhere you see 90's or 1990 in that previous comment just change it to 80's or 1980 Yes Microsoft has been here a long time.

  • Report this Comment On June 23, 2012, at 8:24 PM, subjecttochange wrote:

    I live near a big mall in the West L.A. area which has both an Apple store as well as one for MSFT. Every time I go by the Apple store, it’s packed but you could shoot cannon through the MSFT store and not hit anyone. The one time the MSFT store was busy, it was giving away free phones if you turned your old one in. So as far as consumer products go, it seems to me that APPL is winning by a large margin.

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