The difference between Apple and Microsoft: product before profit

I’m a little late to this article that made the rounds last week, but I finally read The inside story of how Microsoft killed its Courier tablet. It’s a bit scattered and sometimes hard to follow the narrative (probably because it was split into two pieces), but it’s still a very interesting story and worth reading. For one, if Microsoft found a way to keep J Allard around, things might have turned out differently for them. He seems like exactly the kind of person they needed to deliver real product innovation in the mobile computing space.

The most interesting part for me is how the article shines a light on the differences between Microsoft and Apple’s approaches to product development. Here’s Jay Green in the CNET article about the Courier tablet:

Courier’s death also offers a detailed look into Microsoft’s Darwinian approach to product development and the balancing act between protecting its old product franchises and creating new ones. The company, with 90,000 employees, has plenty of brilliant minds that can come up with revolutionary approaches to computing. But sometimes, their creativity is stalled by process, subsumed in other products, or even sacrificed to protect the company’s Windows and Office empires.

Microsoft has a fear of not doing anything that could cannibalize their cash cows (Windows and Office), even if that means they have to do things that don’t create value for users. It’s an organization that’s optimized for profit, not product. Contrast that with Apple’s approach:

Apple hasn’t optimized its organization to maximize profit. Instead, it has made the creation of value for customers its priority. When you do this, the fear of cannibalization or disruption of one’s self just melts away. In fact, when your mission is based around creating customer value, around creating great products, cannibalization and disruption aren’t “bad things” to be avoided. They’re things you actually strive for “” because they let you improve the outcome for your customer.

Kyle Baxter adds the following perspective on an approach that places product before profit:

[N]ot only does focusing on the product make for better products, but it completely changes the corporate, business and organizational decisions you make, too. If you are focused on maximizing profit (in the short or long-term), you end up making choices that inhibit great products and great success at best, and destroy your ability to succeed at worst.

The Courier project should serve as a cautionary tale about what happens when the fear of losing profit gets in the way of developing a potentially great product. A product that could have resulted in a very different tablet landscape than the one we have today.