Creativity is difficult to quantify. There is no standard test one can conduct to determine if something is creative or not. You can always say if something is “good” or “bad”, but even those are subjective terms. However, the world shares a general vision of creativity. We agree, for instance, that Jonathan Ive is creative, having designed every Apple device since the first iPod. While I am now going to try and make a case for Microsoft starting to outperform Apple creatively, it must be acknowledged that it was Apple that upped the design game in the first place.
Up until the iPod came out, Apple looked like they were just another company trying to keep up with the PC market, but after the release of that product, everyone immediately accepted that Apple stood out as the innovators of technology. By 2008, every organization was trying to mimic Apple (hence the recent lawsuits).
The iOS UI was innovative when it came out, but Apple has stopped evolving since then. The iPad is a larger version of the iPhone, and has now spawned the iPad mini. The same case holds up with iMacs and Macbooks. In all these years they have only been tweaked, they have not truly evolved, which could be because Apple has reached a plateau and doesn’t know where to go from there (hence the disappointing iPhone 5). Take Apple devices from four years ago and see if they look drastically different to how they look now. The answer should be in front of you.
Microsoft has had a legacy of learning from its mistakes, like the four billion US dollars they lost on the original Xbox and some of the tragic operating systems pre-dating Windows 7. Microsoft has come to a point where its products, by Steve Wozniak’s (co-founder of Apple) admission, are on their way to surpassing Apple’s products, and this is due to the out-of-the-box creative approach Microsoft has taken:
Creative Idea 1: X box 360
First thing they got right about it was that they released it in time to corner the entire gaming market. First mover’s advantage is very important. This allowed them to aggressively market the Xbox 360, such that it became synonymous with gaming. They created the first ever instance of a live account being used for more than just mail and chat.
Creative Idea 2: Tiles
iOS introduced a UI (four columns of icons) that seemed to work so well that every other platform was adapting it; whether it was Symbian, Maemo, or Android. Even BlackBerry tried it out with their (thankfully) short-lived touch-screen phones.
Microsoft did not follow suit, they went from a PC-like Windows 6.5 to a completely revolutionized Windows Phone 7 with the Tiles interface, codenamed Metro UI. Live Tiles give you key apps on the front screen while the entire app library is one swipe away. You don’t even need to open an app to get critical information, like bus schedules, appointments, notifications, etc. This is due to the fact that displayed icons do not interfere with the rest of the UI —while keeping you updated. Then there’s the benefit of “trial versions” of apps. You can try out an app before you decide to buy it, you needn’t rely on user opinions to help guide you on how an app works because you can check it out yourself and later decide if you want to keep it or not.
Creative Idea 3: Unified platform
You can access Skype, Windows Live, Facebook, Twitter, among others, all from the “People” tab in Windows 8, Windows Phone 7-8, the new Xbox 360 interface or even Windows Live and bam! you’re connected. Microsoft has adapted Google’s game of aggressive expansion and are beating them at it. Instead of making people move onto a new service, they are integrating all services into one. Microsoft has created a world where you keep your games, your messenger services, etc., and operate them all from a single Live account. And instead of having to download another version of Live Messenger, they bought out Skype and eliminated the competition.
Creative Idea 4: Surface
Unless you have just awoken from a decade- long slumber, you should know that the Microsoft Surface is a mobile computing tablet. There is also an experimental project called Microsoft Surface. This was a table with smart capabilities, a touch interface that could read 10-finger input, and could easily be integrated with your Windows phone device. All you had to do was place the device anywhere on a surface and it would display the content on the table (as seen in Quantum of Solace). The entire surface was smart, it knew what kind of object had been placed on it and it would immediately interact with it. It was quite remarkable. Do check out the online demo of the surface table. One round with that and you could lose all respect for the iPad. Of course, because of its price tag, it is primarily for businesses/enterprises.
Creative Idea 5: Surface Tab
Benchmarks are aplenty, just the fact that Microsoft shipped with a soft keyboard and a kick-stand tells us that they understand that people need devices to suit their comfort.
Creative Idea 6: Windows Azure
Cloud computing is more than just online storage, and although iCloud claims to be the ultimate solution, it is nothing more than an online flash drive, as are most free-to-use cloud solutions. Just like how you can buy storage online, cloud computing promises you the ability to buy computing performance online, that is, you can buy processing speed off the internet. Microsoft released Windows Azure, a platform capable of utilizing the benefits of cloud computing as they slowly gain popularity.
Creative Idea 7: Better launch shows
While Steve Jobs, dressed in a turtleneck sweater would talk soberly — punctuated with witty quips — about the three new things you can do per iOS device, Bill Gates made it flashier when he brought out Slash of Guns ‘n Roses to play Guitar Hero at gaming expos.
Apple has a master-slave relationship with their customers (Jobs spoke, customers listened) while Microsoft has a friendlier approach (while you’re here let’s entertain you, here’s Ballmer going crazy). This isn’t necessarily creative, but coupled with the seven ideas listed above should show that Microsoft appreciates their customers like rock stars appreciate fans.