If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then Apple must be feeling pretty flattered now that both Canonical (the company behind Ubuntu) and Microsoft have expressed a desire to be more like Apple. Start your photocopiers!
For Canonical, the desire is to make Ubuntu a more "pretty" OS. Here's a quote by Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical, as reported by eWeek:
“The great task in front of us over the next two years is to lift the experience of the Linux desktop from something that is stable and robust and not so pretty, into something that is art. Can we not only emulate, but can we blow right past Apple?”
Microsoft on the other hand seems envious of the end-to-end experience Apple delivers to customers (CEO Steve Ballmer, discussing priorities for fiscal 2009):
“In the competition between PCs and Macs, we outsell Apple 30-to-1. But there is no doubt that Apple is thriving. Why? Because they are good at providing an experience that is narrow but complete, while our commitment to choice often comes with some compromises to the end-to-end experience. Today, we’re changing the way we work with hardware vendors to ensure that we can provide complete experiences with absolutely no compromises. We’ll do the same with phones–providing choice as we work to create great end-to-end experiences.”
Now I've been saying for some time now that as far as Ubuntu is concerned, the real competition that it is facing comes from Apple and not Microsoft. Why? Because Apple has perfected the Mac OS X dragnet and seems to have become highly effective at catching those Windows users who feel like taking a new OS for a spin. It also seems that Microsoft has finally woken up and realized that the Mac OS is grabbing and seems to at least be acknowledging that the company has to seriously up its game to try to halt erosion or market share.
But ... you knew that there was a "but" coming, right? Now here's my worry. This whole "be more like Apple" talk could end up being a huge mistake simply because it's really hard to know what it is that Apple does that makes it so successful. Part of the appeal for some is that Apple is not Microsoft, so that puts Microsoft in a tough spot right from the start. But even if we ignore that aspect of Apple's appeal, distilling down what makes Apple the feisty company that it has become is going to be really tricky.
Also, Apple is perfectly capable of dropping the ball like any other company, so there are some aspects of the company that Canonical and Microsoft would do well to avoid.
My worry with these batch of "be like Apple" statements is that this kind of thinking could just lead to large sectors of the tech industry spending the next few years doing little more that trying to capture that magic Apple elixir through a series of lame attempts to copy what Cupertino does. Think it can't happen, think again! Isn't this exactly what the iPhone has done to the mobile phone industry? You can hardly move out there for iPhone clones.
What I'd much prefer to see is Microsoft and Canonical (and any other tech company looking to do better) do is become more customer oriented and maybe listen a bit more, and then acting on that feedback. Maybe that's all that's needed for these companies to be more like Apple.