Since then, the company’s transformation is a triumph of design in product development and brand packaging. Since then, its CEO does not laugh with derision—and humor himself with disbelief—whenever Apple refines existing technology or revolutionizes technology in its entirety. Since then, what Apple hath wrought Microsoft has rewritten: not by engraving its name in marble but by etching its logo on the surface of its series of Surface tablets; of titanium and glass; of flexible hinges and digital hubs; of slender screens and powerful processors.
If the packaging emulates the “look and feel” of the best in brand packaging, that is because the apple doesn't fall far from the tree; Apple pun very much intended. Intentional, too, is Microsoft’s embrace of minimalism: evidence that great design is proof of a disciplined mind, because it is easy to succumb to temptation and surrender to self-induced traps.
It is easy to overdo it with superlatives and superfluous misuse of negative space. Less easy is a shift in the culture of a corporation—to have a culture, period—where creativity thrives and “real artists ship,” a phrase Jobs used that means an idea is delivered.
Imagine the effort necessary to change the culture of a company with a market valuation of $887 billion and 131,000 employees, with over 800 locations in 110 countries, totaling 38 million square feet. Imagine, as I tell my workers, having to inspire these individuals to believe in the primacy of design; to accept that functionality follows form, not the reverse, even if a product or its packaging—or both—is a derivation of, rather than a deviation from, the competition.
To be derivative is not bad, my earlier comment notwithstanding, provided the product is not bad. What was bad, then, was not what Steve Jobs said about Microsoft. What was bad was the truth of Jobs’s criticism of Microsoft: that in its previous incarnation it had no spirit—it was very pedestrian—and had no appreciation for beautiful things.
To be derivative in a good way is, well, a good thing.
Apple did not, after all, invent the portable music player; it merchandised it. Apple did not invent the graphical user interface (GUI); it mass marketed it. Apple did not invent the smartphone; it celebrated it. Apple did not invent tablet computing; it championed it.
Microsoft is now in a similar position. It innovates already innovative products. It polishes already sleek accessories. It further beautifies already beautiful examples of excellence in brand packaging.
It has a relationship with consumers that no amount of advertising can achieve, that no amount of paid advocacy can equal, that no amount of sponsorships can match.
It has a right to enjoy the fruits—including the apples—of its labor. It has a right to showcase the way it packages its products and promotes itself as a brand.