This is the difference between Microsoft and Apple

Microsoft executives send this photo from the future.
Microsoft executives send this photo from the future.
Image: AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
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Apple wants to sell you a watch, available with an elegant Milanese loop band or cast in luxurious 18-karat gold. Microsoft wants to sell you… a dorky looking pair of 3D “hologram” goggles?

The companies have played a technology cat-and-mouse game over the decades, including “borrowing” several features and designs from each other, from Windows to the Zune. But the differences in taste and fashion between Apple and Microsoft couldn’t be more clear after today’s Windows 10 event.

There, executives showed off what seems like Microsoft’s big bet—or at least one of its many bets—on the future of computing: HoloLens, a virtual reality headset that responds to hand gestures and voice controls. It looks technically impressive, and Microsoft’s demo went about as smoothly as something like this could have. This could become a big deal someday.

But it’s hard to get over how strange someone looks using it. And it’s hard to imagine Apple doing something like this any time soon, whether or not it’s the future of computing.

Image for article titled This is the difference between Microsoft and Apple
Image: AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Why? In part, because Apple has focused most of its energy on products that could immediately become mainstream—things like music players, slim laptops, mobile phones, and now watches. Computer goggles are inherently more niche—see Google’s recent decision to rethink Google Glass. (Microsoft did not announce a price or ship date for the HoloLens, either—something Apple almost always does.)

But it also seems a matter of fashion. A bulky Apple watch is already going to be hard enough to blend into one’s wardrobe. A sci-fi-looking headset seems like a non-starter.

The risk to Apple, of course, is that Microsoft, Oculus, or another company could run away with this market, leaving Apple in the dust. Maybe the HoloLens will actually become cool, and won’t seem so dorky someday soon. (Surely, the idea of headphones or pocket computers once seemed lame, too.) But it seems that’s a risk Apple would be happy to take.