Today we’re going to compare the websites of two monumental companies: Apple and Microsoft.
The two giants pride themselves for producing cutting edge consumer and business products, and are leading the developments in software and hardware.
But what about their websites? How do they both compare, and more important, which one is better and more usable?
Well, in this article we’ll take a look at both websites for closer examination from a usability point of view.
One important thing to note before we proceed to compare these two websites is that each company’s business revolves around different markets.
Microsoft primarily makes its profits from business to business, which mainly consists of selling licenses to its operating system to computer manufacturers and office suites for enterprises.
That’s not to say that they don’t sell to consumers — they do, and they have consumer only product lines as well, such as the Xbox gaming console, and of course home users also buy Windows and Office. This means that their business targets pretty much everyone, from home computer owners to developers and enterprises; which in turn stretches the purpose of their website to try and serve everyone.
On the other hand, Apple is primarily a consumer company, and makes most of its profit selling hardware, like its iPod music players and Mac computers. This makes the target of Apple’s site much clearer — marketing, selling and providing support for its products to consumers.
They don’t have to worry about selling licenses to manufacturers because they’re the only manufacturer, so the key purpose of the website would be to advertise and promote their multiple product lines, as well as selling them through their online store.
The homepage is one of the most important pages of the whole site because it’s the first, and in many cases the only chance you get to impress the visitor enough to keep them browsing. You’ve got a few seconds to convince them that the site has enough value for them to keep using it, because if it doesn’t, the visitors will leave.
Apple’s approach to the homepage has been consistent throughout all the years that the site has been running. They use this page as a kind of advertising board that always shows a big ad of their latest product, followed by 3 other ads to another 3 products or news that is important at the moment.
If you’re not interested in any of the 4 suggested items, you can use the large navigation bar at the top, which is split into their core businesses: Mac, iPod and iPhone, followed by a couple of other important links, such as the online store and support pages. The navigation bar also incorporates a search field.
The interesting thing here is that the main ad at the top is huge — indeed it almost covers the entire page. If this doesn’t grab your attention then nothing will. Apple knows the importance of getting the customer’s attention using good marketing, so they’re not afraid to really go for it.
One other thing to note is the lack of content. You’re not distracted by sidebars, notices or extra navigation items — there are only a few items on the page, focusing your attention and making the decision of where to go next easier.
Microsoft has a different approach to their homepage. Firstly, they feature a similar style of ad at the top, designed to be attention grabbing. These are large images, but only one out of 3 ads is shown at a time — you have to hover over the other two to expand them. This focuses attention, but may potentially weaken the effectiveness of the two hidden ads since the visitor has to work to see them. Right at the top of the page is the navigation, together with search.
What’s below the main ads is more interesting though. As I mentioned previously, Microsoft’s business operates in many markets, including both business to business and business to consumer.
The space below acts as a set of highlights and news for these various areas of the business. One big problem with the content featured here is that it’s fairly boring and overwhelming, with a lot of information packed into a very small space, without anything try to make it scannable.
Sure, it’s broken down into bullet points, but the font is small and there are hardly any images to differentiate between the items. As it stands, there is little to attract me to make me want to read through this content because it’s just, well… boring.