Two days ago I was talking about products soliciting strong opinions. A decade ago Microsoft was an opinionated company. People loved to hate them and other people were in love with them. Just the mention of Microsoft could solicit a fight among friends. But the last decade hasn’t been kind to Microsoft. As the market fight has shifted from desktop to mobile, the world has stopped talking about Microsoft. Marco Arment said something quite profound about the difference between the two companies:
Apple’s products say, “You can’t do that because we think it would suck.” Microsoft’s products say, “We’ll let you try to do anything on anything if you really want to, even if it sucks.”
Enter Windows 8. Enter the Windows 8 RT tablet. Enter the punditry suddenly discussing Microsoft again. In fact, it isn’t just the technorati discussing them. I haven’t heard this much discussion of Microsoft among the Apple community in ages.
Here’s the bottom line for the new Windows tablets: they are worth a discussion. The devices are interesting, the keyboards are interesting, the development tools are interesting. It is the first Windows computer in 10 years that would make me look twice at Microsoft’s world.
The Apple community wants to make this a battle between Apple and Microsoft, between Windows 8 and iOS. But that’s not what Microsoft is doing here and I understand that completely now. For Microsoft this is a battle between Windows XP and Windows 8. This is a battle between the old world of CRT monitors and the modern world of portable computing. Windows 8 is meant to be the next generation computing device for the 1 billion Windows installed base; not the competitor to 100 million iPad and Mac computers. It doesn’t need to have a million apps today and doesn’t need to have the perfect Office installation. It needs to have enough to keep people paying attention, talking about Microsoft, and make those who were going to upgrade stay with Microsoft.
Window 8 RT is a very interesting device. It does more than enough to make those who primarily want a notebook computer pay attention. I think it is going to be a big success and will keep Microsoft among the technology elite for the foreseeable future.
While it is true they are being discussed, I do not think it will happen for them. It is too little, too late, and still has too many roots in the old Windows world. They are not willing to take the risk and break with the past, and that is the only thing that could bring them back to relevance.
That is not to say they will not make tons of money for a while. They still have a significant presence in enterprise. But it is being eroded. For now slowly. Then, if nothing happens, it will hit an inflection point and drop like a stone.
BTW, the same fate awaits Apple. I already see lots of signs from Cupertino that Apple has lost their edge. They have great design but they are missing 2 key factors. First, their risk tolerance seems to have dropped significantly. There must be a new market product from the Jobs era waiting to come out. But they are loosing a window to push it. WWDC next year marks about the limit. Any longer than that and I do not see how they can make a new market.
And that is the second piece they are missing. They have no one with the “gift of the gab.” No one who can create a new market. Who can make you believe, even if only for the duration of a keynote, that this is the new way of things. Think about it, the iPhone was one of *many* “smartphones” that combined music, apps, and calls (you created Apps for at least one of them.) Yet everyone talks about how Jobs created the market… he did. No one had been able to reach consumers the way he could to create the need.
Who has Apple got? Tim Cook, and incredible operations guy, but a showman, no. Phil Schiller, much as I like a fellow Canadian, it is telling that Steve never let him create the market, only fill out details. And if you look at the last event, he talked marketing number just like any other marketing guy. Sir Ive, he might be able to, he certainly has the passion and vision and video presence, but he hates being in public. No, they have no one.
And even then, so what. People talk about the “post-pc” era… It is not here yet. iPhones, iPads, Android, Windows 8, it is all just shrunk down desktops… sure the paradigm of interaction is different, sure the things that are being done are different. But when it comes down to it, it is still a computer like screen, interacting with applications, creating solutions in the same way we have been for 20+ years in the mobile space. Post-PC, no. Transitional, maybe.
If you want post-pc, look on the fringes. Look at Nest, projects on Kickstarter, WIMM, Saul Greenberg’s lab at the University of Calgary. Twitter? Facebook? No, not them either, they are infrastructure.
You want post-pc, I will paint you some pictures. The CEO of a company is in a key meeting. She glances down at her bracelet. One of the pieces gives her an instant readout of the P/E ratio, another of current revenue versus targets. The meeting starts to run over. Her meeting assistant (jewelry? built into clothing? a button? who knows) communicates with the backend, knows the importance of the meeting and automatically coordinates with other assistants to shift her schedule. Her wedding ring softly vibrates with an “I Love You and I’m Thinking of You” from her spouse. Her spouse happens to be in the grocery store stocking up. The shopping assistant knows what is needed, and has already set the optimal route based on availability and learned store preference. Neither of them carry a “smartphone”, the communications is integrated into a small device either in the ear or on the frame of the glasses. Cut back to the meeting, she needs to check some numbers. She turns her right hand palm up, rolls out the foldable display from he bracelet, checks the numbers and rolls it back up.
THAT is post-pc. No smartphones, no tablets. small devices integrated into your life. Artwork that also gives an indication of how your social network is doing, jewelry, … And almost all the technology to do this is here today. Not 5 years from now, but today. Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, they are all at risk. The next Apple is probably already out there, possibly even doing their first Kickstarter project. 5 years ago, there was no iPhone, even less, no iPad, no tablet market. How long do you think it will take for this new era to arrive and Android, iPhone, iPad, … to become irrelevant? Downmarket shift is already happening. It is only a matter of time.
I always love your comments and know I will get you going with a post on Microsoft. 🙂 Compelling thoughts, particularly on the true post PC era. You are in a great position to make this future happen. Are you?
Am I… good question. I would need to shift activities to do that. I am not in an influential enough place. It would take a few years to be there and take a lot of investment in time… Not sure if I want to do that. In fact, my three primary goals at the moment are: Be a good father and husband (always my top priority), find a new role as my previous startup had to make significant reductions (not that hard as I am a senior iOS developer with strong leadership and other skills), finish writing the iOS 6 developer learning book. And that accounts for about 125% of my time 🙂
I didn’t realize regarding the company you were working for. Sorry to hear it.