Windows 8 is here and the Surface tablet is shipping. Is this going to put excitement back into Microsoft or just fall with the thud of Windows 7 phones, Zune, and some many other launches of the past ten years?
Just over 12 years ago, literally at the turn of the century, Microsoft was still a massively dominant software company. Windows-based personal computers accounted for 95% of the market (vs 30-32% or so today) and Microsoft still had the uncanny ability of picking – and then quickly dominating – new market areas. (Whether or not Microsoft was a great innovator remains a topic of great debate, however, it is hard to question their ability to pick and dominate markets). Since 2000, Microsoft has certainly done OK – especially compared to many other high flying software companies of the time – but they have also haven’t done anything exciting over that time either. A dollar investing in Microsoft stock 10 years ago today would be worth $1.06 (unless you are Canadian and it is worth about $0.68 with exchange, sigh). Google was obviously a new company, but a dollar invested 10 years ago would be worth $525 today and a dollar in Apple would be worth $7800. Let’s face it, over a 10 year period, stock price is a decent proxy for success. So … what went wrong and are they repeating it again? Microsoft flat out stopped going after new markets, or probably more accurately, they stopped their efforts at dominating new markets created by others early in the emergence of those markets. Basically, they have been late to market with everything. In Geoffrey Moore speak, usually both the gorilla AND chimps were already established before Microsoft entered the game. With Surface and Windows 8 (and the inevitable MS Surface phone), is this game playing itself out again? It sure looks like it. Apple and Google (plus the Google-Samsumg partnership) are dominating the smartphone market in the personal productivity market, with RIM hanging on as a third player for the business-centric buyer (and to a lesser degree in the personal market). Microsoft currently, with about a 4% share, is nothing more than a rounding error. Does it need to be this way? No way! Is we step back from all the feature debates and religion around open vs closed platforms, there still is a market to grab. Especially since this “market” turns over at a rate unheard of in history. Let’s look at what made Apple so great so quick – cutting through all the feature/religion garbage and getting back to core principles. When the iPhone and then iPad came out, they made people’s lives a lot more productive – after all productivity is the only reason to adopt technology in the first place. (I would even extend this to gaming and movies – making our “recreation” time more productive is what wins in this space too.) I admit it. I bought the original iPad the day it came out. It has made my personal life more productive. Picking meals, to grocery shopping, to cooking is easier – no more looking through books, writing out lists and digging books back out! I love sitting on the sofa watching TV and going, “That actor looks familiar.” Quick to the iPad, IMDB, voila! Would I have pulled out a laptop to satisfy that curiosity? … unlikely. However, has Apple (or insert Google-Android here) made my work life more productive? Not a lot. It is easier to travel with music, search the web, get email and calendar (barely), and so on. It is barely “good enough.” A lot of you might be like me and still spend a depressing amount of time in PowerPoint, Excel, Word, and Outlook. Has iPhone/iPad and Android helped here? Not really. (If you answered “yes”, you are either kidding yourself or have a much lower standard for convenience that I do!) Imagine in the late afternoon when I have to run to see a basketball or hockey game … no more rushing to save work and pack up a laptop. Grab my Surface device and pick up mid-PowerPoint when I get home (or mid-email, Excel model, etc). Basically, I am saying that Apple/Android has gone to market with a “Great for Personal. (Barely) Good Enough for Business.” model. Microsoft, why can’t you take a “Great for Business. Good Enough for Personal.” approach. I would buy that! I am hopeful, I just don't think they can. The single biggest indicator is the new Windows 8 ads. Who thought it would be a good idea to go to the ad agency and say, “We are going to dedicate ¼ of the money and 1/10 of the time Apple thinks about advertising and go-to-market, but please copy their ads!”? Thirty seconds of confusing people. Great job. Please, Microsoft, try to make this interesting. Apple vs Android just isn’t fun anymore.