Microsoft Just Made the Mother of All Tech Pivots
By: Hillel Fuld (@hilzfuld)
There are some phrases we hear in the tech world on a daily basis that are so fundamentally flawed that someone has to ban them forever. Declaring a company dead before it actually closes its doors is great for blog titles but it is inaccurate nine out of ten times. Just look at Apple as the classic example.
Another example of a phrase technology lovers have to stop using is “X copied Y”. In case you haven’t noticed, everyone is copying everyone in tech. It goes back to Windows and Mac and it continues with Android, iOS, tablets, phones, and the list goes on and on.
It is also time to stop calling new tablets an iPad Killer and new phones an iPhone Killer. Not only has there not been a device that accomplished either one, but contrary to what Apple fanboys believe, some companies are actually looking to innovate and be original, not just kill off Apple products.
And this is where Microsoft comes in. You know, the world’s largest software company and the creator of the OS that runs on over 100 billion PCs around the globe. Microsoft has had a serious branding problem for as long as I can remember and despite its Windows Phone platform, which is considered a great product by almost everyone, the company continues to struggle with traction and branding. At least in the mobile world.
Well, Microsoft had everyone buzzing this week about their new Windows 8 platform, which brilliantly unifies PC and mobile, something that will surely contribute to the quantity of apps developed for this platform. VoIP support in Windows 8 is also a pleasant surprise.
Windows 8 will also introduce something else to the world of Windows Phone, something a little less positive and borrowed from Microsoft’s competitor, Android. I am of course referring to the fragmentation Windows Phone users will experience once the new OS comes out and old phones are not updated. That is a whole topic for another time.
But all that is child play compared to the announcement of the new Microsoft Surface. This new touchscreen tablet device is a big deal for so many reasons. For starters, let me just get this out of the way. The Surface is not an iPad Killer, nor is it even intended to compete with the iPad. If I had to choose a device that the Surface is meant to compete with, I would say the Macbook Air over the iPad.
Well, Microsoft still lacks the marketing polish Apple is so famous for and initial “reviews” of the surface continue to populate the Web. There are and always will be haters, but overall, things are pretty positive.
The thing is, Microsoft showed off the Surface on stage and gave some journalists a hands on. What Microsoft did not do is offer any information on the release date of the Surface. So, it’s an interesting device, no question, but will it be released this year? Next year? In 2020? That is kind of a small factor in its potential success, wouldn’t you say?
But wait, there’s more. No price. That’s right, Microsoft did not even announce how much the Surface will cost. Now that is just silly on Microsoft’s part. It will “be competitively priced”? Great. Now what the heck does that mean and can I afford it?
Putting all that aside, what is most interesting about the Surface is the pivot of Microsoft’s strategy of late. You know how Apple designs and manufactures its products (iPhone/iPad/Mac) from the operating system, to the hardware down to the screws on the back of the laptop? Well, it seems to be working for Apple.
Microsoft, on the other hand, is best known for its software licensing model and that is where the company’s revenue comes from. Of course, to say Microsoft has never manufactured hardware is false, but lately, especially in the mobile space (which we will include tablets in for argument’s sake) Microsoft has focused on software. Now, Microsoft is releasing a tablet device that is built in-house, software and hardware.
Not only is this a tremendous shift in strategy but it is actually expected to cause serious problems with Microsoft’s long term partners who were responsible for the hardware side of the business till today.
Enough has been said about the new tablet device but some of the things that stand out about it include its integrated keyboard cover, which seems pretty cool and a differentiating factor from other tablets. Microsoft seems to have stuck to its old ways with the branding of the new Surface line with two types of devices. There is the “Surface for Windows RT” and “Surface for Windows 8 Pro”.
While Apple removed even the number on its new iPad and calls it just iPad, Microsoft continues to release products called Pro and RT. What is this? 2004?
Branding aside, the device does look like a productivity tool the likes of which the tablet market has not seen yet. You can watch the keynote below (starting at minute 10) and if you can look beyond Ballmer’s goofiness, you will see a promising product from Microsoft, that is expected to make waves in a market that is now completely dominated, better yet, owned, by Microsoft’s Arch Enemy, Apple.
Good luck to you Microsoft, you have my vote.
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