I know I’m a dim bulb on this one, but I cannot comprehend why Microsoft plans to build its own tablet computer, called the Surface.
I’ve read the most likely explanations. It wants its own piece of the market segment that Apple invented and controls, since tablets may well put PCs out of business. It wanted to challenge its vendors and partners to get more serious about mounting that competition, so it created a hardware competitor of its own. It hopes to showcase Windows 8 on a device it controls.
The explanations make sense in the idealized world of blog posts in the same way they did in the slick PowerPoint slide presentations at Microsoft’s headquarters that were responsible for the idea in the first place. Boxes linked with lines and described with lots of references to “consumers want” and “integration” and “market share,” which is the generic strategic consultant blather that usually fills those echo chambers.
It makes no sense in the real world, however.
Microsoft is in the software business. It always was, and wasn’t ever really in the consumer product side of it, at least to begin with (its OS was an OEM component for computer hardware, admittedly the most important one, perhaps). It built its empire of riches not on selling the best programs but rather the only ones. Although competition was very cruel to Microsoft on these fronts over time, the seemingly endless amounts of cash in its bank account led its leaders to think they could do no wrong.
Microsoft was yesterday’s Google, investing in projects sometimes far afield from its core competency and source of profits in search of proving its brilliance and discovering new ways to make money. Instead, it proved that the company had no expertise building devices (Zune, anybody?) or advertising (it just wrote off its 5-year old $6 billion investment in online display ad firm aQuantive). Xbox is a wonderful exception but only in the same way that PlayStation used to be the exception for Sony (i.e. an island).
The company might as well sell Microsoft brand floor polish or dental floss.
All the while, its OS got clunkier, and uneven product “updates” burned through customer goodwill as they annihilated device drivers and forced users to accommodate changes they didn’t want or need so the company could collect its next round of revenues (it turned its 18-month OS turnover into a tax, not a benefit). Browsers edged into its home turf as apps on smartphones avoided it altogether. Internet search became a free-for-all in pursuit of ad dollars that continue an inexorable shift to social platforms, or are being replaced by other profit models entirely (that aQuantive investment went to zero in five years!).
So what’s a former Master of the Universe Company supposed to do? Looking just beneath the surface of its tablet announcement reveals that Microsoft plans to keep doing the same things, only hoping for a different outcome.
That’s not strategy. It’s insanity.
I’ve never understood why Microsoft didn’t embrace its inner-softwarness and decide to become the OS for the entire frickin’ world.
It’s probably too late now, but imagine if it puts its considerable resources against the challenge of making an OS that was truly better, easier, more reliable, useful, and cheaper than anything Apple or Google could provide? It could redefine what an operating system does, not just keep giving the world more or different elements of its own version. How about making The OS that not only runs smart gizmos but the lesser thinking devices in our lives, like refrigerators, toasters, and even cars?
Here are three starter-ideas on what it could do:
Create a cloud solution that puts Amazon, Apple, and every other offering to shame. Integrated it into Windows X and make the Justice Department untangle it.
Invent the best-ever home heating & cooling control app and get it distributed to every home in the world (how about marketing it like Apple got its QuickTime viewer used to watch those first trailers for the Star Wars sequels?).
Come up with a service that guarantees that machines running on Microsoft OS will works, not only with all available software add-ons (as well as with other machines) but via an ongoing, real-time service to ensure that everything works with every other device?
There’s so much that Microsoft could do that would be real game-changer stuff, but I haven’t seen even a hint that any of it is underway. So the world will get the Surface instead, along with Windows 8 and a reset on the clock for timing when the next OS tax gets levied.