Sorry for the overly dramatic title. This is about a surprising recent experience that demonstrates how Microsoft’s vision might just be the right one.
Last weekend my wife and I went into Best Buy to look at cordless phones (you remember those, don’t you?). She stopped to look for a new case for her iPhone so I wandered over to see what the latest was in the PC section of the store. A few minutes later I spotted my wife checking out notebooks. Seriously checking them out.
My wife’s current computing technology portfolio consists of an iPhone 5, an iPad 2, and an HP TouchSmart 520 All-In-One running Windows 7. The iPhone and iPad are always with her, making IOS her most used operating system. So imagine my surprise when I walked over and she said “I miss my notebook”! And yes, she was seriously thinking about getting a new one.
We talked over her usage scenarios. The iPad would remain her primary mobile data device. Obviously she wanted Office, including Outlook. She wanted to really be able to type. It was going to be used mostly on her lap rather than on a table. Mostly at home actually, but it would be nice to be able to take it on a trip. Her iPad can’t hold our entire ripped music collection, it would be nice if this could. Her iPad (32GB) also can’t hold much in the way of TV shows and movies. It would be nice if this could, again for the travel scenario. The form factor should work well on an airplane seat. And it had to have touch.
The touch point came about rather interestingly. Because this was a secondary or even tertiary device for her she didn’t want to spend a lot. She took me over to a line of sub-$500 notebooks and I pointed out they didn’t have touch. To which she responded “That’s stupid”. So it was back to the pricier devices.
She asked about the Surface. I explained that since she was going for more of a notebook, and was keeping the iPad, that the Surface RT probably didn’t make sense. The Surface Pro made good sense except for two things. With her key requirement of being able to use it (as a notebook) on her lap, it wasn’t really a good design. You can do it in a pinch, but I wouldn’t buy one knowing that was a frequent usage scenario. The other was that even with the recent price cut she’d be pushing $1000 with the Type Cover.
But a little more playing around and things did narrow down to a convertible of some form. That offered the best option for covering all of her usage scenarios. We kept coming back to the Lenovo Yoga 11s. It offers the most positions for matching up with the various scenarios. She liked the keyboard. She liked the weight. She liked the price of $799 (really $750 since you get a $50 Best Buy gift card). It was more than she wanted, but hundreds less than she had feared she’d need, to spend. It comes with 128GB, and of course can take an SD card. So plenty of space for music, movies, etc. It came with a Core i5 and 4GB, so plenty of horsepower for her needs.
We talked about waiting a few months for the next crop of devices but decided to act now for one reason. What if Lenovo abandoned the Yoga design? Again the point that this wasn’t her primary device meant some of the benefits of waiting didn’t really hold that much weight.
We ran over to the Microsoft Store to see if they had any other options, but there was nothing more compelling. They did carry the Yoga 13, but that was bigger than my wife wanted. So it was back to Best Buy to purchase the Yoga 11s.
I know of another tablet (this time Android) user who gave their Samsung 10.1″ to the kids and is now carrying around a Surface Pro (and loving it). He wanted a tablet but missed having the full capabilities of a PC. Now he has both.
Obviously two data points does not make a trend. And neither data point suggests that Windows RT has a role to play. But as people need to replace their existing notebooks, or decide iPad or Android tablets can’t meet all their needs, has Microsoft’s focus on moving the PC platform to a variety of touch-based form factors positioned them for success?
Similar experience. My wife has an Audiology business. Software and instruments (and drivers) to test hearing are windows. She moves around to serve clients. Needs a big enough screen, fast graphics and high resolution for displaying audiograms, etc.. She uses ipad and iphone everyday. We shopped for new laptop to replace a very heavy and bulky three year old HP. Choose an ASUS ultrabook. 128 GB SSD, 4GB RAM, i5, and touch screen for less than $1,000. I had previously set up a home PC with Windows 8 and was flabbergasted – what was Microsoft thinking? Left all my other PCs at Windows 7. But when I set up the new ASUS with all her software I suddenly got it. She uses touch even with her Audiology apps that are not designed for it. Once these apps are more touch friendly it will really make her job with clients much better. A really big improvement. Microsoft needs to catch up with POS apps and other cool things that are available on ipads and it will be close to meeting the ‘all in one’ design goal. One thing though, the first thing I did was install Stardock Start8.
The iPad killer are not the surface but windows 8, also win8 is the killer of winRT.
I have a similar situation with my girlfriend, she lost his iPad, with not money at the moment to buy a new one, she borrow my surface RT, at first she get frustrated, but after a couple of days she start to love it, so much that it become her tablet and I have to borrow from her. What she most like is the type cover, office and multitasking.
Then when she has the money to buy a new tablet she start to look windows tablets, she like surface RT but she want to run x86 applications, she like surface pro, but price and battery life was an issue, finally she settle for an HP envy x2, at about $600 and almost 15 hours of battery was the selling point for her.
So, Microsoft are right in the windows 8 path, people use a lot tablets, but still need pc’s, so the Microsoft approach of integrate touch into windows is in the right track. Still need a lot of refinement but win 8.1 is a huge improvement.
The question now is, there are hope for windows RT?
I think that Microsoft have 2 options, one is let RT run x86 applications, this effectively will create a low cost windows devices to compete with android tablets and MIA chromebooks.
The second option is forget the plan to convert the windows RT in the “official” windows and get rid of the most of the desktop, and compete directly with ARM tablets.
I agreed with everything negative said about the RT and knew it was as useful to me as my nook color. I was waiting for Surface Pro and wow! I needed the readability and portability of a tablet, the full computing power of a desktop, and the flexibility of a PC. With a display adapter, wireless keyboard and mouse, it has also become my desktop when I need it. I love windows 8, can’t understand the negative hype.
When did Microsoft had a successful product in its first attempt? It takes at least three iterations to get it right. I am waiting for the third gen Surface RT(around 8 inch). In a year or so, the number of apps would have improved (Office RT). Even now, I love the NextGen Reader, Kindle, Nook, MS – Finance, News, Sports, Travel apps. In a year, all these would have undergone another couple of iterations of major revisions and finally RT would be a compelling device.
The main concern is that Microsoft should not drop the RT before they go to the third iteration.
Hal, you really need to give it up. I love ya, man, but Windows 8 has failed. The market hates it. Microsoft screwed over its own customer base in the hope that sales would materialize elsewhere (the tablet market). But they shot themselves in the foot there too (the bizarre RT fixation, getting into the market themselves which OEMs take as an FU, etc., then pricing too high. Goes on and on..)
The sooner Ballmer heads for the exits the better. This company is in real trouble. Windows 8 isn’t the “reason”. But it sure as hell hit the accelerator.
As an addendum: I actually *like* Surface Pro. And I think “tablet Windows” had a market: the 6-gajillion (that’s a scientific number) applications released in various form since 1985. But has Microsoft pushed that? Of course not. And in the process they’ve screwed over their developer base as well (Silverlight & .NET). If it wasn’t actually so damn sad it would be hilarious. Books will be written about this in years to come.
It sounds like most folk that love Windows tablets love the Desktop apps they can get for them. Perhaps Microsoft needs to revisit their decision process on whether Win32 apps can be touch-friendly and sold through their Store.
Conversely, if WinRT app volume and quality starts picking up (imagine if Microsoft spent $100 million seeding the app ecosystem with top apps rather than taking a $900 million write down), perhaps Windows RT is the right answer, just too early for the market…
Windows RT definitely turns out to be a case of having put the cart before the horse as it needed a rich library of WinRT apps before it made sense to be in the market. I know why they did it (and talked about the reasons in earlier posts), but things definitely did not work out as they planned.
And I do agree with you that they should have had a mechanism for including Win32 apps more directly in the Store (rather than just as a catalog). Again, they were hoping for a fast Old World to New World transition and made lots of decisions to support and encourage that to happen. They didn’t get it and are paying the price.
We had to replace our cordless home phone after a lightning strike and it was sort of weird trying to find where they were in the Best Buy. They just seem to be going away.
Interesting antidote about your wife purchase of the Windows 8 laptop. I went through the same sort of thing with mine and we ended up on one of the convertibles as well (the pricier XPS 12). She recently moved from the iPhone to a L920 and liked the live tiles. That really sold her on Win 8. For those that actually use the product as intended, I’ve observed that people really like it.
I’m not a fanboy necessarily, but as a Windows developer I realize that I am biased. Regardless of that bias, I try to make a logical decision when making family purchases of tech hardware (we have an iPad, PS3, etc.. and other non-MS gadgets). I find it alarming that people are more emotional about this stuff that I’ve ever seen. There is an irrational hatred of Microsoft out there. Reminds me of the whole Walmart hate (where I don’t generally shop, but I don’t see them as some form of evil). Not sure if Microsoft will be able to fix that though as it seems irrational in many respects. Windows 8 isn’t really the big problem though. Sure it has issues, but so do did every other OS out there (non-MS included).
Sadly, W8 has been a fail on virtually any competitive dimension it can be assessed on or was intended by MS to address. In fact the most disappointing part of it is the sheer magnitude of the fail. So no, I don’t think it positioned them for success – unless you want to take a very long term view, ignore all the current problems it has caused and say it was critical to move to touch, which I agree it was. Non touch devices already look archaic. That will only become more so moving forward. So having touch support in W8 at least gives MS some chance at a sale, rather than the consumer defaulting to an iPad or Android tablet.
Unless MS can demonstrate it’s capable of building an OS people actually prefer, on hardware they desire, with the 3rd party apps they want, and at price point that’s competitive – which so far it hasn’t – I don’t see anything except continuing losses in consumer and erosion of share in business. All of those are obviously difficult to accomplish, but the last one is perhaps the toughest. Because it’s clear that Google and Amazon are prepared to take tablet profitability to $0 and even below, while subsidizing that against their other businesses. And they have the business models to do that. MS, given the failure of Bing, isn’t in a position to do likewise, nor are any traditional OEMs. Even Apple faces a longer term challenge in that regard.
MS may need to refocus on the enterprise where they might be able to dominate a smaller but higher profitability niche of users. But knowing the company a little, they’ll just double down and keep fighting even though the odds are pretty solidly against them already, and becoming more so daily. In addition to the adverse impact on MS’s future, I’m getting concerned about what this all means for the industry. In a world where MS dominated and OEMs made modest profits, we already saw a relative dearth of innovation for an extended period. Right now we’re seeing this big wave of innovation and constantly declining prices. But once Google or Amazon or both ultimately prevail, they have even less incentive that traditional OEMs did to innovate after that, which is scary.
I agree with most of what you said (Windows 8 is the Titanic of operating systems only the iceberg was obvious from a distance), but how is Bing a failure? If your criteria is “has it killed Google yet?” then yes, I suppose it failed.
But defeating a monopoly like Google is a long, long, long term prospect. I’d actually argue that Bing is one of Microsoft’s (very) few recent success stories. It has shown continual growth since its introduction in 2009, even discounting the Yahoo! partnership. It’s still a distance second, yes, but it continues to show growth (while Google has been stagnant) and actually has a positive vibe about it. Bing may be one of Microsoft’s few brands that consumers actually know and don’t hate, even if they aren’t hooked on it yet.
It’s a failure because it still isn’t profitable, despite years of effort and some $15+ billion lost (half direct, the rest through failed acquisitions), and hasn’t demonstrated any ability to take serious share from Google, not even in the one market it’s really focused on: US. And it’s not just Bing. MS has been at this for nearly a decade (longer if you want to go back to Sidewalk, etc), and still doesn’t have a business that’s even financially viable, yet alone a major source of profits. Frankly, Facebook has been far more successful vs Google than MS has been. This is a concern in itself. But in the context I was referring to it, it’s important because it means they can’t offset $0 margin tablets against billions of advertising profit.
Just keep in mind that it might not be a failure from Microsoft’s perspective, though I’m sure by now they expected it to be rather profitable. Strategically it was just as important to put pressure on Google as it was to make money, and perhaps even more important in the short run. And it is now being so heavily used as a platform service that it is having a positive impact that won’t show up in its own numbers.
I never underestimate SLT’s ability to convince themselves failure is really success. But even on your other suggested strategic dimension, pressure on Google, it’s unclear it was very effective. Look at all the markets G won or inroads they made while facing this pressure from MS in search. I’m not sure it slowed them down for more than a couple months near the beginning – max. In fact the relative ease with which they rebuffed the threat is one of my biggest concerns. Agree Bing is now an important service within the platform. But MS can’t keep running off the same three profit engines as it essentially did in 2000.
I’d like to add another data point here about Windows Phone. I took my parents (aged 70+) out shopping for a smart phone because their old feature-phone doesn’t take photos and they decided it was time for an upgrade.
We went to the Telstra store (which looks like this http://adform.com.au/wp-content/gallery/telstra/telstra-karrinyup-004.jpg ) as it has a good array of phones to try out. We managed to sample Androids, Windows and Apple phones. In the end, the Windows Phones came up first. This can be attributed to a few design choices:
1. The icons and the buttons were large and readable
2. The absence of a dock bar at the bottom of the screen – my father’s finger has slipped off while swiping and accidentally activated the phone’s dialer. It disoriented him.
However, there were still some issues:
1. My parents fingers consistently covered up the lens when taking photos. Modern phones are not grip-friendly. I’m hoping a cover would solve this problem. Perhaps Nokia could move the lens towards the middle of the body.
2. Three buttons were a little too much. My mother intuitively hit the round iphone button when she was lost, because it seemed to be the most inviting one.
Overall, it left me somewhat optimistic that Windows Phones may still have a chance. It enjoys good usability. As long as you are not a techno-geek, you probably don’t care for a wide selection of applications anyway. Furthermore, it is not as desirable as iPhones as far as thieves are concerned, and that makes a good choice for someone who wants a practical smartphone without the worries.
This has been my very point about the absurdity of putting MS office on iOS. Many users still spend on an MS OS AND MS Office license and Steve Ballmer apparently confirmed a long time rumour that there would be Office for iOS/iPad soon. This to me is utter madness. Even if it is a hobbled or web version only it pushes people towards the iPad and away from Windows. I realize the “services” bit of the MS ethos but there is a need to ensure your strategy is executed in a sustainable way. You would only put MS Office on a competing platform as a move in admitting you had lost the war for that platform and that the Office platform was under serious threat (which are neither the case).
As in your wife’s example, she wanted the iPad to do what the PC could and I assume Office was a big piece of that. Even if it wasn’t (ignoring the lack of SD card support because we all know that isn’t a hard thing for Apple to add whereas Office is) many users buy iPads and then a keyboard because the strategy MS has with the surface is valid (people want to do more than just consume).
What will this do to the effort of windows OEM’s and the Surface efforts if MS makes that job a lot harder by giving away the battle by handing over the crown jewels of its value chain to its competitors!?
Someone please tell me if I have this wrong and why this would be a great move for MS (losing OS sales to me seems very silly). I REALLY hope its not true.