Category Archives: Microsoft

The Problems Faced By Windows Phone

Long-time Windows Phone user Romit Mehta decided to buy an iPhone 5S, and his reasons for doing so exemplify why Windows Phone is in trouble.

Two of the problems Romit lists strike me as being particularly important when considering the future of Windows Phone:

Windows Phone lacks polished features. Romit talks about Notification Centre, and the similar Windows Phone feature lacks the ability to see recent updates clearly:

Invariably, I find myself hearing a notification from the phone and not realizing what it was for by the time I pick it up from across the room. Could it have been an ESPN score alert, or a News360 breaking news alert? If it is a WhatsApp message, I know the live tile gets updated, but what if the tile already had a non-zero number?

Then there are the missing enterprise features, something which might be surprising coming from Microsoft:

My new office has wifi everywhere on campus, but they use Microsoft Protect EAP (PEAP) for network authentication, which I couldn’t get to work on my Lumia. As I understand, it is not supported by Windows Phone 8 and is not available in GDR2 either.

Family and friends are elsewhere. Romit talks about how his family use iPhones, and it would be “great if I could iMessage with them and FaceTime with them for free.” You could argue that they should switch away from Apple-only technologies, but when you’re dealing with users who just want something that works, and it’s already “just working” for them, that’s a tough sell. And unlike Windows Phone, if Romit has any Android-using friends, there’s a version of Google Hangouts available for iPhone.

Microsoft’s biggest problem is that it’s playing catch-up, both from a development perspective and in its market share. Although having cloud-based services means it can avoid some of the worst network effects, it’s playing catch-up there too: Skydrive is a good product, but it lacks both mindshare and marketshare compared to Dropbox and Google Drive. Hotmail is still a powerful force, but the impetus is towards Gmail. And Office remains a strong brand, but its appeal is now mostly limited to the office: home users are increasingly looking elsewhere.

Why did Microsoft buy Nokia?

Why did Microsoft buy Nokia?1 Why did the company choose to spend €5.44 billion of its cash reserves to buy a company that was already a close partner for Windows Phone, and which it had committed to pay billions in “platform support” cash2 to use its operating system?

Here's the official reasoning:

Building on the partnership with Nokia announced in February 2011 and the increasing success of Nokia’s Lumia smartphones, Microsoft aims to accelerate the growth of its share and profit in mobile devices through faster innovation, increased synergies, and unified branding and marketing. For Nokia, this transaction is expected to be significantly accretive to earnings, strengthen its financial position, and provide a solid basis for future investment in its continuing businesses.

The part about “faster innovation” is curious. Nokia never had a problem with innovation: it holds one of the largest patent portfolios in the tech industry, and collects billions of dollars per year to prove it. But what it always had was a problem with bringing that innovation to market. Nokia engineers were talking about single-button touchscreen smartphones years before the iPhone, but failed to bring their brilliant prototypes to market.

And failing to bring great concepts to market is something that Microsoft, too, has been guilty of. Potential innovations like the Courier floated around and then died. The company had prototype ereader hardware around years before the Kindle, and failed to bring it to market. In both cases, the reason for the failure to bring innovation to market was simple: protecting the Windows brand. If it doesn't run Windows (or isn't called Windows), Microsoft won't ship it – no matter how innovative it is.

What about the other reasons? Marketing, branding and advertising? What “synergies” (read: cost savings) can the two companies find there? Microsoft/Nokia might be able to drive better deals for ads and consolidate its work into a single agency, but there aren't billions of dollars of savings to be made there.

Marketing? If Microsoft wants to sell anything, it's going to have to ramp up the quality and quantity of marketing. Samsung outspends everyone else enormously when it comes to marketing, and even the cash reserves of Microsoft won't make up for a gap that big. Can Microsoft really compete with a company that spends more on marketing than Apple, HP, Dell, Microsoft and Coca Cola combined?

Maybe it could if the quality of its marketing was up to Apple's standards. But take a look at the advertising and marketing work for Surface and I you'll see why I have doubts it can deliver. When you create a tablet computer and choose to emphasis how great it works with an optional £100 keyboard, you're either trying to cover up the product's deficiencies as a tablet, or utterly missing the point.

Branding? Only if you ditch the Nokia brand. Otherwise, you have two brands, which is confusing and expensive. And given the license to “Nokia” that Microsoft has paid for, unlikely.

So if the “official” reasons make such little sense, why did Microsoft buy Nokia? Ben Thompson makes a good case that the Microsoft/Nokia deal was driven by an immanent switch to Android – or bankruptcy:

I theorize that Nokia was either going to switch to Android or was on the verge of going bankrupt. (I suspect the latter: part of the deal included €1.5 billion in financing available to Nokia immediately). And, had Nokia abandoned Windows Phone, then Windows Phone would be dead.

Which brings us back to that point about how Microsoft's failure to bring innovative products to market could be ascribed to its determination to protect Windows. Nokia was either going to go down the tubes, or admit defeat and move into the Android camp. This would have killed Windows, and condemned the Windows brand to the PC ghetto. And Windows is sacred: a few billion dollars of offshore cash (which Microsoft couldn't bring back into the US anyway without incurring lots of tax) is a small price to pay to “protect” the sacred cow of Windows.


  1. Yes, I know it's only bought the devices and services divisions and that the new/old Nokia will continue on. But to all intents and purposes, Microsoft has bought what most people think of as Nokia. 

  2. It may actually turn out that the billions in platform support would have ended up more than the amount Microsoft paid for Nokia. Looked at purely in this way, this is a good deal. 

Chromebook sales gaining momentum

Acer President: Windows 8 is “not successful” but Chrome notebooks are winners | Computerworld Blogs:

To make up for the disappointing sales of Windows 8 devices, Acer is looking elsewhere. And right now, it’s finding that Chrome has been surprisingly successful. Acer released Chrome notebooks for $199 in November, and Chrome now accounts for between 5 percent and 10 percent of Acer’s U.S. sales. It’s been so successful that Acer may roll it out to other developed markets.

Add this to the data point revealed by a Dixons/PC World employee a while ago which claimed that where they sell them, Chromebooks have made up around 10% of their laptop sales, and you begin to a see a picture that should be worrying to Microsoft. Chromebooks are essentially eating the low-end of what was the netbook market: Small, cheap, light computers with limited functionality. 

But unlike Windows-based netbooks, Chromebooks are much more secure, and they have the power of web apps. And unlike netbooks, they actually run web apps really well. 

With tablets – by which I mean the iPad, of course – eating the higher end of the netbook market and Chromebooks taking the lower ground, Microsoft really should have reason to worry. Windows 8 doesn’t seem like the answer, and if Windows 8 fails to gain momentum, it would be a massive blow to Microsoft. When even Windows a stalwart like HP is starting to make Chromebooks, things don’t look so good in Redmond. 

In which Dan Lyons once again exposes his elite journalism skills

Dan Lyons, once again talking out of his ass:

This is a crushing blow to Microsoft, which has spent millions of dollars on lobbyists and phony grassroots groups over the past several years hoping to land Google in hot water.

You would think from this that Google, meanwhile, hasn’t been spending money on lobbyists.

Oh no wait

In fact, as a cursory search on Opensecrets.org reveals, Google significantly outspent Microsoft on lobbying in 2012, as it had in 2011.

But hey – never let facts get in the way of a good story, Dan.

Update: I’d forgotten this great quote about Lyons from MG Siegler:

This is a pattern for Lyons. He wants to write something, so he does the minimal amount of work possible, then writes it. It leads to situations like this. Which leads to him apologizing for being wrong. Or just looking like an ass.

MG nailed Lyons far, far earlier than most of us.

Windows 8 PCs jump straight down to the bargain basement

Dell Latitude 6430u - Windows 8 launch, Pier 57
Photo by Dell’s Official Flickr Page – http://flic.kr/p/doAsyh

Joe Wilcox has been scouting his local Best Buy, and found a distinct lack of excitement over Windows 8 PCs, which are already on sale at bargain prices:

I know people shop for deals during the holidays, but if Windows 8 convertibles, touchscreens and ultrabook had big appeal wouldn’t Best Buy prominently display them? Meanwhile, at my local store, tablets dominate the main front area and boxes of cheap laptops fill the central aisle. C`mon, do you want Santa to bring shiny new laptop or tablet this year? If Windows 8 can’t generate interest in PCs during its first holiday season, what can?

I’m not surprised Windows 8 PCs aren’t inspiring a wave of demand from customers. The product just doesn’t seem to have built the excitement of Windows 7, let alone the blockbuster interest garnered by Windows 95 at its launch.

The big issue facing Microsoft is that Windows 8 isn’t designed to solve any real user needs. Instead, it’s designed to meet Microsoft’s need to head off the iPad as it starts to plunder all the enterprise gold the company has relied on for years. The biggest, and most immediate selling point – the “don’t call it Metro” interface – just looks out of place on any PC which doesn’t have a touch screen.

If you design a product to meet an internal need rather than something that customers want to do, you’re always going to be starting from the wrong point. There are several new features in Windows 8 which actually do meet user needs – for example, syncing your data to the cloud – but they’re mostly the kind of behind-the-scenes “plumbing” features that Apple puts in its odd-numbered updates like Snow Leopard and Mountain Lion.

But overall, I keep looking at Windows 8 and just thinking “Why?” Why would any consumer bother with it?

 

Will bringing Office to the iPad kill Surface RT?

Amidst all the talk of the Microsoft Office apps coming to the iPad, there hasn’t been much thought about what bringing the apps to the iPad means to Microsoft’s long-term future. Peter Bright of Ars Technica thinks that Microsoft is playing a dangerous game:

“Should this come to pass, Microsoft will not just be banging a nail into the coffin of Windows RT and, by extension, its Surface tablet. It’ll be digging the grave, tossing in the body, and then unloading a few tons of concrete into the hole to ensure that there’s no risk of reanimation.”

Peter does have a point. The unique selling point of Windows RT is that it comes with “real” Office apps, and in handing the iPad the keys to the Office kingdom Microsoft runs the risk of undermining its own competing product.

But there’s a few counterpoints. First of all, it’s unlikely that the versions of Office for iOS will include many of the features that Windows RT Office has. On Microsoft’s platform, Office has feature parity with the full Windows 8 version. On iPad, it’s much more likely to be closer to the web Office apps in features. You’ll be able to do basic edits, but that’s probably about it. 

Second, and more important in the long term, if Microsoft doesn’t produce apps for the iPad it runs the risk of becoming irrelevant on a platform that’s being widely adopted by business. If it wants to keep the rest of the “Windows/Office/Exchange” software stack intact, it has to be on iPad. Google, probably it’s biggest competitor at the moment in enterprise office apps, it already there and keeps adding new features to its iOS programmes. 

If Microsoft doesn’t eat it’s own young, then someone else will. Better to preserve two elements of Windows/Office/Exchange than lose them.

Microsoft Skydrive causes friction between Apple and Microsoft

Apple and Microsoft are going head to head over the future of Microsoft Skydrive, according to AllThingsD:

“Sources familiar with ongoing negotiations between Apple and Microsoft tell AllThingsD that the companies are at loggerheads not over the 30 percent commission Apple asks of storage upgrade sales made through SkyDrive, but over applying that same commission to Office 365 subscriptions sold through Microsoft Office for iOS, which is expected to launch sometime next year.”

This makes much more sense than the two companies arguing over the relatively-small Microsoft Skydrive. But what I don’t understand is what Microsoft thinks it’s playing at: there’s simply no way that Apple is going to bend over this.

Why the Windows brand has been extended a step too far

Harry McCracken thinks that, despite the potential confusion, Windows is still the best name for Windows:

“But here’s the thing: Moving away from the Windows name, either swiftly or slowly, won’t fix any of these issues. Windows Phone has had the Windows name for three generations now; calling it something else would just muddle matters. (It would also ensure that every mention of the product for years to come would include a note that it was formerly known as Windows Phone, which would eliminate any theoretical benefit of a fresh new brand.)

Windows RT, meanwhile, has too much in common with Windows 8 to have an unrelated name. And Windows 8? Well, it is Windows.”

Up to a point, I agree with Harry regarding Windows CE/Mobile/Phone. But Windows RT? That’s a whole different kettle of fish.

Unlike Windows Phone, Windows RT actually looks like Windows. It even runs some (but not most) Windows 8 applications. It’s enough like Windows 8 to make a casual user believe they’re the same thing – and that means capable of running all the same apps.

But it doesn’t. Not even close, in fact. 

I sometimes wonder if Steve Ballmer’s experience as a marketer at Proctor & Gamble hasn’t ended up making him singularly ill-equipped to run a technology company. The classic marketing idea of brand extension – taking the name and core of a brand into different new products – doesn’t work so well with technology. Something called “Windows” ought to run Windows software. Windows RT, largely, doesn’t. 

Will someone come out and say they love Windows 8?

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog » Christmas gift for someone you hate: Windows 8:

“A reasonable user might respond to this dog’s breakfast of a user interface by trying to stick with either the familiar desktop or the new tablet. However, this is not possible. Some functions, such as ‘start an application’ or ‘restart the computer’ are available only from the tablet interface. Conversely, when one is comfortably ensconced in a touch/tablet application, an additional click will fire up a Web browser, thereby causing the tablet to disappear in favor of the desktop. Many of the ‘apps’ that show up on the ‘all apps’ menu at the bottom of the screen (accessible only if you swipe down from the top of the screen) dump you right into the desktop on the first click.”

Windows 8 is quite possibly a bigger mess for Microsoft than was Vista. And Vista, at least, was relatively easy for the company to extricate itself from. 

Which way will Microsoft go? IBM or AT&T?

Techpinions’ Steve Wildstrom ponders if Microsoft will make a successful transition like IBM, or a failure like AT&T:

“The question is, which model will Microsoft follow, AT&T or IBM? Will it emerge as a chastened, perhaps smaller, but very competitive company? Or will it just slowly fade away? The money gives it time to fix things, but it has to make key decisions about what sort of future it wants soon, and whether the leadership the company now has can get it there.”

IBM, under Louis Gerstner, shredded many sacred cows and emerged leaner, stronger, and able to grow. AT&T made failure into an art form. Microsoft still has the chance to succeed, but it needs to start working hard: much harder than Windows 8 would suggest it’s capable of doing.