Microsoft, it's time to get serious about devices

In the summer of this year, Microsoft announced – ultimately to the surprise of no-one – its intentions to purchase Nokia’s device business in a move that, when it is completed next year, will see Microsoft effectively become a smartphone manufacturer with the kind of product integration of software and hardware that only Apple has managed to make a lasting success.

Nokia – still operating more or less autonomously as the Microsoft deal slowly progresses behind the scenes – this week unveiled a trio of new devices, including the first Windows Phone phablets, the 6-inch Lumia 1520 flagship, and the cheaper but identically sized Lumia 1320. The company also revealed its first Windows tablet, the Lumia 2520, immediately introducing an awkward overlap with Microsoft’s Surface 2. It seems likely that it will be Nokia’s one and only tablet, as it is widely believed that Microsoft will maintain the Lumia brand for its smartphones, with Surface remaining for its tablet devices.

You would be forgiven for experiencing a modicum of apprehension over this state of affairs. Microsoft doesn’t exactly have a great deal of experience when it comes to its own hardware. Yes, you can point to Xbox, but that’s a very niche market with very specific requirements; hardly a relevant comparison to the broad and infinite needs and wishes of the smartphone and PC markets. Of course, Microsoft does have Surface – but this is isn’t exactly a shining example of market success.

Yesterday, as part of its earnings report for the first quarter of its 2014 fiscal year, Microsoft revealed that, for the three months ending September 30 2013, sales of its Surface tablets had doubled compared with the previous calendar quarter. But over a year on from the launch of Surface, Microsoft has still not revealed any actual sales numbers for its tablets. That in itself is telling, but this ‘doubling’ in Surface sales tells us nothing: if I sell one slice of cake, and then another slice of cake, I’ve doubled my sales, but I haven’t really sold much cake overall.

The absence of real sales figures from Microsoft certainly implies that the news is not good, and as Business Insider points out, $400m in Surface revenue for the quarter hints at sales below one million units. The fact that the company took a $900m write-down on Surface inventory last quarter paints an even bleaker picture. And deep price cuts – with up to 30% reductions on the Surface RT – earlier this year only go to underline the fact that Microsoft did not exactly get things right on its first try.

We cannot really condemn Microsoft for this – however nervous that imperfect start may make us about the Nokia takeover – and the company is clearly undeterred by its lack of progress so far. This week, it launched its second-generation Surface tablets in a blaze of publicity, including placing a giant 383ft Surface in London’s Trafalgar Square.

But Microsoft hasn't exactly rocked the boat with its new Surface devices. In terms of design, they are virtually identical to their predecessors, a fact that some have expressed disappointment over. "The company has done some great work with its Surface accessory range"That said, it gives Microsoft the opportunity to improve its accessory support without cutting ties completely with the previous generation, so there is some merit in this choice.

The company has certainly done some great work with its Surface accessory range. A docking station for the Surface Pro and its successor is a very welcome addition, and one that many have been hoping for. Today, it emerged that Microsoft has brought forward the launch of this accessory, with it being available for purchase right now, rather than next year as originally stated. The new Touch Covers are immensely impressive too, offering greatly improved gesture support and backlit keys in a package that is somehow even thinner than the original.

With the new generation, Microsoft has also introduced us to Surface ‘blades’ – essentially Touch Covers with customised layouts for specific usage scenarios. The company showed off a DJ-centric blade for music production, as part of its Surface Remix Project, and is encouraging users to share their ideas for other blades too. The potential here is very exciting.

But blades remain a concept for now, and it is not clear whether or not Microsoft has any structured plans to release such covers, or if the company is just kicking it about as a side project and making noise about it to make Surface seem a bit more cool and exciting to consumers.

Surface could certainly use the help. The new generation of its tablets is certainly a fine, incremental improvement over the original line-up. Battery life is improved, there’s a new dual-stage kickstand, the Windows RT version gets a 1080p display… it’s all very nice.

But there is nothing to get excited about; nothing to really grab a consumer’s attention, slap them across the face a bit and get them to want this product. They don’t have Retina Displays to take on iPads; they are neither the thinnest nor the lightest; they do not offer superlative performance; and this is all to say nothing of the less than perfect state of the Windows app ecosystem.

Instead, Microsoft’s marketing of its second-gen Surfaces remains focused on the keyboard covers as a central part of the offering, despite these still being optional extras. On the Surface homepage, the main header declares the trio of Surfaces (Surface 2, Surface Pro 2 and the original RT, which lives on at a lower price-point) “the most productive tablets on the planet”, highlighting the keyboards, USB port and Office as the main selling points. 

It seems that Microsoft has adjusted its focus – having failed to make any significant impact on the consumer market with its first-gen devices, is it now looking to a more business-focused future with Surface? A report a couple of weeks ago on Surface sales in the U.K. actually suggested that that might be the case, indicating that Microsoft would be targeting the business and education sectors with the new devices, rather than aggressively chasing consumer sales.

Whether or not that is the case remains to be seen. But if it is not, then it is another indicator that Microsoft is repeating its mistakes. When one of the highlights of the Surface launch was the company pointing out that the Windows logo on the rear had been replaced by ‘Surface’ branding, it certainly seemed that way. "Microsoft has chosen to release two new products that look the same as the old ones, at pretty much the same prices"Microsoft appears to believe that the best approach is more of the same, with modest improvements.

That strategy is working out pretty nicely for Apple – but then Apple has already been giving people what they want for some time, and incremental improvements are what its customers expect. Shake things up too much – as with iOS 7 – and people get upset. Microsoft is not in that position. The last twelve months has proven, beyond reasonable doubt, that people are just not that interested in Microsoft’s tablets as they stand. Rather than look closely at the reasons for this, and make changes to improve that situation, the company has chosen to release two new products that look the same as the old ones, at pretty much the same prices.  

Some would cite this as justification enough for Microsoft to give up on devices entirely, and focus instead on what it is good at – software. But look at the company’s earnings for the last quarter. The Windows Division was down 20% year-on-year. Yes, the Windows Division includes figures for Surface, but Surface alone was not responsible for that decline. The market is changing, and consumers are increasingly finding that they do not necessarily need to replace that desktop PC, for example, or that they are more content carrying around an iPad than a larger Windows laptop. That has had a significant impact on Windows sales, as PC makers turn increasingly to alternatives such as Google’s Android and Chrome OS.

"OEMs are looking towards a future where they no longer have to pay OS licensing fees to Microsoft"Indeed, Microsoft’s once-faithful allies are now turning their backs on the company. Many OEMs were furious when Microsoft began selling its own devices; Acer, for example, was one of the most vocal to criticise the launch of the Surface tablets. Acer’s president also spoke up to complain about weak sales of Windows 8 devices, as well as consumer confusion surrounding Microsoft's products. All of Microsoft’s OEM partners – with the exception of Nokia, which is effectively part of the family now anyway – have abandoned Windows RT. And as OEMs release more and more Chromebooks rather than Windows laptops, and Android tablets rather than Windows slates, they are increasingly looking towards a future where they no longer have to pay a small fortune in operating system licensing fees to Microsoft.

That, to put it mildly, makes Microsoft uneasy.

The evidence of this is already plain to see in Microsoft’s financial statements, and with traditional PC shipments in continuous decline, there is no reason to believe that it is going to change in the long term. Worryingly, the news that Microsoft's Windows licensing revenues didn't decline by as much as expected last quarter - but still fell significantly nonetheless - is only likely to fuel Microsoft's desire to avoid doing anything that might harm that revenue stream. 

But the die has already been cast. The company has already edged into the hardware business with Surface, and incurred the wrath of its OEM partners in doing so. There is no way to put that toothpaste back into the tube. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s hardware rivals have already established a commanding lead in selling the new generation of devices that buyers crave. And Google's decision to avail its operating systems to OEMs without charge remains one that Microsoft can do nothing about, even as manufacturers are now flocking to these alternatives in greater numbers.

HP’s CEO, Meg Whitman, acknowledged this changing state of affairs earlier this month, when she said that “long-time partners such as Intel and Microsoft are becoming outright competitors”. Like many other OEMs, HP has released non-Windows devices. Earlier this year, it launched the $169 Slate 7 with Android Jelly Bean, long before Windows 8 even supported devices of that size; this month, the company also announced its new $279 ChromeBook 11, a small budget-friendly notebook running Chrome OS.

Acer – outspoken as ever – had something to say on the matter as well. In October last year, ahead of the Surface launch – the company’s CEO, JT Wong, called Microsoft’s entry into the hardware market “something to kill the whole ecosystem”. He added that Microsoft may believe that “they need to do something aggressive to compete with Apple and not rely on brands like Acer.”

Although he probably did not intend it as such, that last comment from Wong is precisely what Microsoft needs to do. Microsoft’s Surface strategy so far has not been successful, and the company has only itself to blame for this.

There was marketing that focused too heavily on the keyboard – an accessory that is not essential or a ‘killer feature’ for everybody, and one that was only offered as an optional extra that added a sizeable amount to the cost of the device. Pricing was a broader issue in its own right. Microsoft positioned the Surface RT against the iPad, and the Surface Pro against similarly specified notebooks. But the RT was an entirely unknown quantity for consumers – a new and unfamiliar OS with an immature app ecosystem could not compete effectively for buyers’ attentions against the well-established and immensely popular iPad at the same price. "Surface RT could not compete effectively against the well-established iPad at the same price"

The Surface Pro, meanwhile, suffered from an identity crisis. Most techies understood the concept – a notebook PC in a tablet form factor – but consumers had become accustomed to the idea of tablets as thin and light devices, and were instantly turned off by the Pro’s heavy, chunky body. Consequently, to many, it came across as an incredibly expensive tablet, rather than a competitively priced laptop in a compact form factor.

Curiously, Microsoft appears to have learned little from any of this. The new products appear more or less identical, while the marketing still focuses on the keyboard and productivity – not exactly thrilling features to promote – and pricing has more or less stayed the same. The price of the RT-based Surface 2 has been slightly reduced, but this is unlikely to make a significant difference with the launch of the thinner and much lighter iPad Air for just $50 more.

So, at a time when the company faces attacks on all sides, when even its own allies have all but declared war on it by consorting with the enemy, Microsoft’s strategy to pursue long-term success in devices now stands with two modestly improved versions of devices that failed to meet sales expectations, with one of the originals still being sold alongside them. Oh, and Nokia, which has repeatedly been held back by the limitations of Microsoft’s operating system.

This is depressing.

It is not as if there is a shortage of inspiration out there for Microsoft to explore in making better devices, as well as new ones.

Earlier this week, Apple announced its second-generation iPad mini, featuring a beautiful Retina Display and a range of other nice but modest improvements that you’d expect. Meanwhile, the first 8-inch Windows devices are only now starting to roll out from various OEMs – if you forget the utterly terrible Acer Iconia W3 released earlier this year with Windows 8 – but there’s still no Surface device in that size range. A smaller Surface is expected to arrive in the first half of 2014, but in the meantime, millions of iPad minis, Nexus 7s, Kindle Fires and other small tablets will be sold while Microsoft's entry in one of the fastest growing device segments is still in development. 

Elsewhere, Samsung has been raking in the big bucks too, selling tens of millions of Galaxy Note devices, and bringing stylus input and handwriting support to some of its smartphones and tablets. Windows Phone has no such support, despite the first giant phablets having now been released. Stylus input remains absent too on the Surface 2, even though this would be a fantastic addition coupled with OneNote and the inclusion of Office, which Microsoft is convinced seems to matter so much to buyers.

"It may not wish to admit it, but Microsoft is now battling against not only Google and Apple but also its OEM partners, in a war that everyone else is already fighting"Microsoft could have sought hardware inspiration from the diversity of the Windows PC ecosystem too, with a wide range of fascinating new form factors - from the Acer Aspire R7 to the Lenovo Yoga range - certainly indicating that there’s still life left in the PC market. Frankly, with this kind of innovation still alive and well, it’s not hard to understand Microsoft’s hopes that it can continue to prolong the inevitable, so that it can milk the Windows OS licensing cash cow for as long as it can.

But like it or not, the global PC market is shrinking, and OEMs are relying less and less on Windows. It may not wish to admit it, but Microsoft is now battling against not only Google and Apple but also its OEM partners, in a war that everyone else is already fighting.

Microsoft needs to start fighting back.

The ‘transition’ to becoming a devices and services company was never going to happen overnight, but the pace we have seen from Microsoft on the devices front so far is not encouraging. While its rivals are releasing entirely new devices and pushing boundaries – thinnest, lightest, fastest – Microsoft’s devices offer incremental changes and no significant differentiation besides Office and the keyboard covers.

Microsoft’s OEM partners are already launching devices in ‘traditional’ Windows form factors – laptops, desktop PCs and even all-in-ones – with Android and Chrome OS on board. Needless to say, manufacturers are delighted at the prospect of selling more machines without paying additional Windows licensing costs to Microsoft. But Microsoft has not yet responded in kind by diversifying its own hardware offering. A smaller Surface mini will be a welcome addition – when it eventually arrives – but we need to see more than this.

When will Microsoft release an ultra-thin ‘SurfaceBook’ laptop to go head-to-head with the MacBook Air? Not everyone wants a tablet, and whatever Microsoft might say, there are some seating or reclining positions that just work a lot better with a notebook than with a Surface and Touch Cover, even with the new dual-stage kickstand.

"OEMs want the best of both worlds: the freedom to explore other OS options, while expecting Microsoft to just grin and bear it"When will we see a ‘SurfaceTop’ all-in-one desktop PC? Dell has shown how effectively you can combine a PC with a tablet form factor with its stunning XPS 18, while other designs like Sony’s VAIO Tap 20 show that there’s plenty of room for Microsoft to explore interesting ideas in creating a truly compelling Windows PC for the home or office. 

When will we see a ‘SurfaceStation’ business PC? It’s not all about high-def displays and kick-ass specs. Many organisations have much more modest needs for their devices, but they still need them in enormous quantities, as evidenced by the huge numbers of low- and mid-range PCs sold to them from the likes of HP’s Pro line and Dell’s Vostro. One of Microsoft’s greatest strengths is its relationship with its business and enterprise customers, who spend vast sums on Windows OS licensing each year, and it is understandably keen to keep that arrangement going for as long as possible. Even so, it is easy to see how the company would be well positioned – and well served – by selling its own hardware to its business customers too.

The PC ecosystem is just so much more diverse than the limited, ‘one size fits all’ solution of the current Surface line-up. Microsoft cannot – and of course should not – attempt to copy every form factor out there. But as its OEM partners turn away from it, it needs to push further into their territory if it seriously believes that there is a ‘Windows Everywhere’ future as it claims. Microsoft’s hardware partners want the best of both worlds – they want the freedom to be able to explore other OS options so they can wash their hands of the company; but they also expect Microsoft to just grin and bear it as this plays out. Microsoft, fearful of antagonising OEMs and impacting its dwindling Windows revenues further, has been holding itself back.

This is the time for Microsoft to be pushing forward. The company is still learning the ropes when it comes to offering its own hardware, of course, but that does not mean that it cannot be a bit more aggressive in its offering.

The Surface 2 weighs 50% more than the new iPad Air, although you’re unlikely to notice the 1.4mm difference in thickness between the two. The Surface Pro 2 still weighs enough to make using it as a tablet less than comfortable, despite the tablet form factor being a central selling point. Was it really beyond Microsoft to make thinner, lighter devices while still maintaining support for accessories? "The tech industry has shown time and again that those who do not move quickly enough die"

And what about price? Why, when original Surface sales were so poor, did Microsoft price the new tablets at more or less the same level as their predecessors? This is all the more galling given the company’s own admission that sales doubled when prices were reduced. Of course, the reason is that, yet again, it did not want to risk upsetting its hardware partners.

This, ultimately, is Microsoft’s biggest problem as it continues its huge transition from software giant to a company built around services and the devices that use them: it is bound by the fear of what may come. It was afraid enough of the decline in Windows PC shipments to dip its toe into the waters of building its own hardware; but it is too afraid of antagonising its ‘partners’ to take the actions that it needs to strengthen and broaden its hardware offering.

The tech industry has shown time and again that those who do not move quickly enough die. BlackBerry is perhaps the most obvious example of this, but Nokia is another valid, and very relevant, example, having failed to anticipate or react to the threat of the iPhone until it was too late, resulting in the rapid decline of its business. Microsoft simply cannot afford to drag its feet and run the risk of being left further behind when it comes to building its future around new and better devices.

It is not just about Surface and not only about hardware either. The pace of improvement – which Microsoft laughingly refers to as ‘innovation’, on occasion – in the Windows Phone 8 OS has been woefully lethargic. It is telling that a unified notifications centre, a widely requested feature since Windows Phone 7 launched in 2010 – is still not slated to arrive until the first quarter of next year, and there many more examples like this. Still, Microsoft did announce some worthy improvements in WP8 Update 3, but delivery to users remains complicated by carriers, frustrating the experience of owning a Windows Phone.

Credit where it is due though: Microsoft delivered Windows 8.1 which, while still imperfect, is a vastly improved version of its predecessor. The wide consensus is that this is the OS that Microsoft should have shipped a year ago – and that seems to be a fairly common verdict when it comes to the company’s way of doing things these days.

Windows Phone 8, for example, delivered a much more complete experience than its predecessor, so much so that it effectively ‘rebooted’ the platform – leading many to make the same comment about how WP8 was what WP7 should have been in the first place. But even at launch, Windows Phone 8 was still lacking many of the features of its OS rivals which, even today, it continues to lag behind. The latest Surface improvements, meanwhile, are welcome, but consist largely of features that may well have been exciting a year ago at the original launch, but which do not really make much of a difference when compared against rivals today.

Perhaps Microsoft needs to regain its confidence after losing its dominant position in the market. Perhaps it just needs to ‘man up’ and stop worrying about upsetting its hardware partners, who have already begun to flirt with its rivals. Either way, things will not improve for Microsoft until it starts to really get serious about devices.

Expanding its portfolio of PC hardware will be a critical part of this as OEMs begin scaling down their Windows device production. If Microsoft was really serious about pushing its own devices, it could follow Apple’s lead in no longer charging for OS updates on its own PCs, giving consumers an incentive to buy Microsoft devices over those of other Windows OEMs. That might well happen further down the line, but not until Microsoft has succeeded in capturing a greater share of the market.

For now, though, it would be nice to see… well, more – something to indicate that Surface means more to Microsoft than just an Apple TV-like ‘hobby’. That means more than just incremental improvements, more form factors, more impressive marketing that tells a more exciting story than just ‘the tablet with the keyboard’. "Will Microsoft do what it takes to succeed in hardware, with truly compelling and exciting features, and new devices and form factors?"

Perhaps it all seems like a bit much to expect of Microsoft, just one year on from the launch of its first tablet. After all, the company is still finding its way in a new segment, and is up against intensely strong competition from entrenched rivals.

But Microsoft’s rivals are not going to afford it the courtesy of waiting for it to catch up, and they will gladly take any action that serves their best interests, even if that means turning away from their long-term 'partner'. The company now has the impending Nokia acquisition looming over it too, making it even more crucial that it understand the need to act more swiftly and more aggressively in executing its devices strategy. It has taken three years for Microsoft and its partners to eke out just over three percent share of the global smartphone market. How long will it take for Microsoft to capture a significant share of the tablet and PC market with its own devices? How long can it afford to spin its wheels in the mud as others continue to advance?

No intelligent mind could deny the immense potential in Microsoft’s hardware future. The range of Lumia handsets that it is acquiring in the Nokia deal are, with few exceptions, outstanding devices, while there is much to like in the new Surface tablets for those that will give it the time of day. It is easy to imagine what Microsoft could achieve with its own devices and services if it stopped holding itself back. 

But the question remains whether or not Microsoft will do what it takes to succeed in hardware - not just to catch up with its rivals, but to strengthen its current offering with truly compelling and exciting features, and diversifying into new devices and more form factors as its partners move on to pastures new.

The possibilities are endless and ripe for exploration. For now, though, it seems that Microsoft is only scratching the surface. 

Image credits: 1) Microsoft; 2) David Parry/PA Wire; 3) Microsoft; 6) HP; 7) Apple; 9) mobilenet.cz; 11) Mashable

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the problem here is, basing my comment on a slew of comments here, MS is trying to be an APPLE of sorts and corner the market themselves. with the Surface line as a whole. it is obvious that MS is trying to steer well into an APPLE'esque market where THEY (MS) are building the systems. think about it a second: standard CPU, two flavors of Ram and storage, so much easier to alleviate hardware issues when everyone (who owns a surface) have the same hardware.

maybe MS is trying to cut out the OEM's all together. MS is making a bold move in this matter and the dangers are, MS could alienate themselves if they get it wrong

So many people ****in hate Microsoft, for the fact that Office and Windows not only dominate their respective markets, but that they are irreplaceable.

Everyone now wants to invent an idea that somehow, 8" and smaller devices can and are replacing PCs, because they can browse the web, or do some other primitive task, because we've become primitive people,with primitive brains.

And hey, lets use PC sales to help us spread this idea. Yeah, that'll show em. No, just stop. It used to be that you would buy a PC regularly, because your PC you just bought would become a slow obsolete POS in no time. And by the time the newest OS came around, you'd be lucky if you could upgrade. Nowadays, you can use a PC you bought 5 years ago,and run the newest OS even faster than before, and everything you've ever wanted to do is accomplishable at respectable speeds. Logic

Not only that, but all these OEMs,and competitors already beat themselves, by getting involved in a sub $300 market that they will never get out of. They have tried,and failed miserably at doing anything non windows at 10" and up, that is why they are where they are now. People buy these devices because they are basically accessories, companion devices to **** around with, that you wouldn't give a **** about if you lost it,or dropped it and it broke. Even apple got suckered into this area,and now their mini tablets have taken over from their larger ones. There is now an unmolested 10" and up market that no one can touch, all to Microsoft themselves.

Microsoft sees this opportunity to make massive profits selling hardware. OEMs are welcome to continue making the journey if they please, but Microsoft is in no way concerned. They aren't even competing with them. Who's going to use a 7" tablet to work on office documents? Microsoft sells the OS by selling other products and services that cant be copied.

Windows 8s reason to exist is to help create one platform, for every single device,regardless of size. This is Microsofts plan on becoming an even greater monster. People can bitch and moan about having metro on the desktop, yada yada. But these people are short sighted.

Sometimes I think this was all along Microsoft masterful plan. Resting on their laurels, wait for some other market to spruce up,and then have the right to use this windows platform as a weapon once and for all, to become unshackled. Could they have integrated metro, and made the windows store pre 2007? Could they have built their own windows hardware? Windows Phone(same api)? They would have had the feds all up in their ass. They were hoping for an iphone, or an ipad,and now they are free.

Think about it. Even with all of apple success , If they already reached their ceiling, think of what kind of behemoth Microsoft can become if Microsoft has "failed" so far (making ~$6 billion profit a quarter).

Edited by vcfan, Oct 25 2013, 9:23pm :

I digress with you in that, months ago here on Neowin, a lady rep representing MS stated on the stage , on video that windows 8 was to be the OS for all as you stated. however, the argument that STILL lingers is, SOME, alot or few users use the desktop and they have been bamboozled because while MS faked a punt, in NFL terms, and said, sure, we'll give you a start menu, it was basically NOT a lie but a play on words. Laptops/desktops already last a long time because of their power. But what is STILL missing is the tradtional start menu for those who work that way.. period. I don't care about MS laurels or attempts to redefine how we compute with as you say companion devices.. the PROBLEM is a huge swath of users were forgotten, on purpose and told, here.. this is the way you'll compute and work now. try telling that to a corporation who has millions to spend on hardware or those who have no liquidity to spend on upgrading.windows 8/8.1 has its place but that place doesn't work for everyone.

that's not vision, that's a mistake and loyalties live and die by MS corporate attitudes irregardless of what you or I think. I had to use a 3rd party app(classic shell) to get my Win 8.1 setup for my non touchscreen system.

chrisj1968 said,
But what is STILL missing is the traditional start menu for those who work that way.. period. I don't care about MS laurels or attempts to redefine how we compute with as you say companion devices.. the PROBLEM is a huge swath of users were forgotten, on purpose and told, here.. this is the way you'll compute and work now. try telling that to a corporation who has millions to spend on hardware or those who have no liquidity to spend on upgrading.windows 8/8.1 has its place but that place doesn't work for everyone.

that's not vision, that's a mistake and loyalties live and die by MS corporate attitudes irregardless of what you or I think. I had to use a 3rd party app(classic shell) to get my Win 8.1 setup for my non touchscreen system.

Ok? And? Changes happen all the time. Corporations can make all the excuses they want, but it won't prevent change from happening. They're now just upgrading to Windows 7, and will be on that OS for some time. The change in Windows 8 might seem sudden, but by running Windows 7 for the next several years, they'll tackle that change more gracefully. Workers can still get their jobs done without a "traditional" start menu (whatever that means). There is no written rule that states that they can't have anything else - They'll get used to using the start screen, just like they did with the start menu when it was introduced. Workers don't have the same work habits that they did 10 years ago, and Windows 8 is a reflection on those changes.

you're missing the point. What this rep said, representing MS mind you.. it is an OS for everyone, tablet, laptop and desktop. it was a lie.

does it have the start menu? now is it the start menu that alot of desktop and laptop systems.. .wait a minute.... lol what was I thinking?

Windows 8/8.1 is to computing what obamacare is to affordability... while some might be able to get the healthcare system to work, everyone democrat or alike are saying wth? this isn't what i want... you said I could keep my current health care insurance. (analogy ok?)

chrisj1968 said,
you're missing the point. What this rep said, representing MS mind you.. it is an OS for everyone, tablet, laptop and desktop. it was a lie.

does it have the start menu? now is it the start menu that alot of desktop and laptop systems.. .wait a minute.... lol what was I thinking?

Windows 8/8.1 is to computing what obamacare is to affordability... while some might be able to get the healthcare system to work, everyone democrat or alike are saying wth? this isn't what i want... you said I could keep my current health care insurance. (analogy ok?)

How are they lying? Windows 8 works across all those devices, unhindered. Yes, it does have a start menu, press the start button, and voila, you're in Start. Right click the button, and you have more options. How is this any different to what came before it? What makes tiles any different than icons?

I couldn't agree more with the sentiment of this article.

I remember a discussion with a family member in the not too distant past, where he described moving to Apple because it "just worked" compared to his experience with cheep consumer level laptops. I tried to explain the difference between buying from a hardware vender that works hard to control the user experience compared to a hardware vender that works as an oem and piles on the crap and actually proved the point by taking the Windows laptop that he complained about, rebuilding it (as someone that [likes to think they] know what they're doing) and he was impressed with how well it then worked. The problem then became that he complained about the shoddy build of the device itself - that part had nothing to do with the Microsoft offering, but more the fact that he bought a laptop for less than £500 and tried to compare it to his £1000+ apple device (at that point I just raised my hands).

[/babble ends]

My point being that if Microsoft were in more control of the quality of devices on offer this wouldn't be an issue, but leading the way with appropriate hardware devices and avoiding the myriad of (oem) crapware is certainly a good starting place and will hopefully lead oems to rethink their approach to the market (less crap more quality) even at the lower end of the marked.

(Thanks for listening)

Average consumers are moving to tablets and average consumers don't want Windows on their tablets. They had Windows on their PC's because they had to, now there are other choices people are not selecting a Windows device.

Try this... Think about everyone in your family, go to extended family as well if you like. Go from very young to very old, include everyone. Now match all these family members with todays tablets, I bet you don't allocate a Windows Tablet to most of these people.

This is the problem that Microsoft has and sales number prove it.

And as OEMs release more and more Chromebooks rather than Windows laptops, and Android tablets rather than Windows slates, they are increasingly looking towards a future where they no longer have to pay a small fortune in operating system licensing fees to Microsoft.
If MS just wants to be a toll booth then definitely device makers will turn to alternatives such as chrome os or they will just end up putting together their own custom software solutions like smartphone makers.

I have a better idea for Microsoft: Stop trying to be Apple and stick to what you're actually good at: Making decent desktop software.

Javik - that is indeed the way consumers (and most business folks) think - very much a case of MASSIVE tunnel vision. It doesn't matter that Windows (whether we're talking 8.x or RT) can do everything Android or iOS can do - Microsoft, in their minds, is associated with the "status quo" - deservedly or not. Consumers (and also a lot of business software users) see Microsoft as today's IBM - traditionalist and old-school. They want to trap Microsoft in that niche so badly they can taste it. Never mind that Microsoft doesn't want to be relegated - it's not what the CONSUMER wants. Microsoft is the company that nobody wants to admit to using the products of.

Very nice article. I think the the tone of Microsoft's next 5 years hinges on the XBOX One. It's hands down their sexiest product. If it explodes it could really light a fire under Microsoft. If it falls flat it will not only shake the confidence at Redmond, but shape how consumers think about Microsoft in terms of delivering a fully realized hardware/software product.

If the XBOX One fails to ignite within the first 5 years the way the 360 did AND SteamOS starts making traction, Microsoft will be fighting on all fronts and that's not good in the position they are in.

Really great article!

tldr; Long ranty post ahead, sorry!

I wish Microsoft could release RTbooks to combat Chromebooks. A $250 plastic laptop running Windows RT? If people are clambering for an OS that is just a browser with only a handful of offline functions and no real app store then RT with a full OS (let's face it, normal people don't need more than Office, if they even need that), Office, a decent app store with all sorts of apps and games, and a full browser that works with Flash and most other things.

Maybe they could shift some of those (then again, beyond the anecdotes from the tech press, Chromebook sales have been abysmal to the point that Surface RT has sold more in 12 months than Chromebooks have in three years)? Though if Microsoft did it the OEMs would likely bury them. They're barely tolerating Surface so if they went into laptops too? Bloodbath (as would a BayTrail Surface have been). They should allow OEMs to do stuff like that though.

RT should be the perfect answer to Chromebooks and Android tablets like the Nexus 7 (heck, even cheaper ones like the Acer B1 or HP Slate 7). MS should licence it for free, disable the desktop and remove Office for cheaper and smaller devices (don't want to canabalise the higher end) and get it in peoples hands. Only then will the ecosystem flourish at a faster pace, like it has with Android.

While I don't really care for ChromeOS, Google have marketed it well. The commercials are friendly and make it look like Chromebooks can do anything (oh, and it's made for everyone!) even though it's half crippled even when it is online compared to Windows, OSX, or Linux. People will consider buying them because it shows them that this laptop can make their life amazing.

MS have dropped the ball with the Surface Gen2 models. While they both look great (still), there wasn't enough of a price drop to warrant people flocking to the stores to grab one. There wasn't an amazing standout app (the Bing apps are great, but iPads have iPhoto, iMovie, and GarageBand, oh and all of Adobe's Photoshop lite apps) that really shows off what it can do.

Their advertising still warbles on about that bloody USB port and Office and how much work you can do on it. It doesn't sell it to real people at all. Show me how grandma can Skype me from another country or Great Aunt Hilda managing her photos collection or little Timmy mixing some music or painting or something.

Apple do some really boring desktop demos, but their iPhone and iPad demos are always cool because they show off features in a practical application. Microsoft sort of just blitzes through a list of features and just expects you to figure out how to use them. Miracast support is a great example of this, it's great for people who have it but go ask any normal person what it is or if their Surface has it and they won't have a clue.

Microsoft have made two great products, and they've improved on them this year. But that's just not enough and the price for Surface 2 (and the higher specced Surface Pro's) is just that bit too high for people to take the risk. If Surface 2 was the same price as the discounted Surface 1 ($350) and then Surface 1 dropped to $250 then people may pause when considering their new tablet but if there's only $50 between Surface 2 and the new iPad Air most people will choose the iPad because it's a freaking iPad!

If Apple have (as people have surmised) named their new tablet the 'iPad Air' because they're planning on releasing an 'iPad Pro' next year then Microsoft will find themselves in a tricky spot. iPads sell like crazy anyway, even to professionals, and f Apple bring out a tablet tailored to more professional things, like a bigger screen, keyboard case, maybe a stylus, and more souped up, touch and pen friendly, versions of Final Cut and Aperture people will go wild.

I'm worried Microsoft have nothing up their sleeve to combat something like that. I hope I'm wrong but they can't even get the power cover released for Christmas and they deliberately delayed the Surface Mini so it doesn't cannibalise Surface 1 sales... Oh, and Surface 2 doesn't come with a pen even though there's cheaper active tech available from Synaptics if they didn't want to spend on Wacom tech.

Yikes, I'm apparently in a ranty mode tonight so I'll stop there.

I love Microsoft, love Surface, Windows 8.1, Office and their entire eco-system but godammit they really need to shape up and get PR and Marketing savvy soon and go on the offensive; if they want to compete with Apple rather than Android they need to step up.

so in summary:

author rambles about the death of the pc. argues MSFT needs to make PCs.
author goes over and over about OEMs fear of MSFT, yet google competes with OEMs even harder, and they are killing OEMs with their nexus.
author thinks the mac has a future, and MSFT needs to challenge it even as MSFT already won that batter and apple reported decline mac sales.
author goes on and on over areas where MSFT has already won (business) and neglects chromebooks have failed for 3 years to register in stat counter or net applications.

arg...what a waste of internet space this article was. sorry.

Andy Weir said,
Microsoft doesn't exactly have a great deal of experience when it comes to its own hardware. Yes, you can point to Xbox, but that's a very niche market with very specific requirements; hardly a relevant comparison to the broad and infinite needs and wishes of the smartphone and PC markets. Of course, Microsoft does have Surface - but this is isn't exactly a shining example of market success.

I think we can all agree that Microsoft knows how to make good hardware. Very good quality hardware in fact. The Zune when it was sold was a very solid and beautifully crafted device, and the same can be said about the surface. Ironically, it is the software side that is the thorn in Microsoft's side at the moment, design and UI being a bit of a growing pain, and i would say that marketing and global distribution is one of their biggest blunders.

You swear by the titles of these articles... why aren't these bloggers running the companies if they are so smart instead of blogging what they should be doing.

Instead of the Apple vs Microsoft situation, it is becoming more and more an Apple vs "apple-wannabee" situation. So much for Microsoft's appreciation of business/enterprise loyalty.



people want apple devices and are willing to pay the apple tax even if they cant afford it

why_ because bloogers like this guy keeps giving apple a pass while attacking MS every chance they get even though MS offers waaaay much more than apple

but bloggers dont care...

if it is apple it is golden

no matter how often MS innovates and apple underperforms... apple will always be the gold standard in the blogosphere

People have wanted alternatives to Window's for eons now, and now that there finally is MS is eroding quicker and quicker each year...MS as a brand took a hearty beating in the 90's, so much so that I don't think it can ever recover, people are happy to leave MS and the writing has been on the wall for a long time.

The monopoly is over, good riddance.

And why have people wanted alternatives to Windows? You and others keep saying that; however, have you stated any reason that has nothing to do with price as to why? First off, Microsoft actually has NO control over what OEMs charge for their hardware, over and above the cost of the Windows license itself - what the OEMs charge for Android tablets and slates is proof enough of that. And the reasons for BYOD in the corporate world are entirely driven by the up-front cost to the companies; the back-end costs of BYOD are as high as, if not higher than, keeping the desktops entirely company-supplied. The REAL reason why Microsoft is resisted in the tablet and slate space has more to do with what is available from OEMs as opposed to what Microsoft (in terms of the software, or even Surface/Surface Pro/Surface 2) brings to the table. However, it does NOT help that Microsoft has become (once again) the Rodney Dangerfield of IT - it gets next to no respect, in either operating systems or applications. (Microsoft has been here before - and oddly enough, after a wildly-successful Windows 98. While 98SE sold more than even 98, it was greeted with largely a yawn, and we ALL can remember what happened with Windows ME. Windows 2000 Professional almost got tarred with ME's brush, merely due to appearances. Segue to now, and Windows 8 and 8.1. Never mind that it has managed to do what nobody else has even TRIED, and without breaking that backward compatibility that has been held up as the ne plus ultra, it's STILL not enough. It's still a Microsoft OS, and thus will get no props.

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