Microsoft is trying to get a little bit pregnant

by Volker Weber

Photo: Microsoft

Microsoft never built a PC. As much as Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer painted the company as a hardware manufacturer, from the original green button mouse for Windows 1.0 to the Natural Keyboard, there has always been a horizontal ecosystem: Microsoft provides the software, hardware vendors build PCs. And that's about to change.

Mark your calendars. On June 18, 2012, Steve Ballmer said:

We believe that any intersection between human and machine can be made better when all aspects of the experience, hardware and software, are considered and working together.

That's a vertical model. You build the hardware, you build the software, you integrate from the design to manufacturing. Who is doing that? Right, Apple. Forget the iPhone vs. Android vs. Windows Phone battle. The iPad is the killer. No Windows tablet has succeeded against the iPad, no Android tablet has succeeded either. Apple is winning this game all the way. And once you have established a dominant platform, it's very hard to compete against that. Nobody knows this game as well as Microsoft.

Microsoft does not trust that HP, DELL, Samsung, Asus, or any of their other Windows OEMs will stop Apple. Now they try themselves by copying Apple. What they announced yesterday is not an el cheapo PC, plastered with Intel and Windows stickers. This is Apple design territory. Caveat emptor: we don't know anything about pricing and availability. "When Windows 8 ships. Prices TBA".

So what has Microsoft shown in the light of this situation? Not one, but two tablets. "Surface" and "Surface Pro". Surface runs on Windows 8 RT, Surface Pro on Windows 8. What's the difference, beyond the marketing speak about home and professional use? Windows 8 runs all Windows apps. It's essentially a PC. Windows RT only runs Metro apps.

The Pro device is the more capable, thicker, heavier one. It comes with a digital pen, it has an Intel processor. The other model is thinner and comes with less storage, and it won't need that much storage as the other one.

What both tablets share, and that is grabbing most of the attention, is a kickstand which lets you prop up the screen, and a clever keyboard cover with an iPad-like magnetic attachment to the device. You can turn these machines into a configuration similar to a notebook, but you will need a table. Can't work as a laptop. The keyboards come in different colors, and they can either be a touch sensitive surface (thin) or have regular keys (not quite as thin).

We will see how expensive they are, and we will have to see whether people want a PC turned tablet, or a straight tablet. Almost nobody has yet grasped the difference between Windows 8 and Windows 8 RT, but that will come, when the first people complain that they cannot install their trusty old Norton Commander.

Can Microsoft stop the bleeding? I don't know. But Windows 8 looks a lot more interesting with these machines. As you know, you can't be a little bit pregnant. And it's very difficult to have both a vertical and a horizontal offering in the same market. Interesting times.

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Comments lässt sich nicht mit google chrome öffnen, ob das Absicht ist...?

Ralph Hammann, 2012-06-19

Bei mir geht das. Vielleicht

Volker Weber, 2012-06-19

Tatsache, damit geht´s sofort. :-)

Ralph Hammann, 2012-06-19

Hmm. I remain uninspired.

By the time you add a keyboard and protective cover - the "pro" weight will be +1kg and back in the realm of ultra books.

I'm pretty sure Samsung or Asus could clearly compete just by shaving some weight, allowing the screen to be flipped around to form a tablet and providing a slot to house a pen. Oh hang on..... didn't we ride that fun fair attraction a few years ago?

Ian Bradbury, 2012-06-19

Ian, you state that when you add a keyboard and a cover you're back in the realm of an ultra-book. But I look at it this way... three years ago I was reading 'office of the future' documents from customers which talked about "employee gets up from their desk, detaches their touch-screen, goes to a quiet corner and joins a web conference" or "goes into an impromptu meeting in the coffee area". Three years ago customers were thinking about this mode of working where they could flick between desk-based and agile on-the-move. And this was in the days before the iPad.

Today they can work in that mode, but often we see people leave the p.c. on the desk and walk away with the iPad. So, two devices and not necessarily synced-up data or capabilities. A great many customers are interested in having tablets that have p.c.-like performance that can be docked at the desk (with keyboard and mouse / trackpad) but then become touch-tablets when they're picked up. This subject goes on the agenda at our executive briefings and it's gaining traction. Of course, so is bring-your-own, customers are looking at both, and they're not mutually exclusive.

Darren Adams, 2012-06-19

At last, now I understand what they are trying to do with Windows 8. It makes sense now, and it is a repeat of the 'Let's just have the same codebase everywhere and just change the outside interface' idea which has served Microsoft so badly.

Off the top of my head
Word 2.0 and Mac Word 6
The kin, forced to run on Windows CE.

So, Microsoft is going to optimize Windows 8 for its Surface, and leave its cash-cow desktop as a second priority and an user interface which is navigated by a mouse.....

My forecast: Microsoft will not be able to go ahead with the copycat strategy, apple is too far ahead (remember Zune?). They will, however, pull the whole Windows team towards Surface. Business users will rebel and stay with Windows 7 until Microsoft repents and makes 2 different OSes instead of squeezing both into one codebase.

Andrew Magerman, 2012-06-19

Windows 8 will support both mouse & keyboard and touch. Existing Windows applications will be supported via the traditional desktop, and Metro-style apps (more suited for touch) will be used via the Metro interface. There's no sacrifice being made to the traditional desktop interface of Windows 8... in fact (not going into any detail here because I'm not permitted to) remember this when Office '15' (or whatever the version number is) is announced.

Apple may be far ahead in terms of shipments and maturity of their app store. But iPads are still seen as companion devices - I don't see anyone throwing away their p.c.s or Macs and going solely with an iPad. Surface, and other Windows 8 tablets have the flexibility of being enterprise desktops when you need them to be and handy tablets with touch apps when you undock it and walk around (or at home, or when travelling). That's how I use mine... I have Outlook and Office installed, but also a load of Metro-style apps for checking the news / weather, looking up something on Wikipedia, browsing photos, browsing the web, checking Twitter and Facebook, playing Target Word, etc.

Darren Adams, 2012-06-19

@Darren:"I don't see anyone throwing away their p.c.s or Macs and going solely with an iPad."
A few days ago I read something interesting about someone who very often has quite an idea what other might (soon) do. Maybe you've heard about him ... ;-)
Quote:"... I know people with similar setups like myself, and they keep leaving their MacBook Air behind, just as I do with my MacBook Pro. The iPad has proven to be much more than a media consumption device."

Jan Lauer, 2012-06-19

I agree on Darren's point of view.

Mathias Ziolo, 2012-06-19

I agree with Darren as well. (Hint hint, Jan). The iPad is indeed a companion device to my iMac.

It's a bit like a suitcase. I don't travel with a moving truck and all my belongings.

Volker Weber, 2012-06-19

I think there's space in the market for both. I've spoken to some customers who are under pressure from their users wanting to bring iPads into work, get connected to the corporate network... but it causes the IT (and security people) a headache. So okay, they deploy Good technology to sandbox the corporate data, allow iPads to access virtual desktop sessions, but in doing so they're adding more solutions that IT have to manage. For that reason, Windows tablets that can support VPN solutions, use BitLocker and TPM chips, and are managed client environments are very appealing... and that's why there's a lot of corporates interested. I've had a lot of comments today telling me that iPad has sewn up the market and there's no point in Microsoft doing this, but those people clearly aren't engaged in the conversations I've been part of.

Darren Adams, 2012-06-19

There was no misinterpretation on what I quoted. Even I could not live without my notebook environment, but much to my surprise a few users I know of do only rarely touch their notebooks/desktops any more. It's a growing number since they do not longer need to install iTunes to activate their iPads.
But, the reasons why I do not find Microsofts strategy to much promising yet, nevertheless they announced the most competing approach, are different ones.
Plus: Compared to Microsofts marketing in the past the introduction of a new product line and strategy is uncommonly silent. Lack of self confidence? Modesty? Perhaps they have more to contribute to their new philosophy? We'll see ...

Jan Lauer, 2012-06-19

@Darren & Volker

Your both IT people. :)

My wife was schlepping TWO laptops across the pond. A locked down corporate Windows thinkpad and her macbook. She now takes only her iPad using a Citrix app and the logitech keyboard. Since she travels "light" with just a backpack her back is much happier. She was also due for a Thinkpad upgrade and told them to keep it. Doesn't need it.

Darren, AFAIK she is just as sandboxed using her iPad as she was using the Thinkpad. She can't download files locally with either the Thinkpad or the iPad for example.

While she is involved in rolling out IT projects and consulting she mainly uses the iPad now. She uses her MacBook at home (ie. couch) mostly because of the ergonomics Volker cited. The aluminium cased keyboard isn't as stable in all couch situations like a laptop but is quite good in the right positions.

Jan matches up with her xp.

With cloud apps "powerful" is being redefined.

Stephen Hood, 2012-06-20

What I find interesting in this conversation is people keep saying this is Microsoft's first step into hardware and consumer devices. Most of those people forget about the Xbox. They started with a system that was ugly, huge, and going against the big competitor of the day (Sony and the PS2). But the gem of the XBox was XBox Live and Halo. Then comes the XBox360 and it's now the dominate gaming console (I am thinking in terms of revenue, not pure units sold). Yes, they had huge issues with manufacturing and the RROD. But the current model + kinect is the clear market leader. So I hope MS has learned from their XBox experiences as it enters the consumer device world. And - imagine if they could put a connect sensor in one of these devices ... with the rumor of Kinect coming to monitors and laptops early in the Win8 cycle, that would be truely amazing.

John Head, 2012-06-20

The stand will be the first thing that breaks I guess - at least it does not look very stable.

Martin Hiegl, 2012-06-20

"Forget the iPhone vs. Android..." lets see what the integration of Motorola into Google will bring. Goggle with Android and Motorola will then be just as vertical as Apple. Plus, 10 years from now the emerging markets will dominate Smartphone sales, and so far Android has been doing well in the emerging markets.

Felix Binsack, 2012-06-20

Nobody knows what's going to be in 10 years. 10 years ago, a few people were sending and receiving faxes on their Nokia 9210 Communicator. And that was the only game in town.

Volker Weber, 2012-06-20

10 years from now the vast majority of humans will still live in emerging markets - just as they do now. They will be more affluent then now and and buy much more devices then the far fewer humans in the developed world. That reasoning is completly independent of technological changes. Therefor the emerging markets might very well be the game changer in the next 10 years. Of course, Apple might very well start selling low cost devices to emerging markets. If Apple will not so, Google has a chance to establish Android in emerging markets.

Felux Binsack, 2012-06-21

That reasoning is completly independent of technological changes.

And cannot be used to predict technology in 10 years.

Volker Weber, 2012-06-21

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