Why Microsoft?s Tablet Strategy is Fundamentally Flawed

  • Posted: 12 June 2011 09:18 PM

    First, John Gruber wrote: Why Windows 8 Is Fundamentally Flawed as a Response to the iPad.

    Then Aaron Holesgrove, contributor to Busines Insider SAI wrote: Why Windows 8 Is Not Fundamentally Flawed As A Response To The iPad.

    Now I’m writing a response to his response. Why? Sometimes it’s easier see your side of the argument, when you’re examining the other side.

    This is not an attempt to be snarky or critical. And believe me, if you read the original article, there’s plenty to be snarky and critical about. but this is an honest attempt to examine the strengths and weaknesses in Microsoft’s tablet strategy, and in so doing, examine the strengths and weaknesses in Apple’s tablet strategy.

    The new Windows 8 touch-based UI, revealed earlier today at the D9 Conference, looks good.-John Gruber

    Agreed. I really feel sorrow for Microsoft’s many talented employees. They’re one of the most skilled workforces in the world, but even the most skilled and talented armies won’t win many battles if their generalship is faulty.

    And ? don?t forget that Windows 8 tablets aren?t supposed to just be iPad clones, they are being designed to be docked and used like real computers too.  Win8 tablets aren?t competing with the iPad, they?re competing with iPad + MacBook or iPad + iMac.

    OK, let’s come to a full stop and examine this paragraph in detail.

    First, I’m going to ignore the slight implied in the idea that Windows 8 tables will be used as “real” computers. Let’s take the high road and examine the substance instead.

    iPads are “real” computers doing “real” work. Anyone who has used an iPad knows this. In fact, anyone who has used an iPad knows that in many instances, iPads are SUPERIOR to “real” computers.

    Aaron doesn’t realize it, but he’s defining the very reason why Windows 8 Tablets are destined to fail, not succeed. He thinks that desktop computing is the only “real” computing. He thinks (and I believe that Microsoft thinks this too) that the Windows 8 Tablet is not just competing with the iPad, it’s also competing with the Macbook and the iMac. The Windows 8 tablet is going to be a desktop on a tablet. One tablet to rule them all.

    Gee, where have I seen this idea tried before? Oh, yeah. It’s was tried on Windows tablets in 2000, 2001, 2002 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. If nothing else, you’ve got to give Microsoft credit for perseverance. But perseverance in pursuit folly is not admirable. Microsoft should have listened to the wise counsel of the venerable W.C. Fields when he said: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.  Then give up.  There’s no use in being a damn fool about it.”

    If there was one lesson - ONE LESSON - that Apple taught us with the iPad, it was that the iPad was a different animal from the desktop and it required a touch interface built from the ground up and integrated into every aspect of the UI. It’s not that Microsoft hasn’t learned this lesson. It’s that Microsoft REFUSES to learn this lesson.

    Consider the differences between the iWork apps for the Mac and iPad. The iPad versions aren?t ?touch friendly? versions of the Mac apps ? they?re entirely new beasts designed and programmed from the ground up for the touchscreen and for the different rules and tradeoffs of the iOS interface (no explicit saving, no file system, ready to quit at a moment?s notice, no processing in the background, etc.).-John Gruber

    Now we?re comparing apples to oranges. Firstly, iWork isn?t a ?beast?, it?s a sexed up equivalent of Google Apps ? a competent, entry level productivity application suite. What neither of those applications are, though, is Microsoft Office ? say all you want about Microsoft products but Office has no peers, particularly in the enterprise, and has three times the amount of features of anything else.

    Exactly.

    Once again, Aaron inadvertently and unknowingly exposes the fatal flaw in Microsoft’s tablet strategy. “Office has no peers…and (it) has three times the amount of features of anything else.” Yes, yes and yes! It’s a “desktop” app designed for a “desktop” computer. The reason why Aaron (and Microsoft) doesn’t see the contradiction contained in that statement is because they think that the Windows 8 Tablet can BE a desktop machine; that it can BE all things to all people.

    The ability to run Mac OS X apps on the iPad, with full access to the file system, peripherals, etc., would make the iPad worse, not better.-John Gruber

    Agreed ? but just because that?s true of Mac OS, that doesn?t mean that the logic auto-applies to Windows as well.

    Yes. It. Does.

    Microsoft just spent the last ten years proving that proposition. Banging their head against that reality for one more year is not going to change reality. it’s just going to hurt.

    And hey ? if Windows 8 tablets are supposed to be operated only like iPads, people will have that option too ? there will be a Windows 8 app store which will serve touch centric apps written in HTML5 and JavaScript.

    Yeah right. It’s a floor wax AND a dessert topping.

    [ Edited: 13 June 2011 07:00 PM by FalKirk ]      
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    Posted: 13 June 2011 12:12 AM #1

    Written in HTML5 and JavaScript.

    Don’t tell me that line was actually serious.

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  • Posted: 13 June 2011 01:10 AM #2

    It’s amazing just how much mindshare Apple’s success has gained among the Microsoft faithful. One day it may become a common understanding that Microsoft’s biggest competitor is Google, not Apple.

    The Apple focus is a distraction and one that is leading to calamitous business decisions.

         
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    Posted: 13 June 2011 01:23 AM #3

    FalKirk - 13 June 2011 12:18 AM

    If there was one lesson - ONE LESSON - that Apple taught us with the iPad, it was that the iPad was a different animal from the desktop and it required a touch interface built from the ground up and integrated into every aspect of the UI. It’s not that Microsoft hasn’t learned this lesson. It’s that Microsoft REFUSES to learn this lesson.

    This is one of those philosophical differences that can only be resolved with time. It’s not just Ballmer; Gates & Sinofsky also sound the “Windows everywhere.” battle cry.

    I suspected that Microsoft had “learned their lesson” with WP7. Although nominally “Windows”, Windows Phone 7 is nothing like any Windows people have seen before. It is fundamentally different in everything but name. What I don’t understand is why they don’t simply scale WP7 up to work on tablets.

    There’s time yet. Maybe they will end up releasing a WP8 that works on phone and tablets, while leaving Windows 8 as a separate OS for the traditional computing devices.

    If, however, they insist on inserting traditional OS features into a post-PC OS (and vice versa), they will risk failure in both fields. They could remain inconsequential in the post-PC era, while losing their position as leader of the traditional-PC era they worked so hard to protect. It would be irony of epic scale.

         
  • Posted: 13 June 2011 06:58 PM #4

    DawnTreader - 13 June 2011 04:10 AM

    It’s amazing just how much mindshare Apple’s success has gained among the Microsoft faithful. One day it may become a common understanding that Microsoft’s biggest competitor is Google, not Apple.

    The Apple focus is a distraction and one that is leading to calamitous business decisions.

    I’m no longer sure of that proposition.

    Consider Apple’s non-computer business units:
    iPod (in decline): $8 Billion per year.
      MSFT equivalent: Essentially zero.
    iPhone (in ascendency): $25 Billion per year.
      MSFT equivalent (in decline): essentially zero.
    iPad (in ascendancy): $12 Billion last 12 months.
      MSFT equivalent: essentially zero.
    iCloud just introduced, however is a free product that ties iPod, iPhone, iPad and computers together.
      MSFT’s Live Mesh: A multi-year old product with a vision that does not revolve around MSFT’s core business (Windows/Office) and as a result has been seriously neglected.  No measurable presence at this time.

    And now Apple has demoted the consumer computer to device status on equal footing with the above.  You no longer require a computer (Mac or PC) to activate or sync) your Apple mobile device, which means that for a huge portion of consumers they don’t need, therefore won’t buy, a computer.

    Consumers make up ~70% of the computer market.  Imagine 30% of those (I have no idea how many in reality) no longer buy computers because the iPad satisfies all their ‘computing’ needs.  Apple’s ‘computer’ market share goes from 5% to ~30%, while Wintel ‘computer’ share drops to ~70%.

    Search is not MSFT’s core business, Windows and Office are.  Office, for the most part, is an enterprise solution, and won’t be substantially impacted by tablet adoption.  On the other hand, Windows (and all of its flavors) is most definitely a core product for MSFT.  The no computer required iPad is Apple’s frontal attack on Windows, and will do more to negatively impact MSFT than Google’s core business: internet search.

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    Posted: 15 June 2011 11:51 AM #5

    If nothing else, you?ve got to give Microsoft credit for perseverance. But perseverance in pursuit of folly is not admirable.

    Or as Albert Einstein put it:?Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.?

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  • Posted: 15 June 2011 06:20 PM #6

    Gregg Thurman - 13 June 2011 09:58 PM
    DawnTreader - 13 June 2011 04:10 AM

    It’s amazing just how much mindshare Apple’s success has gained among the Microsoft faithful. One day it may become a common understanding that Microsoft’s biggest competitor is Google, not Apple.

    The Apple focus is a distraction and one that is leading to calamitous business decisions.

    I’m no longer sure of that proposition.

     

    I don’t think that MS have been in competition with Apple for some time, however it is not clear to me that they realise this. So much of MS’s actions, spastic and abortive though they may be, appear to be driven by Apple’s fluid forays into new markets.

    To my thinking, MS have been good at three things that really reduce to one thing: a total desktop package, including OS, productivity suite and browser, with some backend support. Their real brilliance has been in marketing this package to enterprise and governments. Only by historical accident were they ever in competition with Apple, and that was over domination of the PC market, however even here, their offerings and skillsets were distinct.

    The current divergence in their product lines, markets and performance only underscores that divergence in skillset, business model and even type of business. MS only think they are in competition with Apple because of their one point of shared history, while ignoring the overwhelming evidence that they are very different businesses, but I am convinced that they do think it.

    What they need is sober self assessment and refocus on their core strengths. However, only a shift in corporate culture is going to take them anywhere near their former heights of accomplishment, and much that through partnering and providing services/products to their supposed competition, like Apple.

    Falkirk: great summary and analysis, BTW.

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    Posted: 14 September 2011 04:35 AM #7

    Thurrott’s tweet, which he subsequently claimed was just a joke.

    “Hello, Windows 8? This is iPad. You win.”

    He might be telling the truth. Let’s see what he says later this week with Laporte. (side note: Ihnatko was impressed with the Metro UI demo, but then he caught a view of the underlying Windows mess. He’s excited enough about the demo to want a chance at a review unit and is wisely reserving judgement until a real product is available.) Here’s some of what Thurrott wrote about Microsoft during CES this past January.

    My take on the keynote was that Microsoft asserted a sense of confidence at a time when many of its closest advocates, followers, and allies were emitting an ever-increasing sense of alarm over the software giant’s diminishing leadership role in the tech industry. But, over time, I’m beginning to wonder if the naysayers have a point.

    http://www.windowsitpro.com/article/paul-thurrotts-wininfo/windows-everywhere-wake-up-microsoft-it-s-2011

    ...Ballmer said that the future was mainstream Windows, running on a variety of devices, including smartphones, tablets, set-top boxes, traditional PCs, and servers. If you’re a Windows Phone advocate, as I am, that has to give you pause. If you’re a potential Windows Phone customer, in fact, it should make you question the future of this platform beyond your two-year wireless network commitment. This isn’t the way to inspire confidence in your customers. When was the last time you saw a CEO de-emphasize a just-released product for one that was two or three years away from fruition?

    What this is, really, is a furthering of Microsoft’s internally stated mantra, “Windows everywhere.” ... “Literally, this statement means Microsoft wants a version of Windows (i.e., Windows NT, Windows 98, Windows 95, Windows CE) to be everywhere an operating system (OS) can be,” Smith wrote. “All that matters is the vision of “Windows everywhere.’”

    So here we are, over 12 years later, and what has changed at Microsoft? Not much, apparently.

    There are some differences between 2011 and 1998, however. This time, Microsoft has options, and can use other products?notably Windows Phone and even Windows CE versions that already run on SOC?instead of the one core product that refuses to die. But it won’t, and this decision highlights a tunnel-vision complex at the top of Microsoft’s ever-growing and insular executive chain. That is, the inability to change with the times comes straight from the top, and from those who stand to lose the most if some product other than Windows is used anywhere in the company.

    What’s curious is that Windows has already failed again and again when moved beyond the comfortable confines of the traditional PC (and server) world. After spending a decade pushing Windows on tablets?first through Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, and in the living room, first through Windows XP Media Center Edition?the percentage of people who actually use modern versions of those products is tiny. I’m guessing few of you even remember the Ultra-Mobile PC platform, which was yet another attempt to bring Windows to ultra-mobile devices years before the iPad even shipped; no one bought them. Designed for PC desktops, Windows is ill-suited for these new usage scenarios, and consumers have acknowledged that by staying away in droves.

    This year, dozens of companies will ship Windows 7-based tablets and they will all fail. Instead, consumers will continue buying iPads, and they will buy Android-based tablets (and, possibly, the RIM PlayBook), because those products, unlike Windows tablets, have been created specifically for that market.

    But Microsoft will push ahead with Windows regardless?damn logic and the increasingly pleading requests of its users?and we’ll arrive at a point a few years from now when you can purchase this over-extended system on ever-tinier devices and perform such foolish acts as run Microsoft Office on a wristwatch-sized system. Sure, there will be UI concessions to the form factors, and Microsoft will once again overburden Windows with new interface paradigms that no one cares about. This is a company that doesn’t learn from the mistakes of the past or grasp that Windows is not a nail it can simply hammer into any product or market.

         
  • Posted: 14 September 2011 11:20 AM #8

    Mav - 13 June 2011 03:12 AM

    Written in HTML5 and JavaScript.

    Don’t tell me that line was actually serious.

    It appears that is the plan.

    Not necessarily a bad plan, as these technologies are well-known by the up-and-coming programmers. It’s kind of a back to BASIC thing for MS; if you like.

    Not necessarily a good plan either, as it means that people like me with existing products based on previously blessed technology will have to start from scratch.

    Perhaps this is for the best, but I really don’t think I’ll bother until they have sold at least 20 million of the damn things. I am probably better off improving my product on one strong platform rather than chasing other ones… which is ironic, as that was the argument for focusing on Windows just a few years ago.

    Focus on keeping on winning on the winning platform, or try to win or block on one that might fizzle? People who have already won often get risk adverse. I know I do.

         
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    Posted: 14 September 2011 01:11 PM #9

    Even the devil deserves his due. He offers a service for nasty people who might do well to spend some time in hell for the hell they raise on TMO. No one here, I hope.

    MicroSoft has to be given its due for its steadfastness. It claims originator- and owner-ship of the Tablet form. I say, let MS have it. The iPod is a pod and so are its imitators. The MS Tablet was a different form and relied upon individual pixel input using a stylus. There was more to that mix which differentiates it from other computer forms but MS has the right to itinerate if it wishes.

    The MS computer tablet is not a computer pod. It is a form factor as different from hand held devices as the MBA is different from netbooks and laptops. I wonder if the tablet will even become a handheld but be more useful from the knee or computer stand. We?ll have to wait and see. To me it just seems another computer in the line of portable laptops and it may find a niche as comfortable as the netbook. There are the computer techno-anglers who like to catch bigger things than a pod can and to them the flexibility will be the clincher. They would be the Amateur radio fans who hanker back to the days of Morse code and heavy licensing, I suspect.

    Is this a case of MicroSoft thinking outside the box or being box constricted? I don?t honestly know what to make from the serious to the carnival of talk and gossip that is fluttering about. I?m content to wait to see if this is to be an Abbott and Costello routine (Who?s on First) or a real road that many may actually travel somewhere beyond the dump of tried.

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    Posted: 14 September 2011 01:30 PM #10

    FalKirk - 13 June 2011 12:18 AM

    . . . I really feel sorrow for Microsoft?s many talented employees. They?re one of the most skilled workforces in the world, but even the most skilled and talented armies won?t win many battles if their generalship is faulty. . . .

    Here is an interesting article by Henry Mintzberg on how the enterprises trashed the economy which possibly explains why these talented employees fair less artistically than Apple’s talent does.

    Mintzberg suggests:
    ? Leadership is about conveying signals that engage other people in the company.
    ? A robust enterprise is not a collection of human resources; it is a community of human beings. How many large American corporations can claim that kind of robustness? Effective strategy, for example, is not about a planning process that comes from the ?top? so much as a learning process that can come from anywhere in the enterprise.

    Again, the article is about the enterprise and the economy but much of what he says supports your suggestions that the generalship is (may be) faulty.

    Sorry, forgot to add the url..

    http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2010/12/management

    [ Edited: 14 September 2011 02:22 PM by mhikl ]

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    Posted: 14 September 2011 01:38 PM #11

    Pretty simply, Apple thrives where it can mete out scarcity. Microsoft thrives where it can popularize and commoditize. If you believe that tablets like the iPad and iPad 2 are close to the limits of what’s physically possibilty (i.e. limited by laws of physics), then bet on Apple. They manage that well. If you believe there are still tremendous gains to be made in processor speed, energy usage, battery capacity, screen performance, connectivity, or any other axis, bet on Microsoft.

    There’s a three horse race for end-user tablets, based on three approaches. Apple seems to have designed its tablet first, shipped its phone, waited for the right time to let out the tablet. Android is scaling up from the phone and potentially outward to reach lots of specific purpose mobile or portable devices. Windows is scaling down from the PC, but has tremendous pen and touch experience in embedded applications like POS, kiosks, etc.

    I think Microsoft will start a year behind Android on end-user tablets, but will be able to tap into a wide network of partners for innovation to catch up. Android has been all about tapping into a new network of innovation to the chagrin of critics who decry fragmentation, skins, forking, and the like. Apple will be Apple, doing its own thing on its own island.

    I wonder what would happen if Microsoft embraced Android to an extent and embedded it into Windows. Or if Google embraced Windows and shipped a VM for playing Android apps on Windows. The longer Apple has high market share in end-user tablets, the more likely that scenario becomes.

         
  • Posted: 14 September 2011 01:43 PM #12

    Apple thinks that a tablet should do what a tablet does best.

    Android thinks that a tablet should do what Apple’s tablet does best.

    Microsoft thinks that a tablet should do what Microsoft does best.

    I like Apple’s chances.

         
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    Posted: 14 September 2011 01:52 PM #13

    I believe MS’s inflexibility in thinking is due to its leaders being made up of left brain dominant thinkers. Specs mean so much to this kind of thinker. It makes so much sense to them.

    Steve Jobs is also a left brain thinker who’s artistic right side has been fine tuned. Good left brain thinkers who do well in enterprise usually do not come up with original ideas on their own. They get them from right brain thinkers who are usually not adept at putting their ideas into place. The lefty grabs the idea and makes it happen. Such is what Gates and Ballmer did with DOS and their other flag-ship, Office. But that is where they stayed stuck and probably had nothing but distain for the failings of their right brained brethren, tossing them aside and avoiding their input.

    Steve, on the other hand, probably realises how important the other thinker side is and found such company in discussion more interesting. He probably challenged the hell out them keeping them on track and yet free enough to develop their crazy ideas.

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch of left thinkers, Ballmer is galloping on his plough-horse in his race to oblivion.

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    Posted: 14 September 2011 02:49 PM #14

    I seem to have misplaced a post that I thought I wrote before the Thurrott tweet. There was a lot of hyperventilating about Windows 8 yesterday, including one BGR article by Zach Epstein that should be ripe claim chowder in a year or so.

    The technology exists to enable users to carry a single device that is as portable and usable as a tablet, but also as powerful and capable as a PC. It has a battery that can last all day, but it can also run Photoshop, Excel and Outlook. It can weigh next to nothing and slip into a slim case, but it can also power two monitors and run proprietary enterprise software.

    If the iPad ushered in the post-PC era, then welcome to the post-post-PC era.

    http://www.bgr.com/2011/09/13/sorry-apple-windows-8-ushers-in-the-post-post-pc-era/

    Talk about drinking koolaid or being mind-wiped by a reality distortion field. Windows fans must have been mainlining some potent stuff. Sorry, guys. What you saw yesterday is pre-beta (aka vaporware). We’ll see a Windows tablet doing all that when Flux Capacitors are powering flying cars.

         
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    Posted: 14 September 2011 03:04 PM #15

    FalKirk - 13 June 2011 12:18 AM

    iPads are “real” computers doing “real” work. Anyone who has used an iPad knows this. In fact, anyone who has used an iPad knows that in many instances, iPads are SUPERIOR to “real” computers.

    Aaron doesn’t realize it, but he’s defining the very reason why Windows 8 Tablets are destined to fail, not succeed. He thinks that desktop computing is the only “real” computing. He thinks (and I believe that Microsoft thinks this too) that the Windows 8 Tablet is not just competing with the iPad, it’s also competing with the Macbook and the iMac. The Windows 8 tablet is going to be a desktop on a tablet. One tablet to rule them all.

    I have to disagree a bit here, and note that there is an opportunity for Windows 8.

    Yes, working with a simplified touch-oriented interface was the missing element in cracking the tablet market, as well as opening it up to a wider range of computer novices. However, it should be noted that the initial Windows tablets also suffered from the same issues as the early Macbook Airs: overpriced and underpowered without offering enough of a benefit for the trade-off. That’s no longer the case thanks to the Ultrabook standards.

    But the iPad still lacks some professional software, especially creative development apps like the Adobe Suite. I’ve passed on the iPad for that very reason. This could be fixed in time by rewriting the desktop apps for a touch-pad, but that takes time.

    So, what happens if you start a Microsoft tablet with the Metro touch overlay and touch apps, but can access the classic desktop with a swipe? Touch access vanishes, in favor of the digitizing pen screen. Now we have a system where creative professionals are at home: The Cintiq+Keyboard combination, with full access to creative programs like Alias Sketchbook, Photoshop and Flash, as well as access to the full range of Windows peripherals.

    Simplicity and elegance is a key part of the tablet equation, but one of the things MacOS X got very right was having a simple and elegant overlay on a very deep and powerful system. Windows always had problems merging the simple with the deep, resulting in a kludgy mess in the middle-ground between power users and novices. If Windows 8 can give people a tablet-centric experience with the option of bouncing back to an existing library of desktop apps, they can probably manage to capture a significant number of users.

    Apple _could_ do this, but it does mean either porting MacOS X to ARM, or iOS to Intel. With Windows choosing to stick with Intel tablets, as well as having a history of tablet computing attempts, they have a slight advantage here over Apple in merging the two experiences.

    [ Edited: 14 September 2011 03:07 PM by KitsuneStudios ]

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