Why Does Microsoft Make It So Hard?

Surface with Excel (Microsoft)Are you planning to use a new Microsoft Surface for business? You might want to think again, at least if you are concerned about legal niceties.

At ZDnet, Windows guru Ed Bott examines the strangely complex  legalities of using Microsoft Office on Surface. Office 2013–at least its Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote applications–is part of the Surface’s Windows RT operating sustem. But the bundled software, Office Home & Student 2013 RT, prohibits use of the programs “for any non-profit, commercial, or other revenue-generating activity.” Which seems to mean that if I were writing this in Word on a surface, I would be violating the license.

It’s not as though you have a choice about the version of Office on your Surface. Office RT comes with it and is the only version that can be installed. (The forthcoming Surface Pro will support any Windows version of Office, but probably does not come with any Office software included.)

There are several ways out of this. If the Surface is owner by a company and if the company has an Office Volume License Agreement, the restrictions are waived. Same if you subscribe to a business version of Microsoft’s forthcoming Office 365 service, $150 a year for Small Business Premium, $20 per user per month for Office Professional Plus.

Bott says you are probably also in the clear if you own a fully licensed version of Office 2013 Professional and maybe Office 2013 Home & Student, although those products won’t ship for a couple of months.

Pages, Numbers,  and Keynote aren’t the greatest word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation software in the world. But at least if you buy these iPad apps, for $10 apiece, you can use them for whatever you damn well please.


When is a Tablet not a Tablet? When It’s a Surface

Let me start this column out with some context on Windows 8. My mind has changed to a degree about Windows 8 and in particular touch based notebooks and UltraBooks. Several of the Windows 8 PCs I have been using are pure notebook form factors with solid touch-screens. I was never as negative on the addition of touch screens on notebooks as others in the industry, primarily because for over a year now, I have been using my iPad heavily in many work contexts with a keyboard accessory. So the idea of having a keyboard in front of me and touching a screen rather than using a mouse is an everyday way of life. I genuinely believe that many will welcome and enjoy the addition of touch in Windows 8 on many notebook form factors.

I’ll also add this point, Windows 8 may be one of the better Windows releases, if not the best I have seen in some time. I’ll write more on that later and I realize I may be in the minority with that statement.

But now I want to turn my attention to Surface, and more than just Surface, Windows 8 on devices that look and feel more like a tablet.

Just Because You Touch a Screen Doesn’t Make it a Tablet

Simply because a piece of hardware has the ability to touch it, does not make it a tablet. The traditional metaphor of a PC is the desktop / notebook mode. In this mode the screen sits on a desk, or a lap, and is used at arms length. Tablets on the other hand blow that paradigm wide open because they are built to be used while being held—mostly one handed— and operated solely by touch. Tablets are designed, and their experience is designed, to be more intimate and more personal. This does not mean the addition of a keyboard to a tablet is not useful, only that it is not required for most common tasks.

Steve Ballmer made a specific statement about Surface that I want to point out. He said:

Windows 8 is the greatest example of the PC meets the tablet – Steve Ballmer

This quote is a prime example of the way Microsoft thinks about Windows and computing. It highlights that they are still using the old school PC metaphor of computing being done on a desk or lap, at arms length, while stationary. And the Windows 8 platform, as well as the Surface, and many other tablet centric Windows 8 PCs fully conform to this metaphor.

Just look at how Surface was designed and where its value is being positioned. With a kickstand (to prop it up), and a keyboard, AND in landscape mode. All the same features of a notebook. In reality the Surface is a unique new form factor, but it is still largely dependent on the traditional PC computing paradigm. It is designed to converge these two experiences rather than innovate on their differences.

It is important to add here that I am a mature tablet user. I have been using the iPad since the beginning and have it fully melded into all areas of my life in key ways. I also heavily used many tablet PC devices well before Surface. Many writing about Surface rightly point out that it should not be compared to the iPad. I agree, for many of the reasons I point out above, and more to the point that I am not convinced Windows 8 is actually a tablet OS—yet. But to the extend comparing is necessary, it is because the iPad is the gold standard of a tablet experience on the market today.

Ballmer said that Windows 8 is the PC meets a tablet. My response to him is that the iPad is the re-invention of the PC.

That Tablets Advantage is Portrait Mode

I firmly say, and stand on my conviction that the iPad has not only re-invented the PC but changed the computing paradigm for a few reasons — Portrait mode and touch computing (accomplishing complex computing tasks that once required a mouse and keyboard via touch).

I wrote a long analysis on computing in Portrait mode, where I highlight the many advantages of this mode of computing for things like writing, reading, browsing the web, etc. I use portrait mode primarily on my iPad. Only some things like games and a few other apps use landscape exclusively. The iPad, and nearly all of the 275,000 tablet apps and growing not only support both portrait and landscape but they are built uniquely to take advantage of both modes.

Conversely, Windows 8 and Surface, appear to be built primarily for one mode—landscape. Given that Windows 8 is built for a 16:9 format this is not surprising. The software was architected for landscape. Although, the screen can be used in portrait mode, doing so presents a far less enjoyable experience than in landscape. For some this may not be a problem but for me it was a fundamentally counter experience to what I consider a pure tablet experience. Many popular apps, including MSFTs own app store, are built only for landscape mode. A mode that while leaning back in bed, or a couch, etc., is just not comfortable to hold for long periods of time.

I’ve been adamant that browsing the web in portrait mode if far better than in landscape. As is reading books, magazines, etc,. Take a look at the side by side screen shot of the NY Times on Surface and on iPad. Both in portrait mode.

Click for larger image

What happens when you orient Surface to portrait mode, due to the 16:9 aspect ratio, is that everything gets smaller. Where when you flip the iPad, and even Android tablets, the text size stays the same in some cases, or shrinks slightly in others. What you get in portrait mode is more text on a screen, that even when smaller is not crunched or impossible to read. You are able to see more of the web page on the Surface because of 16:9, only the text was much harder to read. Of course you could zoom in or tap in, but that required some time to get the web page consumable. Not a deal breaker, but also not ideal.

Oddly enough two experiences I had were not horrible in portrait mode and you will be baffled by one of them. The first was the Kindle app, which just as I described about the iPad never changed the text size when flipping from portrait to landscape. Which being able to view significantly more text on the screen than the iPad in portrait was a welcome addition. The other experience was with the desktop version of Internet explorer on the Surface. I pointed out a few weeks ago the odd solution of having two different versions of Internet Explorer. In that article I complained that the desktop version of Internet Explorer was not as touch friendly as its Windows 8 app brother. However, it turns out that desktop Internet Explorer is more portrait mode friendly than its Windows 8 app brother. When using Internet Explorer on the desktop, the web operates more like the iPad. When you flip the screen between portrait and landscape the text stays the same size and you simply see more on the screen. Go figure.

Landscape obviously has its advantages in many scenarios like movies, some games, etc. But, in a broad set of tablet use cases portrait is equally and sometimes more important. A true tablet in my opinion provides an excellent experience in both landscape and portrait modes.

All of that to say that there may some hope for Windows 8 from a pure tablet standpoint. Some apps gave me hope while others caused me to shake my head. Portrait mode in Windows 8 will require some specific software approaches from companies and developers who understand portrait and landscape mode and the key tablet use cases for both. It is simply not there yet holistically.


There are more things I like about Surface, and Windows 8, as PCs but not as tablets. I believe that those consumers in the market for a tablet, are not in the market for a PC. Therefore for the tablet market, I am not convinced Surface, or either flavor of Windows 8 is a solution. We will see if this changes or not.

I know many happy Surface customers and many of them have never really used an iPad and are fully in Microsoft’s ecosystem. This may be the recipe of success for Windows 8 PCs.

For Apple, it means they still have no true tablet competition, particularly with the iPad.

Don’t consider this column a review of Surface. That is coming, as their are many things I like about it as a touch based PC, gestures in particular. The main point I am trying to get across is that we need to think about PCs and tablets differently.

When it comes to the tablet discussion, we will need to dive deeper into the 7” form factor role. A form factor Microsoft is avoiding. If Microsoft wants to be serious about tablets, they will need to think long and hard about how to approach the 7” form factor.

I’m sure there is a market for these type of converged devices, but the question is how big? I can see people buying the best pure breed tablet and a very low cost notebook as an equally compelling solution. A solution which actually may be the best of both worlds not a compromise of both worlds.

There is still more to be said in this discussion. Things like how does the iPad stack up to the Surface as a PC? Especially if one does not care about Office. Some may say you can’t compare the Surface to the iPad in terms of a tablet and I may not totally agree but I see their point. However, some may also say you can’t compare the iPad to the Surface in terms of a PC. For that I say we will see.

Windows 8’s Greatest Sin

Anyone who is in business knows that once you have made a sale, you want the next sale to become as seamless and as automatic as possible. This is why newspapers and magazines push subscriptions so heavily and why so many services, like cable, phone, electricity, etc, rely so heavily upon monthly billing. They know that customers are far more likely to continue buying their goods or services from their existing provider if the purchase of those goods or services becomes routine and automatic. When the customer is given no chance to re-think or re-evaluate their decision, there is far less liklihood that they will change that decision.

Perhaps Windows 8’s greatest sin is that it is going to force Microsoft’s current customers to have to re-decide; to re-evaluate; to re-think their current purchasing decision. And if you’re the incumbant, that’s never a good thing.


Netflix started a website that rented videos and delivered those videos to its customers by mail. Netflix introduced the monthly subscription concept to their service in September 1999 and dropped the single-rental model in early 2000. Since that time, the company has built its reputation on the business model of flat-fee, unlimited rentals without due dates, late fees, shipping or handling fees, or per title rental fees. ~ via Wikipedia

Netflix continued to expand their services by offering streaming video rentals. At the base level, Netflix was charging its customers a flat $10 for both its mail and streaming videos. Then Netflix committed a cardinal sin.

In the fall of 2011, Netflix dramatically changed its pricing. Customers could no longer continue to pay $10 and get both the mail and streaming services. Customers had to choose between paying $8 for the mail service or $8 for the streaming service or $16 for both. This forced Netflix’ customers to re-evaluate their subscription plans. And when they chose, many of them chose to cancel their subscriptions altogether.

On October 24, 2011, Netflix announced it had lost 800,000 US subscribers in the third quarter of 2011 and that more subscriber losses were expected.

Netflix’ decision hardly killed the company but it unnecessarily cost them approximately a million subscribers. By forcing their customers to re-evaluate and re-think their previously automatic decisions, they gave their customers the worst option of all – the option to opt out of their Netflix subscription altogether.

Windows Upgrades Were the Surest of Sure Things

Microsoft’s Windows has had a virtual monopoly on personal computing since the mid-ninties. Windows software comes bundled with most new PCs, so the vast majority of operating system upgrades were invisible, automatic and virtually painless.

There were fewer sure bets than that those who owned a Windows PC were going to buy another Windows PC. The only question was “when”. For most, seeking an alternative to Windows simply didn’t even enter into their minds.

Windows 8 Will Cause Hesitation

A new study by Forrester Research — as reported by Social Barrel — shows that only 33% of companies who responded to their new survey have plans to move to Windows 8, Microsoft’s latest upgrade of its operating system.

Ten percent of the respondents have no intention at all to upgrade. The remaining 40% of the survey respondents stated that they have no plans of upgrading to Windows 8 yet.

“Social Barrel” says the percentage decline is “massive” in comparison with companies that intended to shift to Windows 7 when it launched in 2009. At that time, 67% of the companies that participated in a Forrester survey intended to shift to Windows 7, with 28% either not considering the update or are totally skipping it. ~ MacNews

Windows Users Have Other Options

It’s a whole new computing world out there. In 2006, there were only PCs and a smattering of smartphones and tablets. In 2012, we have:

— Mobile devices outselling PCs
— The Mac and the iPad seen as perfectly mainstream
— Bring Your Own Device and computer decision making moving from the home to the workplace rather than from the workplace to the home
— iPad’s viewed as all the computer that some people need

Last week – two days before Windows 8 was announced – Apple introduced a new iPad Mini. But, in a surprise move, Apple also updated their third generation iPad to a fourth generation, and refreshed almost their entire Mac line.

Do you think that was coincidental? Or do you think that Apple was offering Windows’ existing users a clear alternative to Windows 8?

If I’m Going To Have To Learn A New User Interface Anyway…

Windows 8 is remarkable, daring, and innovative. But it’s also a departure from nearly everything that Windows’ customers have known Windows to be. Windows 8 is a radical makeover. It forces people to relearn how to use their computers.

And if customers have to re-learn how to user their computers anyway, then they might as well consider learning a new operating system. Like a Mac or an iPad.

If I’m Going To Have To Buy New Computer Hardware Anyway…

Windows 8 is designed for a touchscreen.

And if customers have to buy new computer hardware anyway, then they might as well consider buying a new type of computer. Or tablet. Like a Mac or an iPad.

If I’m Going To Have To Decide Which Type Of Computer To Buy Anyway…

Microsoft thinks it is giving its customer’s choice, but what it is really doing is foisting decisions upon its user base.

— Windows RT or Windows 8 Tablet?
— Surface or one of a plethora of thrid party hardeware options?

In the abstract, choice is always good. But when you’re trying to get an existing customer to re-buy from you, extensive decision making is the last thing you want.

If the customer has to decide between this Surface and that, between Arm and x86, between phablets and laplets, then the customer might just decide to exit the Windows ecosystem altogether. Because once you start to think about your options, you start to think about ALL your options, not just the options made available by Microsoft.


When you have an existing customer, the worst sin you can commit is to force that customer re-evaluate their past buying decisions. I’m quite sure that Windows 8 is going to sell a LOT of computers. However, many of those computer purchases may end up being Macs or iPads.

Why Surface Will Be Good for the iPad–and the Rest of Us

Microsoft SurfaceFor the past 2 1/2 years, iPad as has ruled the world of tablets. Except for Amazon’s Kindle Fire and the Barnes & Noble NOOK Tablet, both special-purpose devices dedicated to consumption, there has been no competition worth mentioning. But with the entry of Microsoft into the fray, both with the Surface and an assortment of third-party Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets, the business is about to get a lot more interesting.

I start from the premise that only competition keeps the tech business driving forward and that in the absence of effective competition products stultify. This definitely happened in PCs. After Apple failed to respond to the introduction of Windows 95, the Mac market share fell to the low single digits and without effective competition, Microsoft innovation faded. It has only been Apple’s across-the-board success in recent years that lit a fire under Microsoft.

The iPhone never had iPad’s grace period. It entered a crowded market, where it had to displace the entrenched market leaders: BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Palm, and Symbian. That proved to be surprisingly easy, helped by lunkheaded competition, but  Android soon came along as a serious challenger. I don’t think there is any doubt that the iPhone and Android have made each other better and I expect this process to continue, especially if Google can build and app and services ecosystem that rivals Apple’s. And I think the entry of Windows Phone 8 can  only improve things, pushing both Apple and Android, though its commercial success is an open question.

The fact that iPad has improved quite a bit since its 2010 introduction seems largely the spillover of iPhone features into the tablet space: better apps, better services, faster processors, and the retina display.  The first notable effect that tablet competition has had on the iPad is the introduction of the iPad mini, which is clearly a response to smaller tablets finding at least some success in the market.

Android tablets, especially the larger ones, have suffered from many problems. but the overwhelming issue is the lack of decent software. The success of iOS devices and even, to some extent, of Android phones has proven that consumers want native apps. But Google has had a very hard time seeing beyond the browser. The Android app situation remains calamitous, with most of the available choices being blown-up phone apps that are terrible on a 7″ tablet and unspeakable on a 10″.

Microsoft is not making this mistake.  The selection of Windows RT apps is still quite limited, but Microsoft understands the care and feeding of developers. The RT apps that are available are designed for the Surface’s display (and those of Windows 8 laptops and tablets) and consistently speak the Metro (for lack of a better name) design language common to Windows 8/RT and Windows Phone. Many of the apps are quite good (a notable exception being the built-in Windows 8/RT Mail app, whose awfulness is both inexplicable and inexcusable.)

Equally important, Surface is being launched into a mature Microsoft ecosystem. Microsoft has spent years seemingly pouring money down the holes of Xbox and what used to be called the Windows Live collection of online services. But now, those investments may be about to pay off, as the company pulls together the entertainment content of Xbox and cloud services such as SkyDrive, Outlook.com, and Office 360–not to mention the deep understanding of cloud services it has gained from its enterprise back office offerings. iOS devices sold a lot of Macs because of the way they work so well together in the Apple ecosystem. The same dynamic could work for Microsoft in reverse: the vast installed base of Windows PCs could sell Surfaces and Windows Phones to gain the advantages of the Microsoft environment.Surface is being launched into a mature Microsoft ecosystem..

Surface is not designed as a head-on competitor for the iPad. In many ways, from its ability to work with USB peripherals to its all-but-mandatory keyboard, it is far more PC-like. Like the iPad itself, it represents a new device class in what is turning out to be a surprisingly big space between smartphones and traditional PCs.

It’s going to take a while before we can judge the success of the Surface strategy. Microsoft, however, is a patient company that is smart enough not to expect an instant payoff from its very big bet. But by offering tablet-hungry consumers a worthy alternative to the iPad, Microsoft has put pressure on Apple to keep its game up. That can only be good for all of us.



Windows 8: Back To The Future

[dc]D[/dc]ue to scheduling conflicts I could not be in NYC yesterday for the Windows 8 launch but watched it intently as it was streamed around the world from Microsoft’s Web site. But what I saw was both impressive as well as confounding for many reasons.

Let me start with the confounding issue first. Once Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took the stage with his bubbly personality, he expressed “excitement” about Windows 8 and he was right to do that. Windows 8 will always be known as the version of Windows that ushered in the age of the touch UI to the Windows world. And just as Windows 95 solidified the GUI in PC users mind, Windows 8 will burn into people’s conscience the fact that touch should be a key addition to the Windows User Interface. And before he spoke, other Microsoft executives showed off a plethora of laptops, all-in-one touch PCs as well as tablets that are already touch enabled so they can take full advantage of Windows 8 touch features.

But as I listened to Steve Ballmer speak, I could not help but think that his message was one of “welcome to the past” instead of “welcome to the future.” We all pretty much know that we are well into the post PC era and demand for traditional PCs are stable, stalled, or even in decline in many areas of the world. In fact, while we still expect to see between 300-350 million P’s sold WW annually for a few more years, the hard fact is that traditional PC vendors are having a tough time making any money on PCs anymore and some of them may get out of the consumer PC business completely in the next 12-24 months.

Smartphones and tablets are quickly supplanting a need for a full-fledged PC. User surveys show that tablets especially can handle as much as 80% of the tasks they used to do on a PC and that consumers are spending less time on their PC than before. This is not good news for the PC vendors as well as Microsoft and Intel. As more customers are ushered into the world of tablets by cheaper models from Amazon and Google, as well as Apple’s new entry into smaller tablets with the iPad mini, tablet unit shipments will outnumber the amount of PCs sold annually WW by 2015.

We also sell 1.4 billion cell phones a year and by 2013, 65% of the cell phones sold in the US will be smartphones. And by 2015, 60% of all cell phones sold WW will be smartphones. In fact, instead of the post PC era being used to describe where we are today, a more accurate terminology could be that we are finally entering the age of truly personal mobile computing, with smartphones and tablets leading the way.

But I also viewed the Windows 8 event as impressive and important due to the demand for new traditional PCs will stay stable or decline, there are well over 700 million PCs still in use today and Windows 8 represents an important step or bridge to the future of PC UIs and the role touch will play in these devices. Also, millions of PC customers are already familiar with touch through their purchases of tablets and smartphones, Windows 8 has to be considered an important evolution of the graphical user interface for existing and new PCs and laptops.

While I view Windows 8 as important, the one area that I think it will have its greatest impact in will be with devices that are truly touch enabled. This includes new hybrids or combo laptops and tablets that can take full advantage of Windows 8’s new touch interface. However, I am less confident it will be a huge success with existing PCs where the only input is a mouse or a touchpad. Current input devices were not designed with touch in mind and therefore do a rather poor job with navigating through a rich touch based user experience. The exception to this may be when Synaptics’ new ForcePad is installed in new laptops. This is a trackpad that maps the touch UI interface and mirrors some of the touch UI features through this innovative new trackpad optimized for Windows 8. Apple does this already with their Magic Trackpad. Interestingly, Apple does not believe their laptops or desktops should be touch enabled as they view the use of the hand or finger having to move from keyboard to screen as an unnatural way to navigate these types of devices.

There is also another key issue that may keep Windows 8 from being adopted faster and that is the added cost of laptops that sport touchscreens. At the moment, putting a touch screen on a laptop adds about $150-$200 to the cost of the laptop. That is why we still see most of the laptops sold at least through 2014 having non-touch based screens as consumers are inclined to buy on price instead of features in most cases.

While I see Windows 8 working well with touch based devices and see it having a harder time being adopted by users whose laptop or desktop is not touch enabled, Still, Windows 8 will be important to the collective PC market today. And it represents the next major evolution of the user interface for PCs, even if the market for PCs will not be a major growth market in the future.

Truel: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; The iPad, the Surface and the Nexus 7

The Plot

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a 1966 Italian epic Spaghetti western film directed by Sergio Leone, starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach in the title roles. ~ paraphrased from Wikipedia

Apple, Microsoft and Google are engaged in an epic tablet war starring the iPad, the Surface and the Nexus 7 in the title roles.

In the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the plot revolves around three gunslingers competing to find a fortune in hidden Confederate gold.

In the tablet wars, the plot revolves around three tablet gunslingers competing to find a fortune in hidden tablet profits.

Clint Eastwood as “Blondie”: The Good. A subdued, cocksure, bounty hunter who both works with and works against Angel Eyes, and Tuco in shifting alliances to find the hidden gold.

Apple as “iPad”: The Goliath. An implacable, cocksure, bounty hunter who both works with and works against Microsoft and Google in shifting alliances to find the hidden profits.

Lee Van Cleef as “Angel Eyes”: The Bad. A ruthless, unfeeling and sociopathic mercenary who always finishes the job.

Microsoft as “Surface”: The Bad (ass). A ruthlessly efficient, relentlessly effective, money making machine who knows how to close.

Eli Wallach as “Tuco”: The Ugly. A comical, oafish fast talking bandit who proves to be a crafty and surprisingly dangerous opponent.

Google as “Nexus 7”: The Geeky. A nerdy, engineering and advertising company whose “don’t be evil” exterior masks a surprisingly powerful and unexpectedly ominous corporate bandit.

The Truel

In the movie’s climatic final scene, Blondie, Angel Eyes and Tuco face off against one another in a Truel.

In the climatic autumn of 2012, Apple, Microsoft and Google face off against one another in a truel.

A truel is: “a neologism for a duel among three opponents, in which players can fire at one another in an attempt to eliminate them while surviving themselves. ~ via Wikipedia

Each party jockeys for position, each itching to fire first, each wary of what the other two fighters will choose to do.

In tech, Apple, Microsoft and Google are involved in a great tablet truel. Each party jockeys for position, each itching to eliminate the other, each wary of what the other two competitors will choose to do.

The three stare each other down in the circular center of the cemetery, calculating alliances and dangers in a Mexican standoff.

The Apple iPad stands alone at the center of the tablet world. Then the Google Nexus 7 joins in the fray. And finally, on October 26, 2012, the Microsoft Surface steps into the ring. The three stare each other down, calculating alliances and dangers in a Mexican standoff.

The parties position themselves, the tension grows, the Ennio Morricone film score swells until suddenly, they draw and…

The Treasure

Remember the pundits who laughed off the tablet form factor and called them toys? No? Neither does anyone else. They were as wrong as wrong could be.

Tablets are the second coming of the personal computer. Apple knows it. Microsoft knew it long ago but they were unable to successfully seize the moment and capture the treasure for themselves. Google is only just now realizing the importance of tablets. The company or companies that win the tablet wars win the future of computing. The fight is only just begun but like a gunfight, the battle may soon – and very suddenly – be over.

The Gunfighters

Apple iPad

Apple is like Blondie. Confident. Cock-sure. Perhaps a bit too cock-sure. Apple insists on doing things their own way. Google is counting on Apple’s insistance on having a closed shop to be their undoing. Microsoft is counting on Apple’s unwavering insistance on seperating their touch and desktop devices to be their undoing.

However, Apple has an advantage. Like Blondie, they know where the gold (profits) is hidden. The key to unlocking the tablet treasure is tablet optimized Apps. And using our gunfight analogy, when it comes to tablet apps, if Google and Microsoft have six shooters, Apple has an Uzi. Or a bazooka. Or a tank…

Microsoft Surface

If Apple is the cocky newcomer – the up and coming gunslinger – Microsoft, like Angel Eyes, is the consummate professional – the grizzled vertern who has the experience, knows all the tricks in the book and is extremely confident in their ability to win in a shootout.

If Apple is cocky because they think they’re good, Microsoft is confident because they know they’re good. Microsoft has not only been through the wars, they’ve won the wars and they’ve won them convincingly.

However, Microsoft’s secret weapon in the PC wars was compatibility and familiarity. In gunfighter terms, it would be like shooting with the sun at your back. And getting in five shots before your opponent even drew their weapon. And shooting from behind a wall. It was that devastating an advantage.

When it comes to a gunfight – or a platform war – Microsoft is the best there ever was. But this isn’t yesterday and this is a whole new fight. In mobile, Microsoft’s monopoly advantage is no where to be found. If Microsoft is going to win this gunfight, they’re going to have to do it on merit.

And Microsoft is very, very late to the fight…

…and it’s never good for a gunfighter to be late.

Why is Microsoft’s Surface obsessed with Keyboards?

The Apple iPad Tablet vs. the Microsoft Surface Anti-Tablet

Battle Of The Tablet Business Models: Windows 8 And The Microsoft Surface

Google Nexus 7

Google, like Tuco, is in good position. Microsoft and Apple know that each is the greatest danger to the other. They will almost certainly fire all their weapons at one another leaving Google (Tuco) free to gain from the exchange.

Only Google, like Tuco, has a problem.

It was just last week that Google initiated a program to encourage the creation of tablet optimized apps for Android.

Last week.

Tuco doesn’t know it, but he doesn’t have any bullets. Google didn’t know it was important, so they don’t have many tablet optimized apps. And in a truel, being unarmed is a big, big problem to have.

Google Android Tablet Optimized Apps — Two Years Too Late

Battle Of The Tablet Business Models: Google Nexus 7

The Denouement

The gunfighters move into place. The eyes narrow, the hands twitch, the music swells, the tension mounts, the guns are drawn and then…

…a single shot is fired…

…Blondie shoots Angel Eyes. Tuco also tries to shoot, but discovers that his gun is unloaded.

The mobile wars are a fascinating watch. Apple dominates tablets. Microsoft dominates desktops. Google dominates smartphones. Each knows that the future – the elusive treasure – is in mobile. They can’t all win this truel. One, perhaps two, will be left for dead. Which will it be? Which will it be?

“You see, in this world there’s two kinds of people, my friend: Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig.” ~ Blondie (Clint Eastwood)

Unlike The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, no one has seen how this movie ends. Microsoft hopes that this will be a sequel: How Microsoft Won The PC Wars, Part II. Google thinks that this is an entirely new genre of film, the kind where open always outguns closed. Apple thinks that there are two kinds of personal computing companies: Those with platforms loaded with apps.. and those who don’t much matter.

Me? I think it’s advantage Apple. You don’t grow from nothing in tablets to a world shaker in two and a half years unless you got it right. The essence of tablets is touch. Not keyboards. Touch.

Microsoft is desperately hoping that Apple got it wrong. Microsoft NEEDS tablets to simultaneously run both touch and desktop operating systems and Microsoft needs both to run well together.

Google? When it comes to tablets, they’re still digging.

It’s clear to me that Apple’s iPad is going to remain on top. The rumored iPad mini only makes this more likely.

Normally, I’d say that – as in phones – Microsoft would have little chance of having their tablets jump past Google and into second place. But circumstances are far from normal. Despite Google’s overwhelming success in phones, they’ve done next to nothing in tablets. And I have little respect for their newly minted subsidized tablet business model and their ever shifting business strategies. And Microsoft has powerful advantages in their ability to leverage a large desktop customer base and utilize their extensive business connections. Microsoft could quite quickly vault Google in tablets and land in second place…

…and wouldn’t that be interesting. In phones it would be Google-Apple-Microsoft. In desktops it would be Microsoft-Apple-Google. In tablets it would be Apple-Microsoft-Google.

That can’t possibly last. This is about to get very real, very fast.

The world of personal computing is in flux. It’s a “truel” world and for some tablet maker – and possibly for several tablet makers – it’s about to go bad and get ugly.

The Microsoft Surface Was Made For Surfaces…But That’s Not What Tablets Were Made For

The first Microsoft Surface Ad is out. It’s called “The Surface Movement” (although it probably should be called “Click”). In his article entitled: Marketing Surface and Windows 8, Ben Bajarin focuses on what the ad communicates to potential buyers. My focus is on what the ad communicates about Microsoft’s attitude toward tablets.


Even before the ad aired, industry observers had picked up a theme:

The message we seem to be getting from Microsoft with its Surface tablets is that you need a keyboard with your slate to take full advantage of Windows. ~ James Kendrick, ZDNet

Microsoft is really is focusing on the keyboard as what enables the Surface to work equally well for consumption and creation. ~ Mary Jo Foley, CNet

It’s all about the keyboard and it’s all about using the keyboard on a flat surface.


The Microsoft surface has five characteristics that distinguish it from the iPad:

— Windows 8 user interface;
— Windows desktop applications;
— Kickstand;
— Upturned rear-facing camera; and
— Attachable keyboard.

The last four of those five characteristics are most useful when employed on a flat surface…

…but that’s not what tablets were made for.


The tablet has two defining characteristics: It is touchable and totable.

The tablet was made for standing, and walking; for moving from room to room, and moving from door to door; for sitting back and leaning forward; for remote locations and touch occasions. The tablet was made to be touched and toted. The Surface was made for a surface.

The Microsoft Surface goes on sale on October 26th. We’ll soon see what really defines a tablet.

Marketing Surface and Windows 8

The first commercial for Microsoft Surface has aired. After seeing it, I’m not sure Microsoft’s partners should be at all worried about the perceived threat of Microsoft competing with them on the hardware front. The commercial itself does absolutely nothing to communicate any valuable reason why a consumer should even remotely consider buying it over something else. I wrote a column a few weeks ago explaining that in today’s day-and-age it is critical to communicate and message to consumers why they should consider your product over something else.

This is not rocket science. Show the product doing something valuable, something consumers can relate to and associate with. Apple, Google, Samsung, etc., are all doing this by messaging and highlighting in their marketing the key benefits of their products.

The Windows 8 preview ads do a little better job by actually showing some use cases with different products. This may sound odd given the market share Microsoft has in traditional PCs but I firmly believe Microsoft is the odd man out with the momentum in this industry and they are the ones in catch up mode.

From the early pricing we are seeing the upcoming flood of Windows 8 products are not going to be on par with other products from a pricing standpoint. Which by default means price is not in their favor. Because of that consumers must be absolutely clear on why they should care at all about this product.

What does it do that others products don’t? What does it empower me to do that others products don’t? What experiences exist on Windows 8 that don’t exist on other devices?

Success in consumer markets requires a good product and good marketing. I’m reserving judgement on whether or not Windows 8 is a good product. When it comes to the marketing, Microsoft needs to convince consumers Windows 8 is relevant to their current and future market needs. The current ads do not do this in my opinion.

In case you hadn’t seen them yet, here they are:

Microsoft Surface Ads

Windows 8 Preview Ads

The iPad Mini Hits Windows 8 Where It Ain’t

Tim Bajarin muses on whether it was a mistake for Microsoft to focus Windows 8 on the the larger screen sizes:

When Microsoft decided to get into the tablet business again, it pretty much committed to 9- to 11-inch tablets, mostly eyeing the business market.

… it is clear that Microsoft will stay this course and will not manufacture 7-inch Windows 8 tablets directly or through a partner any time soon.

I believe this is a major judgment error by Microsoft because the plethora of 7-inch tablets coming out soon will become a huge hit with consumers.

Consumers appear to be extremely interested in an iPad mini, but I predict many business users will also fancy it…(too)

Tim goes on to make several excellent points. I would add this. I think the rumored iPad Mini will be a MONSTER hit in education. The current iPad is taking education by storm and the rumored iPad mini will turn the current torrent of iPad adoptions into a virtual flood.

Microsoft is in a very tough spot. They need to get into tablets. They are wise to go with their strength (business). But they can’t neglect education either. It may sound trite, but children are the future. Kids are already enamored with the iPhone and the iPad. Microsoft is in a dog fight to recapture this generation of tablet users. However, if they let the iPad become the de facto standard in education at the K-12 and college levels, all their efforts may be for naught. While they’re busy fighting for today’s customers, they will have already lost tomorrow’s.

The Return of the Tablet PC

Photo of Acer Iconia W510 (Acer)
Acer Iconia W510

Microsoft’s decision to offer tablets in two flavors–Intel-powered slates running full windows 8 and ARM-powered units running Windows RT–has created a marketing and branding problem for manufacturers: How these very different products going to be distinguished for buyers?

One solution that seems to be gaining popularity is to call the Intel/full Windows versions “tablet PCs.” This seems to assume, probably correctly, that customers have little memory of the ungainly and, outside of some niche markets, unpopular, touchscreen laptops and slates that went by that name starting in 2003, and that they are willing to give the name, and the category, a fresh look with Windows 8.

Acer today announced its latest entrant, the Iconia W510 Tablet PC, a 10.1″ , 1.3-lb.slate powered by an Intel Atom Z2760 (Clover Trail) processor. The W510 will start at $499 for a 16 gigabyte version and $599 for 64 GB. A keyboard and battery dock that turns the tablet into a sort of notebook adds $250 and doubles the weight to 2.6 lb.

Hewlett-Packard is also using the tablet PC moniker, though it applies it to a broader ranger of products. On its small business website,  the Slate 2, an 8.9″, $849 pure tablet currently shipping with Windows 7 is called a Tablet PC. But so is the EliteBook 2760p, a more traditional 12.1″ touchscreen convertible (meaning the screen can rotate and flip over to form a bulky slate) notebook. It runs an Intel Core i3, i5, or i7 processor, weighs 4 lb., and starts at $1,479.

Dell calls its current 10.1″, $679 Latitude ST Windows 7 tablet a Tablet PC. It also uses the name for a the Latitude XT3,  a design similar to the HP EliteBook but even heftier with a 13.3″ display. Dell’s web site does not make clear whether it will use the Tablet PC names for its upcoming XPS 10 pure Windows 8 tablet or the XPS Duo 12, a sort of old-fashioned Tablet PC with a novel screen that can rotate vertically.

Lenovo, interestingly, calls the ThinkPad X230, the latest version of a conventional Tablet PC that has been in its product line for several years, just a “convertible tablet.” Like Acer, Lenovo is also shipping Android tablets in addition to planning for the windows versions.

Microsoft, meanwhile, seems to believe its customers will know what its tablets are when they see them. It plans both Windows 8 and Windows RT versions of the Surface, which will come with a very thin membrane keyboard that doubles as a cover. But Microsoft is staying out of the naming game. Its web site avoids calling them either tablets or slates, let alone Tablet PCs. They are just Surface.

Battle Of The Tablet Business Models: Lessons Learned And A Look Ahead


We’ve been looking at the tablet business models of Apple, Amazon, Google, Samsung and Microsoft. Today we wrap up the series by seeing what lessons we have learned and by asking ourselves what the various business models can tell us about the future of tablet computing.

Lessons Learned

Lesson #1: Subsidized tablet business models are a niche

The subsidized business models of the Amazon Kindle Fire and the Google Nexus 7 are very limiting. They can only be sold where their content is sold, they can only be sold to consumers who readily pay for content or consume relevant advertising and they will have little appeal to business, government or education. Even if they are fantastically successful within their confined market space, their markets will have little overlap with the tablets that focus primarily on the importance of apps.

Lesson #2: Subsidized tablet business models need to be measured differently and judged appropriately

We tend to judge all things tech by the number of units sold or by overall market share. We should, of course, be focusing on profit instead. Profit is the goal and profit is the standard by which tablet business models should be measured.

The subsidized tablets of the Amazon Kindle Fire and the Google Nexus 7 need to be judged, not by sales, not by market share, but by the profits generated by the sale of content and advertising. In a subsidized business model, nothing else matters.

Lesson #3: Conflicting business models are a sign of weakness

With the Nexus 7 and the Surface tablet, both Google and Microsoft have reversed their licensing models and embraced an integrated approach. There is nothing wrong with adjusting one’s business model to fit the times. There’s a lot wrong with having two conflicting business models.

Lesson #4: Platform Matters

Apple has the strongest tablet platform, by far, and it shows in their sales and in their profits.

Amazon seems to understand platform. However, subsidized business models seem geared more toward content than apps. The Kindle Fire is only a year old. We will have to wait and see how the Amazon platform develops.

Google doesn’t seem to get platform, even now. Their weak platform has not hurt them in phone sales (yet) but it’s crippled their tablet efforts. And with the introduction of the Google Nexus 7, Google has made it clear that they think that content, not apps, is what matters most.

Samsung almost certainly understands platform, but they have no control over the Android operating system nor do they control the way Android content and apps are sold. Their only choice is to suffer or get out.

Microsoft gets platform all too well but they are so very late to the game. The Windows Phone 7 platform went nowhere and Microsoft has to be terribly concerned that the Windows RT and Windows 8 tablets may share the same fate.

Lesson #5: Skate to where the puck is going to be

When the market is underserved, products move toward integration. When the market is over served, products move towards modularization. It seems to me that part of the problem with most of the current tablet business models is that their respective companies have misidentified where the market is over served and where it is underserved.

Apple: In my opinion, Apple is on the right path. Tablet hardware, software, and content distribution are becoming “good enough” and are in danger of being commoditized. Apps and ecosystem are still under serving the market and have a lot of room for growth. Apple is adding value and differentiating itself from its competitors by integrating hardware, software, content and apps into a single, cohesive ecosystem.

Apple’s problem is that they have traditionally not been very good at internet services. Look at MobileMe, Ping, Siri, Maps, etc. And internet services are the key to the future of mobile computing ecosystems.

Jonathan Ive is a genius who can design Apple’s hardware but he can’t design a database system that will work with iCloud. Tim Cook’s supply chain prowess turned Apple from a very good company into a great company. What Apple may need to thrive in the future is a Tim Cook for internet services.

Amazon and Google: I think that both the Amazon and Google subsidized strategies are fundamentally flawed. They are creating an integrated hardware and software product designed to add value via the sale of content. But content distribution has already been commoditized. It makes no sense to subsidize hardware sales in order to enhance content sales if the margins on content are de minimis.

Samsung: The problem with the current Samsung tablet model is two-fold. First, their hardware is only one part of the value chain. They do not control the software, content, apps or overall ecosystem. Second, the area where they add value – hardware – is rapidly moving towards “good enough” and commoditization.

Microsoft: In my opinion, Microsoft’s business model is focused on the wrong part of the value chain or stack. Windows RT and Windows 8 is all about creating a superior operating system. But the operating systems currently available from Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS are already more than good enough for most consumers. Microsoft is pouring all of its efforts into an area where consumers are already satisfied or over served. Windows 8 may or may not be a better mobile operating system than either Android or iOS but it is not so much better that it will compel the bulk of consumers to switch to it.

The Future

We obsess over tiny diferences between the hardware and operating systems of the various competitors but it is business models that dictate success or failure. Until those business models change, Apple has, and will retain, the lead in tablets. Both Amazon and Google have chosen to ghettoize their tablets. Their inability to generate substantial profits will be obscured by irrelevant sales numbers. Samsung tablets are nowhere and they have nowhere to go.

Microsoft is trickier. It first has to overcome the hurdle of creating a virtuous platform cycle. If developers can’t attract customers – if customers can’t attract developers – then nothing else matters because the platform will go nowhere. However, if Microsoft can overcome this initial, all-important hurdle, then they have a chance to be relevant. We should be able to gauge just how relevant they’ll be by this time next year.


The future of tablets will be determined by their respective business models. Yet most of the current business models are not even directed towards that future.

Battle Of The Tablet Business Models: Windows 8 And The Microsoft Surface


We’re looking at the tablet business models of Apple, Amazon, Google, Samsung and Microsoft. Today we focus on Windows 8 and the Microsoft Surface.

5.0 Windows 8 And The Microsoft Surface


When introducing the new Amazon tablets, Jeff Bezos said:

“We want to make money when people use our devices, not when they buy our devices.”

Microsoft now has TWO tablet business models. They license their software to Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and make their money from licensing fees. AND they sell their brand spanking new Surface tablet directly to end users and make their money from the sale of the hardware.

In neither model does Microsoft make (much of) its money from the sale of content or apps.

It’s important to note that in the licensing model, the OEM is the customer and in the hardware model, the end user is the customer. The different models require entirely different – and possibly conflicting – corporate cultures, philosophies and strategies along with different supply, production, marketing, sales, and distribution structures.


Before we look forward at Microsoft’s tablet business model, let’s look back at Microsoft’s desktop (and notebook) business model.

Microsoft’s traditional desktop business model brought value to their customers in a wide variety of ways. However, it is vitally important to note that Microsoft’s customers were not end users. They were:

— The manufacturers who made hardware;
— The developers who made third-party software; and
— The business IT departments who authorized the large scale purchases of the hardware running Microsoft’s Windows operating system and the software compatible with the Windows operating system.

  • Licensing Business Model
  • Microsoft licenses their Windows operating system software to all comers. This allows a multitude of companies to create a wide array of hardware offerings with different shapes, sizes, types, prices, etc. The strength of licensing lies in its variety at the hardware level. The software is monolithic. The hardware is diverse.

    Licensing is often considered to be THE reason why Microsoft won the PC wars in the ninties. Licensing allowed for the rapid proliferation of hardware running the Windows operating system. As the number of Windows powered computing units increased, the network effect kicked in and Microsoft’s platform became more and more powerful. Suddenly Microsoft Windows was not a choice, it was the ONLY choice. When one was buying a desktop computer or desktop software in the nineties and the two thousands, the first question asked was whether that hardware or that software was compatible with Windows.

  • Operating System
  • Microsoft’s excellent, high quality Windows operating system software provides their cutomers with great value.

  • Platform
  • Microsoft maintains the platform for software developers to build upon. The importance of Microsoft’s role in adding value by building and supporting their platform cannot be underestimated.

    People mock Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer for his sweaty “developers, developers, developers” chant but he had it exactly right. Ballmer knew that so long as Microsoft took care of their developers, their developers would continue to add ever more value to the Windows platorm and that the more valuable the Windows platform became, the more valuable – and the less vulnerable to competition – the Windows operating system software would be.

    As an aside, compare Microsoft’s stewardship of Windows with how Google has treated Android. Google has created a world class operating system in Android but they have done their hardware licensees a disservice when it comes to platform. Their software updates are severely fragmented, their store is difficult to navigate and lacks content and their app store is clogged with clones, pirates and viruses. As a result, Android owners buy less content and apps and Android app developers make far, far less money than do the developers for competing platforms.

  • Office Suite
  • Microsoft’s Office Suite is THE standard for business software and THE bedrock upon which most businesses operate. If your hardware or your software doesn’t run the Office Suite, it probably doesn’t run in a business enviornment.

  • Business Symbiosis
  • It has already been mentioned that business owners and IT departments, not end users, are one of Microsoft’s prime customers. However, the bond created by Microsoft between their Windows operating system and Business IT departments cannot be overstated. Microsoft catered to IT’s every need and IT reciprocated by making Windows the one and only allowable computing operating system at most small, mid and large business organizations the world around.

  • Monopoly Superpower
  • At its height, with as much as 95% market share, Microsoft was, and still remains, THE de facto standard for desktop computing. The benefits derived from this monopoly position are too many to enumerate. The easiest way to sum it up is to say that Microsoft basically had no competition whatsoever and Windows hardware manufacturers and Windows developers only competed among themselves. They had virtually no external competition at all.


    It is difficult to project what is going to happen with Microsoft’s tablet business model for at least two reasons.

    First, Microsoft’s new, Windows 8 and Surface tablets don’t go on sale until October 26, 2012. Without hard data to guide us, everything is speculation.

    Second, I think that, for many, the analysis of Microsoft’s future is clouded by beliefs engendered from Microsoft’s past. Many pundits aren’t so much hoping that Microsoft will advance to a glorious future in mobile computing as they are hankering for Microsoft to return to their glorious past. The glow from Microsoft’s past successes is so bright that it is blinding them to the fact that today’s mobile computing markets are very, very different from yesterday’s desktop computing markets. We need to be certain that we are applying today’s reality to Microsoft’s tablet efforts, rather than being swayed by echos from Microsoft’s fabled past.

  • The licensing business model is not the same
  • Microsoft made its name and its fortune from licensing its Windows operating system software to desktop and notebook manufacturers. To say that Microsoft’s licensing model was a success would be one of the biggest understatements in the history of business. However, because Microsoft won the PC wars so convincingly, many industry observers mistakenly concluded that licensing was the one and only viable business model for creating a computer platform. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    A business model is merely a strategy, not a guarantor of success. There is no one right business model. Business models have to be adapted to the existing circumstances. What worked yesterday is no guarantee of success. In fact, doing what worked yesterday may very well guarantee failure.

    Today’s mobile markets are very different from yesterday’s PC market. The question before us isn’t whether licensing works – it does. The question is whether Microsoft’s current licensing strategy has a place in today’s tablet markets under today’s circumstances.

  • The licensing fees are not the same
  • It has been estimated that licensing fees for mobile devices will be lower, and perhaps much lower, than those that Microsoft has been able to command from desktop manufacturers. Microsoft needs to charge less in order to keep their mobile devices from being priced out of the market but they also need to be cognizant of the fact that every reduction in licensing fees is a reduction in their overall revenues.

    The good news is that mobile is where all the growth is and if Microsoft can successfully break into the tablet market, they might ultimately make up in volume what they lose on a per device basis. However, while the Apple Mac – with its premium, integrated software and hardware business model – was able to survive and thrive with only a tiny share of the desktop market, licensing models do not do well as niche players. Since licensing business models only receive a small portion of each product’s total revenue stream, they need to be high volume players in order to generate significant income.

  • Hardware diversity is not necessarily an asset
  • As previously noted, one of the stregnths of the licensing business model is hardware diversity. But hardware diversity can also lead to customer confusion. And confusion is the enemy of sales.

    Microsoft isn’t entering the tablet space with a single tablet entrant. Most of Microsoft’s partners are jumping into the Windows 8 tablet space all at once with a wide and wild assortment of products. Endless choice is nice in theory but real world marketing experts know that too much choice leads to paralysis by analysis, buyer indecision and no sale.

    Another concern is the lack of software optimization. With such a wide variety of screen sizes and types, all coming onto the market at once along with the new Windows 8 operating system, it will be virtually impossible for developers to optimize their programs for the numerous hardware form factors. For more on this, I highly reccomentd Ben Bajarin’s artle on this topic entitled: Windows 8 Tablet Fragmentation and the App Dilemma.

  • Selling hardware is not the same as licensing software
  • With the introduction of the Surface tablet, Microsoft has entered into an entirely new (for them) business model. Breaking from their traditional model of only licensing their software, Microsoft will, in addtion to licensing their tablet software, be selling tablet hardware as well.

    Microsoft has some experience with the creation of hardware (Zune, Xbox) but it can’t be considered a core competency. And their unwillingness to reveal details about the pricing and specifications of the Microsoft Surface, plus their almost paranoid refusal to let anyone outside of their inner circle play with or even touch the unit, has to raise doubts about the devices readiness.

    With regard to the quality of the Surface hardware, I’ll give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt. But until we finally get units in the hands of independent reviewers, the doubt will still remain.

  • Desktop applications are not the same
  • Desktop applications running on Windows 8 tablets is a huge differentiator for Microsoft. But does it truly bring value to their users?

    Ten long years of bad experiences with Microsoft tablets have taught us that desktop applications do not work well on tablets. Yet Microsoft perseveres in their belief that desktop applications DO have a vital role to play on the tablet form factor. We’re about to have an epiphany or Microsoft is about to re-learn a very expensive lesson.

  • Tablet apps are not the same
  • Microsoft wants to bring value to their users with tablet apps the same way that they brought value to their desktop users with desktop applications. They know, better than anyone, that a modern software ecosystem needs a large number of apps to be successful. It’s the very reason that their Windows platform dominated computing for the past twenty years.

    However, Microsoft is very, very late to the tablet game. Modern touch tablets may only be two and a half years old but tablets have been adopted faster than any technology in history. Studies show that 25% of Americans own a tablet. Further, while tablets may only be two and a half years old, the modern day app platform started four and a half years ago, in April 2008, with the iPhone. While Windows 8 is entering the market with between 2,000 and 10,000 apps, the Android and iOS platforms boast 700,000 and 750,000 apps each. And iOS has some 250,000 apps specifically optimized for use on their tablet products.

    The low number of apps is a catch-22 for Microsoft. Developers don’t want to develop until a platform has enough users, while users don’t want to buy your tablets until you have enough apps. Users of iOS and Android devices won’t have much patience with Windows 8 either. Why should they wait for a barren Windows 8 store to fill with product when they can buy from the fully stocked Android and iOS app stores today?

    Microsoft is the master of creating developer relationships but, shockingly, they have failed to successfully woo developers to the Windows 8 platform. Microsoft has actually resorted to PAYING developers to develop for the platform. This is very telling.

    With platform, developers are the canaries in the coal mine. We can gauge how well the platform is doing by measuring how well the platform’s developers are doing. And right now, developers are telling us, in no uncertain terms, that they have no confidence in the platform. They are waiting to see if the platform will be successful before they commit. And with platform, a “wait and see” attitude is the kiss of death. The longer they wait, the less likely it is that the platform will succeed.

    It’s still too soon to definitively say that Windows 8 won’t attract developers. But the time needed for Microsoft to build a successful platform is running out and it’s running out fast.

  • The Office Suite is not the same
  • On the desktop, Microsoft’s Office Suite is THE standard for business software and THE bedrock upon which most businesses operate. Many believe that it will be Microsoft’s killer app for tablets too.

    The problem with that theory is that it totally ignores the divide between the touch input demanded by tablets and pixel specific mouse input demanded by the vertical screens used by notebook and desktop computers. Windows Office is optimized for desktops. The more Microsoft tries to make it work on tablets, the less like Windows Office for the desktop it will become. Windows Office will not be the killer app for the tablet because by the time it works properly on the tablet, it will have morphed into a entirely different program.

    Even worse, from Microsoft’s perspective, is that Microsoft Office has lost its cachet among smartphone and tablet users. The past year alone has taught 650 million smartphone users and 100 million tablet users that they can get by just fine without the need to use Microsoft’s Office Suite.

  • Microsoft’s symbiosis with businesses is not the same
  • Many pundits are expecting IT to embrace the Microsoft tablet in the same way that IT embraced Microsoft Windows for the desktop. The problem with that theory is two-fold.

    First, times have changed. In the ninties, businesses standardized on the Windows operating system and then consumers followed suit. Today, consumers are making many of the critical buying decisions. Consumerization and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to work are trends, not fads.

    Second, Windows tablets aren’t attempting to replace an unpopular product. The Apple iPad, for example, has user satisfaction ratings in the high nineties. And in only two and a half years, many businesses are already finding the iPad indispensible.

    When it comes to business, Apple’s popular iPad tablet is viewed as a critical tool…

    “No one doubts the device’s popularity, but what’s really eye-opening about these statistics is just how inextricable the iPad has become from (business) users’ everyday lives. ~ Brainshark

    Windows 8 tablets may or may not do well in business and the Enterprise but we’re never returning to the days when Microsoft dominated IT and IT dominated all the computer purchase decision-making.

  • Microsoft’s monopoly is not the same
  • Microsoft Windows and the Microsoft Office Suite may or may not be the best software in their respective fields but users are familiar with them. No one likes to relearn how to use a software program or a user interface. Users benefit from the consistency in Microsoft’s products and Microsoft benefits from the fact that end users are comfortable using their products. This is one of the reasons why Microsoft has been able to maintain its massive market share among desktop users.

    But that was yesterday.

    A Q4 2011 Forrester survey of 9,900 employees around the world found the average employee used two and a half devices for work. Thanks to gains by Apple and Google, only 63% of respondents reported using a Microsoft OS on one of their work devices.

    That is some startling information. Let’s break it down for further examination:

    — The average employee uses two and a half devices for work. Wow. And since Microsoft is found mostly on desktops and noteboks and found almost not at all on smartphones or tablets, that means that almost all emploees are now spending some of their time on a non-Microsoft device.

    — If 63% of respondents report that they ARE using at least one Microsoft device that means that 37% of employees ARE NOT using ANY Microsoft device AT ALL.

    Microsoft still dominates desktops but it’s no longer a computing monopoly. Not by a long shot.

    Today’s computing world is filled with not just desktops but with smartphones and tablets too. Phones and tablets are touch devices that have wholly different user interfaces than do desktop devices. If you’re going to have to learn an unfamiliar user interface anyway, you look to learn the best. Without its monopoly power, Microsoft’s products have to compete on the merits. And no matter how good Microsoft’s products are, competing on the merits is a very different – and far more difficult – proposition than being the default choice or the only choice.


  • Too Many Agendas
  • A company’s business model often dictates the end user’s experience.

    — Apple wants to provide its end users with the best user experience possible because they want to sell as many tablets as possible.

    — Amazon Kindle Fire and the Google Nexus 7 are willing to sacrifice some the end user’s experience by including advertisments and focusing their tablets soley on their stores, but they hope to make up for it with the lower prices of their tablets.

    — Microsoft’s traditional business model was aimed at IT departments, not end users. IT departments wanted control and features designed specifically for their use and they got it. This sometimes led to a less than optimal end user experience. Microsoft was happy to provide end users with the best experience possible but not if it meant offending their real customers, the IT departments, who made the large scale purchasing decisions.

    Microsoft’s current tablet business model is dictating a compromised end user experience. The problem with Windows 8 on tablets is that it isn’t a platform, it’s an agenda.

    Mobile is the future of computing. Microsoft needs to get in the tablet game or they are going to be shut out of mobile and shut out of the future of computing. Today, Microsof has virtually no presence in mobile computing. What they do have is a massive presence in desktop computing. Windows 8 is all about leveraging Microsoft’s massive desktop market share in order to gain a foothold in mobile computing. This might be good for business but it is not necessarily good for the end user. Microsoft’s business model is not aligned with the welfare of the end user. And in the long run, that’s bad business.

  • Too Many Business Models
  • Microsoft is employing two incompatable business models to sell their tablets. They are licensing their software to manufacturers and they are competing with those same manufacturers by selling their own Microsoft branded Surface tablet. This is similar to what Google is doing with the Nexus 7.

    First, Microsoft is competing with its own partners. That’s never a good thing. Even Microsfoft acknowledged the problem in an SEC filing:

    “…our Surface devices will compete with products made by our OEM partners, which may affect their commitment to our platform.”

    Second, licensing to manufacturers and selling directly to end users requires two entirely different, and oft-times redundant, business structures. Supply, production, distribution, marketing, advertising and sales are all totally different. Just to illustrate the point, Microsoft’s retail stores make perfect sense for selling their hardware to consumers but they serve no purpose at all for licensing their software to manufacturers. Compare this to Apple whose retail store sells virtually every product that Apple makes.

    Third, conflicing business philosophies, strategies and cultures do not bode well for Microsoft. One of the reasons that mergers and acquisitions so often fail is because it impossible for the two companies to align their corporate values and culture. One of Microsoft’s greatest strengths was that they knew who they were and what they stood for. Who and what are they now?

    Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, Microsoft’s dual strategies show a lack of focus, a lack of direction. They’re improvising.

    The purpose of a business model is to direct and guide one’s actions – to be able to foretell a possible future and to act in order to make it so. Multiple, conflicting business models accomplish just the opposite. They are not the embodiment of a strategy, they are the abandonment of strategy.


    I’ve spent an awful lot of this article talking about what can go wrong with Microsoft’s tablet business model. Now let me tell you what might go terriblly right. Microsoft might succeed with tablets DESPITE the flaws in their business model because there is no one standing in their way.

    Oh sure, Apple is the 900 pound gorilla in tablets. But they’re not going to acquire 95% market share the way Microsoft did with desktops. Amazon and Google’s business models seem directed at content, not apps. Their subsidized, ad supported models have inherent limitations and are not going to appeal to government, business or education entities. If you want a tablet for serious computing, and you want an alternative to Apple, Microsoft might be your go to guy.

    If you want to know whether Microsoft’s tablet strategy will or will not succeed, forget everything else and focus on developers. If developers start to make significant money, if developers start to develop apps for Windows 8 first or even second, if the Windows store starts to fill up with high quality apps that are equal or superior to those of their rivals – then Windows 8 is going to do just fine.

    Microsoft’s greatest fear should be that Windows 8 for tablets becomes another Windows Phone 7 – a platform with high quality hardware, excellent software, few developers and even fewer users.


    We’ve now looked at the Apple, Amazon, Google, Samsung and Microsoft tablet business models. Tomorrow, we wrap up the series by seeing what the various business models can tell us about the future of tablet computing.

    Windows RT Grows More Mysterious as Launch Nears

    Microsoft Surface
    Microsoft’s Surface Windows RT Tablet

    I expected we would be seeing more clarity on the distinctions between Windows 8 and its Windows RT sibling (for ARM processor devices) as the expected late October launch grows closer. But the picture seems to be growing murkier instead.

    I didn’t make it to the IFA show in Berlin where many Windows 8 and RT devices had their unveiling but read dozens of reports. I was particularly struck by this hands-on video from The Verge’s Tom Warren. When Microsoft first announced what was then called Windows on ARM in February, it said Windows RT would have very limited access to the traditional Windows Desktop:

    WOA includes desktop versions of the new Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. These new Office applications, codenamed “Office 15”, have been significantly architected for both touch and minimized power/resource consumption, while also being fully-featured for consumers and providing complete document compatibility. WOA supports the Windows desktop experience including File Explorer, Internet Explorer 10 for the desktop, and most other intrinsic Windows desktop features—which have been significantly architected for both touch and minimized power/resource consumption.

    It seems that the definition of “intrinsic Windows desktop features” is somewhat broader than most of us had expected. For example, Warren found versions of Notepad and Paint included.  Maybe RT will support all of the applications and utilities traditionally found in the \windows\system32 directory. (It would certainly be the most robust utility tool kit on an ARM tablet.)

    Isn’t all this extra stuff a good thing? Not really. For one thing, these apps are not optimized for touch and Warren’s video shows how awkward they are when the on-screen keyboard is covering half the display. (This was a chronic problem on Windows Tablet PCs going back a decade. The keyboard was never smart enough to stay out of the way of the programs it was interacting with.)

    The bigger problem is that this is going to be very confusing for consumers. If Windows 8 and Windows RT look alike and to a considerable extent act alike, how are consumers going to understand the difference? But the differences are large and important. Whatever classic desktop applications come on the RT versions, those are all you are going to get. Windows RT only allows installing of software downloaded through the Windows App Store. There will inevitably be a jailbreak that allows sideloading of apps, but even if you could load them, they won’t run: Code compiled for an x86 processor simply will not execute on an ARM system.

    Microsoft’s Windows 8 strategy was always courting massive consumer confusion and the prospects  are getting worse. Manufacturers are showing keyboard-equipped Windows RT devices that pretty much look like notebooks, At a minimum, Microsoft faces a large-scale consumer education problem.

    Tech Journalists Need To Learn Something About Business

    Microsoft 10-KA week ago, Engadget published a thinly sourced report that Microsoft would sell its new Surface tablet for an improbable $199. Despite a lack of any further confirmation, the report was endlessly repeated, commented upon, and used as the basis for endless speculation. My colleague Tim Bajarin did a very effective job of puncturing the rumor, based on supply chain reporting and his extensive knowledge of the industry. What very few others did was to look at the report with a jaundiced eye and ask whether such an action made any business sense for Microsoft.

    This is a rampant problem in technology journalism today, whether in print, online, or broadcast. Many technology writers appear to have little interest in the business side of their industry and little background or training in the intricacies of operations or finance. If they ever read financial reports, it doesn’t show in their work. I doubt that most of them know an S-2 from a 10-K. And this is unfortunate because it often produces shallow and uninformed reporting.

    Let’s go back to that $199 Surface. The Surface is the most interesting product announcement from Microsoft in many years because it represents an important break with the company’s core business model of  licensing software while leaving the hardware business to its OEM customers (Yes, Xbox is an exception, but a very limited one. We’ll get to that in a bit.)

    Microsoft makes nearly all of its money from three roughly equal revenue streams: Windows and Windows Live, Servers and Tools, and Microsoft Business. The first is the core Windows business, the second all the back-office software Microsoft sells to enterprises, the third is mostly Office. Recent trends in the industry, especially the rise in tablets and the accompanying collapse of consumer software prices threaten the first and third streams.

    Microsoft is getting into the hardware business because it wants to shake things up–a bit. But its position is not so threatened that it wants to destroy the ecosystem that it has spent the last 30 years creating. A $199 high-quality tablet would have two drastic effects on Microsoft’s business. It would produce enormous losses of perhaps $150-200 per unit; modestly successful sales of 5 million units–about the number of iPads Apple sells in a month–could knock a billion dollar hole in Microsoft’s earnings. And it could make it impossible for OEMs such as HP, Lenovo, Dell, and Acer to enter the market. With the traditional PC market beginning to shrink,  a Microsoft loss-leader tablet would be an existential threat to these OEMs–with no guarantee that Microsoft rather than Apple or Google and its partners would pick up the pieces.

    Some speculation (for example) focused on the possibility of typing that $199 price to a subscription to–something. But again, this reporting failed to do any real business analysis. Wireless carriers provide up-front subsidies for phones, so why not Microsoft for Surface. For one thing, contracts for smartphones bring in around $100 a month, leaving lots of room to pay for the service and recoup the subsidy. A similar model was tried for both some notebooks, especially netbooks, and Android tablets, but it has been a dismal failure to the point where carriers are abandoning it. And the availability of free services is so great that it is hard to see what would get Surface buyers to pay a monthly fee.

    The Xbox has also inspired a lot of bad business analysis. It’s true that that the Xbox was introduced at a price well below its cost in the hopes that game licensing feeds and outright sale of Microsoft games would make it profitable. Fortunately, the Xbox has never been a huge part of Microsoft’s business because this strategy took years to pay off. It’s true that today you can buy a $99 Xbox if you agree to pay $15 a month for two years for an Xbox Live subscription. But this is really a financing alternative rather than true subscription, since you will pay $359 for a subscription that could be bought on its own for $120. The Xbox is simply a very different kind of business than Windows, aimed at a very different audience.

    The big problem here is the fact that too many tech writers don’t look at the numbers or don’t know what to make of them if they do. In an earlier generation, it was common for tech writers to have put in some time on the business beat, and the most of the best still have that experience. The quality of tech writing would improve immeasurably if such skills were more widespread.

    Microsoft’s Surface Tablet for $199 –Think Again

    There were various reports about Microsoft pricing their Surface Tablet for $199 this week and it caused a lot of media and even consumers to hyperventilate about this possibility. Sure, many with wishful thinking would like it if the Surface is priced this low, but the chances that this will happen are slim to none.

    I spoke with my contacts in Taipei and they pointed out that the bill of material cost of the Surface is at least $250 and could be as high as $300 depending on the configuration. For Microsoft to sell this at $199 they would have to take a serious loss on this product, something that in all my years of covering Microsoft, they have never done.

    Indeed, their pricing goes in the opposite direction, especially in software where their mark-up could be as high as 70-80% depending on the product. And while the margins on the XBOX are much lower, the idea that they would sell this game console under cost is ridiculous.

    The only companies that can afford to sell hardware under cost are Amazon and Google. In these cases, the hardware is almost a loss leader so that they can offer products and services through the device. In Amazon’s case, they amortize anything that is bought through the Kindle tablet for a period of time so that in the end, they actually book a small profit. However, the real goal is for consumers to continue to buy eBooks, music, movies and products through this portable tablet that is at people’s fingertips and makes buying these products very easy.

    And Google’s model is similar although we believe they sell their Nexus 7 close to cost and then amortize money made through advertising related searches as well as Google Play to bring in any profit tied to their tablet itself.

    But Microsoft does not really have enough successful services that they can count on to bring sufficient additional revenue to the Surface if they price it at $199 in order to make up the actual BOM cost as well as make any profit on the device itself.

    The pricing of Surface will most likely start at $499 for the 16 gig model and move up from there based on additional memory or accessories. And these prices are more in line with business products like the Surface anyway.

    Now I heard one theory that circulated that Microsoft is so far behind in tablets that they might price it at $199 just to buy into the market for tablets and gain a foothold through aggressive pricing. While that is a possibility, Microsoft’s history does not suggest that they do these types of things just to buy market share.

    While this first version is coming from Microsoft, their hardware partners have been reaming them for doing this and have been lobbying hard to get licenses from Microsoft to do their own versions of Surface as well. We believe Microsoft may consider this at some point but if they priced it at $199 and well under cost, this would set the pricing for future models from partners and none of these partners are in a place to sell any hardware at a loss.

    The most likely scenario that will play out is that the first generation of their Surface tablet will be around $499-$599 and if they have problems moving big numbers, they can always reduce pricing to move them. But if they priced it at $199, it would be impossible for them to up the price at anytime in the future since pricing a product higher then when it came out most often spells the death of that product.

    While Microsoft’s Surface tablet does seem to have potential and serious interest at least from business customers, I highly doubt that Microsoft will enter this market just to lose money. That is why the idea of selling this way below cost does not make a lot of sense.

    Deciphering Microsoft’s Latest Windows Blog on Windows RT

    For over 20 years, I worked with Microsoft as a customer or a technology partner. Microsoft has a huge job in guiding their enormous Windows ecosystem down certain paths, and over those two decades I have seen many flavors of communication styles. For Windows 8, Microsoft has adopted a significantly different way of communicating with the ecosystem versus prior OS releases. For the broad ecosystem, Microsoft is communicating with their main “Building Windows 8” Blog, which appears as a direct link to the engineering team. Their latest blog on Windows RT truly is an interesting one. While not that significant on the surface, if you dig deep with context, it is actually saying a lot, providing deep insights to Windows RT.  It also highlights the amount of pacification Microsoft is doing to the financial community and the OEMs.

    It is helpful to put some context around Windows 8 and Windows RT. As I’ve written about previously, Windows 8 truly is the biggest risk Microsoft has ever taken. Microsoft is risking over 50% of their operating profits by deprioritizing the Windows desktop and leading with the “UI formerly known as Metro”. If Metro is a hit, it greatly increases Microsoft’s probability of success in tablets and phones. If not, they’ve risked a huge part of their company profits and reputation. Along the path, Microsoft has to keep multiple constituents aligned, many who are at odds, particularly when it comes to Windows RT where it’s truly X86 versus ARM. And this is where the latest blog gets interesting in what it says and doesn’t say.

    “Surface Didn’t Kill Other Consumer Windows RT Tablets, Really”

    With Surface, Microsoft is competing head-to-head with their customers. Whether we want to sugar coat it with phrases like “priming the pumps” the end result is still the same in that OEMs will be competing for mindshare and market share with companies like Dell, HP, Lenovo, Acer and Samsung. Microsoft has not once said that if a certain threshold was achieved, then they would stand down or pull back. I don’t want to open the debate yet on whether Microsoft needed to do this or not as I will save that for a future column. One of the biggest things Microsoft is trying to say here is that even post-Surface, OEMs are still very interested in Windows RT tablets. So in the blog, Microsoft pointed out with exuberance that in addition to its own Surface, Dell, Lenovo, Samsung, Acer, and Asus will launch ARM-based Windows RT devices. Why did Microsoft do this? It was primarily to pacify investors who were concerned with the potential beginning of a crumbling of Windows as a platform.

    “Acer May Be Upset, But Not That Upset” (UPDATED)

    Acer’s CEO JT Wang has really been coming after Microsoft lately over by making some very caustic comments about Surface. They are veiled threats in a way, almost as if it’s a negotiation in the public forum. Wang is basically saying that Microsoft has no business doing hardware and they should leave it to the OEMs or risk mass defection and big hardware headaches they aren’t ready to take on. He may be right long-term, but OEMs really don’t have a viable option short term other than Android. Android for 4-7” devices may be doing well, but there are still less than 500 Android tablets apps available after a year and a half. Microsoft’s statement in their blog about OEMs leads with ASUS and it’s not just about alphabetical order, either, as ASUS gets their own, special hyperlink to their product, unlike the other OEMs. The blog says, “If you are following Windows RT, perhaps you have taken note of the Asus Tablet 600 (Windows RT) announcement or Microsoft’s own Surface RT™ news.” I love this part. It literally binds ASUS and Surface together as if to say, “Everything’s OK with Acer, really.”  ASUS isn’t Acer but they compete heavily in Asia and Europe.

    “Dell Doing a Work Tablet, Like Lenovo, But with ARM-based Design”

    Only one OEM got a quote in Microsoft’s latest Windows RT blog, and that was Dell. The rumor mill had been swirling for weeks on whether “Microsoft would allow Dell” to make to make a Windows RT tablet. This was a bizarre rumor in that it really wasn’t Microsoft’s decision on who does the first tablets; it was primarily Dell’s and the silicon provider’s choice which then needs to be approved by Microsoft because they are investing resources, too. Sam Burd, Dell’s VP of the PC Product Group says in the blog, “Dell’s tablet for Windows RT is going to take advantage of the capabilities the new ecosystem offers to help customers do more at work and home. We’re excited to be Microsoft’s strategic partner, and look forward to sharing more soon.” Note he leads with “work” and follows with “home”. This is in direct response to Lenovo’s Intel-based business tablet entry last week, which, interestingly enough, was cited in a Windows RT blog. Microsoft also intends this to counter Lenovo’s slides that show Windows RT as a lousy corporate client.

    “Where Are the Web Browsing Battery Life Figures?”

    Like others, I was glad to see the Windows RT battery life figures. The HD playback numbers make sense as video playback is limited to a very small part of the SOC and in some cases can do it without even lighting up the CPU or GPU. The connected standby is also a very impressive number, but I am curious about the variables around it like the type and persistence of the connection. One figure though that was glaringly absent was the lack of a web browsing battery life figure. This one is real important as it is also an indication of how well Metro apps will do as many are based on web technologies. Their absence probably means that the numbers aren’t great or inconsistent and they are still tweaking drivers.

    “Windows RT Does Deliver a Differentiated Experience, Really”

    Microsoft starts their Windows RT blog with a tip of the hat to both Intel and AMD. The industry was surprised when Intel provided OEMs low power silicon with acceptable performance and I think how well AMD’s Trinity does, too. Intel downplayed their achievements on Medfield, too, which makes sense as they lost  mobile credibility on Menlow and Moorestown. Microsoft’s tone in their blog is as if they are saying, “OK, Intel does have competitive silicon that works with the full-featured Windows 8, but there is value in Windows RT, too.”

    And what is Microsoft saying about the incremental value? Essentially, they are parroting exactly what NVIDIA’s CEO Jen-Hsun Huang said months ago, and that it’s about consistency of experience. Microsoft talks about consistency in battery life, graphics, gestures, and even physical characteristics.

    Microsoft may have a point here in that the focus and options are much more dialed in on Windows RT than on Windows 8. For example, because Windows RT cannot install Windows 7 apps, there’s no way that a consumer will install BattleField 3 and have a lousy experience. Also, the touchpad experience on Windows 8 is crucial, and according to the blog, all Windows RT tablets will support the side-swipes and swipe-up/down. Does this mean that you cannot find these features on X86-based Windows 8 tablets? No, but it doesn’t mean all of them will have it either.

    Where is Toshiba?

    One of the biggest missing OEMs from the blog was Toshiba. Toshiba and Texas Instruments both were showing off Windows RT tablets at Computex, but they were nowhere to be found in the Microsoft blog. Shara Tibken at the Wall Street Journal cleared up any ambiguity with her article. Toshiba will not do a Windows RT-based tablet now and place focus on Intel and AMD-based tablets. This does not bode well for TI, who has significantly lagged NVIDIA and Qualcomm on drivers for the Windows RT platform. While I have personally used NVIDIA and Qualcomm-based RT tablets, I haven’t been able to actually try out on based on TI silicon yet, so all I can comment on what I have heard from developers. With TI’s focus primarily on Android, it makes sense they would prioritize that development over Windows, even with the direct help they are receiving from Microsoft. I believe the future of TI-based Window RT devices is in question now, at least for launch.


    Microsoft felt the need to pacify their OEM customers and investors and used this latest blog to do it. They came under attack of late for launching Surface with Windows RT that cast doubt on the future of any other RT tablets being successful. Ironically, with Intel-based Windows 8 tablets being announced as well by Lenovo that look very compelling, Microsoft needed to reiterate why Windows RT is incrementally valuable and different. Will the blog be enough to sway what people think in the ecosystem? I don’t think so, as what people really want to know is how many well-known, high quality Metro-based applications will be available at launch, as this will be the true decider of how well Windows RT will fair, at least in the short term. We should know more tomorrow, August 15, as the doors to the paid Windows 8 store opens up.  As we learned from the Blackberry PlayBook and the webOS-based Touchpad, first impressions do matter and I hope Microsoft has heeded that history.

    The iPad Put A Fork In Personal Computing

    When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad in January 2010, he wondered aloud whether there was room between the smartphone and the notebook for a third category of tablet device like the iPad.

    Everybody uses a laptop and a smartphone. And a question has arisen lately: is there room for a third category of device in the middle? Something that’s between a laptop and a smartphone. And of course we’ve pondered this question for years as well. The bar’s pretty high. In order to really create a new category of devices, those devices are going to have to be far better at doing some key tasks. Better than a laptop. Better than a smartphone.

    Hard though it may be to believe, Western Civilization once had to collectively ask itself a similar question regarding a then radical new form of technology…a fork.

    Before the fork was introduced, Westerners were reliant on the spoon and knife as the only eating utensils. Thus, people would largely eat food with their hands, calling for a common spoon when required. Members of the aristocracy would sometimes be accustomed to manners considered more proper and hold two knives at meals and use them both to cut and transfer food to the mouth, using the spoon for soups and broth.-Wikipedia


    A spoon, a fork and a knife are three different categories of cutlery. A smartphone, a tablet and a notebook are three different categories of computer.

    A fork is its own category because it is far better at doing some key tasks. Better than a spoon. Better than a knife.

    A tablet is its own category because it is far better at doing some key tasks. Better than a smartphone. Better than a notebook.


    When I eat, I have a choice between using a spoon, a fork and a knife. A fork does not replace a knife. But its presence means that I use a knife less often.

    When I compute, I have a choice between using a smartphone, a tablet and a notebook. A tablet does not replace a notebook. But its presence means that I use a notebook less often.


    Sometimes a fork complements a knife. Sometimes a fork is used on its own. But always a fork is used when it is most useful.

    Sometimes a tablet complements a notebook. Sometimes a tablet is used on its own. But always a tablet is used when it is most useful.


    When I eat, I use the utensil that best serves my needs.

    I do not ask silly questions, like whether a spoon is a liquid consumption device and a fork is a solids consumption device. I do not ask whether a knife does “real” work just because it does not, ordinarily, convey food to my mouth. I do not obsess on the exceptionally rare times when I may use my spoon as a fork, my fork as a knife or my knife as a fork. Instead, I simply use the right tool at the right time.

    When I compute, I use the device that best serves my needs.

    I do not ask silly questions, like whether a tablet is a consumption device. I do not ask whether a phone or a tablet does “real” work. I do not obsess on the exceptionally rare times when I may use my phone as a tablet, my tablet as a notebook or my notebook as a tablet. Instead, I simply use the right tool at the right time.


    Each utensil should be employed to do what it does best.

    A fork does not aspire to be a knife. A knife does not aspire to be a fork. And most especially, a fork and a knife do not aspire to be one and the same thing.

    Each device should be employed to do what it does best.

    A tablet should not aspire to be a notebook. A notebook should not aspire to be a tablet. And most especially, a tablet and a notebook should not aspire to be one and the same thing.


    A spork is a hybrid form of cutlery taking the form of a spoon-like shallow scoop with three or four fork tines.

    A spife is a tool where the blade of a knife is used as the handle of the spoon.

    A knork is a hybrid form of cutlery which combines the cutting capability of a knife and the spearing capability of a fork into a single utensil.

    A sporf is a single eating utensil combining the properties of a spoon, fork, and knife. One popular brand is the Splayd.


    What does a spork, a spife, a knork and a sporf have in common?

    Few have ever heard of them. Even fewer have any use for them.

    What does a Surface Tablet, a Windows 8 Tablet and a Windows 8 desktop have in common with a spork, a spife, a knork and a sporf?


    They compromise on everything and excel at nothing. They provide far more features but far fewer benefits. They do many things but they don’t do any things better or even as well.

    They’re not category defining because they’re not far better at doing any key tasks than are the already existing categories.


    Who are those most interested in using combination cutlery like the spork, spife, knork and sporf?

    Specialists, with special needs, like campers, backpackers, fast food restaurants, schools, prisons, the military, plus special tasks like cutting kiwi fruit (spife) and special circumstances like those with only one hand (knork).

    Who are those most interested in using combination devices like the Surface running Windows 8?

    Specialists, like reporters, road warriors, gadget freaks, technological gunslingers, plus those with specialized tasks and special needs. In other words, the kinds of people who regularly read and even comment on tech blogs like this one. But not ordinary folk.

    Just as the spork, spife, knork and sporf are extremely useful to the extremely few, so will the Surface and Windows 8 on tablets be extremely useful. But if you dare dream that any of these will go mainstream and earn a regular place at the table…you can stick a fork in it.

    The Swedish Surface and the Pathetic State of Online Journalism

    ZDnet screen shotYesterday, an obscure–outside Sweden, at least–web retailer, webhallen.com, published a page that purported to give the still unannounced pricing for Microsoft’s Surface tablets. The surface was quoted at a ranged from $1,000 for a minimal ARM version to $2,100 for a loaded x86 model.

    Wpcentral.com was apparently the first to come across this report and run with it. But it was quickly followed by many others, including some of the biggest names in online tech news: ZDnet, InformationWeek, Mashable, Cnet, and many others. Many of the reports, while expressing some doubt about the authenticity of the information, were quick to speculate about a monumental screwup by Microsoft. For example, Cult of Mac went with the headline: “Don’t Worry, Apple! Microsoft Will Kill Its Own Surface Tablet With $1,000 Price Tag.”

    Of course, when someone finally got around to talking to Webhallen, the great scoop turned out to be nothing but a dummy page. When Paul Paliath of Techie Buzz reached a Webhallen spokesperson, the company admitted that it had no idea how the Surface would be priced or even whether it would be carrying the product.

    In the grand scheme of things, this was all a tempest in a teapot. Still, it demonstrates important weaknesses in how news is being reported and disseminated these days. There are several factors that should have given any reporter or editor pause before taking the prices seriously:

    • Online catalog pages are a notoriously unreliable source of information on the availability or pricing of new products. Dummy product pages have an unfortunate way of escaping from staging servers, where they should stay hidden, onto the public web.
    • The information didn’t pass a simple sanity test. Microsoft is not going through all the effort and cost to bring the Surface to market only to price it so high that failure is guaranteed. The reported prices made no sense.
    • It seems unlikely that Webhallen would be first in line to get Surfaces to sell. Microsoft has said that  initial sales would be through its own stores.

    But the pursuit of news on an otherwise slow summer day seems to have overwhelmed many writers’ and editors’ common sense. And this sort of hting, of which this is only a particularly egregious example, undermines the credibility of all online news.

    The much maligned traditional media always had rules about sourcing and verification of information. I started my career at the Associated Press and even though there was tremendous pressure to be first–as great as that on any web site–there was even more pressure to be right. Being late could produce a slap on the wrist; being wrong could end your career. It’s time we on the web worried a bit less about being fast and a lot more about being right.

    Confirmed: The iPad Isn’t Good At What It Isn’t Good At

    What is it about the iPad that moves seemingly rational people to say perfectly ridiculous things?

    The latest example of this foolishness is Matt Asay, writing in The Register, who argues that because there are some enterprise chores that the iPad does not do well or at all, “iPad is RUBBISH for enterprise.” The gist of Asay’s argument goes something like this:

    • Enterprise users depend on heavy-duty apps, especially Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
    • These apps are not available on the iPad.
    • The Apple alternatives, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote are less capable.
    • Therefore, the iPad is unsuited to enterprise use.

    Each of these statements except the last is indisputably true. And that conclusion is completely wrong.

    The problem is the implicit assumption that unless a computing device is well-suited to everything we might ask of any computer, it isn’t suited for anything. This is the sort of thinking–Microsoft is particularly prone to it–that has given us bloated all-purpose devices that can do anything, though often not very well.

    To support his case, Asay quotes a Macworld article (unfortunately, no link was provided): “For the most part, I love writing on my iPad. But I still do so only when my MacBook isn’t around…”

    I would say the same thing, and I would add that I don’t use my MacBook Air when my 27″ iMac or desktop Windows PC is around. The critical thing is that the iPad is always around when I want it; it has the right mix of capability of mobility for a vast variety of jobs, many of them as great utility to the enterprise.

    It is true that putting capable Office programs on tablets gives Windows  slates a potential advantage in the enterprise markets. But, as I have written, the new versions of Office programs, while more touch-capable than their predecessors, still are not very well suited to touch use. It’s not at all clear at this point that a Windows tablet running Excel 2013 will really be very much better for enterprise spreadsheet use than an iMac with Numbers.

    The big problem here, though, is the fallacy that lack of capability at any task the enterprise may demand renders a device useless. Let’s accept–and celebrate–the fact that we are living in a world where we have a choice of devices of varying capabilities and where

    The PC is the Titanic and the Tablet is the Iceberg. Any Questions?

    Most tech pundits are confused about the Tablet computer. They compare the abilities of the PC (traditional notebook and desktop computers) to those of the Tablet and find the Tablet wanting. They can’t understand how the Tablet can be so dog gone popular when it makes for such a terrible PC.

    What they don’t understand is that the tablet isn’t trying to be a PC (unless it’s the Microsoft Surface). Tablet sales are exploding because the Tablet is competing against…nothing. The Tablet is going where the PC is weak and where the PC is absent. There’s virtually nothing standing in the tablet’s way.

    Comparing the PC to the tablet is like comparing the Titanic to the iceberg that sank it. It wasn’t the one-ninth of the iceberg protruding above the waterline that sank the Titanic. It was the eight-ninths of the iceberg that lurked beneath the surface of the waters. Similarly, it isn’t the few overlapping tasks that the PC and the Tablet can both do well that matters most. It is the tasks that the Tablet excels at – and which the PC does poorly or not at all – that will ultimately reduce the PC to niche status and turn the Tablet into the preeminent computing device of our time.

    The PC and the Tablet – like the Titanic and the tip of that fateful iceberg – do compete on rare occasions. Companies like SAP and IBM have ordered tens of thousands of Tablets and some of those Tablets have replaced traditional PCs, especially in those instance where the PC was overkill for the task it was originally assigned to do.

    But let’s be real. The PC is a better PC than the tablet is, or ever will be. The number of Tablets that will directly replace PCs will never amount to great numbers. Accordingly, we should no more fear the Tablet replacing the PC than the lookouts on the Titantic should have feared the the damage that could have been caused by protruding tip of the Iceberg. They knew, and we should know, that that’s not where the real danger lies.

    There are millions upon millions of Tablets that are supplementing, rather than replacing, the PC. These Tablets are being used by Lawyers and Financiers, by CEOs and Presenters, by Presidents and Prime Ministers, by Queens and by Parliaments. The Tablet frees the owner from the constraints of their PCs. They can use the PC when they are at their desks and use the tablet to take their data with them wherever they may go.

    These tablets will not sink the PC because they complement the PC. However, they may well extend the life of the PC, thus slowing the PC’s upgrade – and sales – cycles.

    The bulk of the iceberg that destroyed the Titanic lay beneath the surface of the waters, beneath the vision of the lookouts, beneath the ship’s waterline. Similarly, the bulk of the tasks that the Tablet excels at, lies beneath the PC’s level of awareness, beneath the PC’s contemptuous gaze, beneath the PC’s areas of expertise and far, far below it’s area of competence. The PC will not lose in a fair fight, anymore than the Titanic lost in a fair fight. Instead, the Tablet will hit the PC where the PC is weakest – below it’s metaphorical “waterline”.


    Tablets excel at working while you are standing. Tasks done by matre d’s, inventory takers, tour guides, concierges, face-to-face service providers and order takers of every kind, benefit from the use of the tablet.

    Can the PC adequately compete with the tablet as a stand-while-you-work device? No, it cannot.


    Tablets excel at working when one has to move and stop and move yet again. Car Dealerships, like Mercedes Benz, are giving tablets to their salespeople. European doctors are rapidly taking to the tablet. Service Technicians at Siemens Energy are using tablets while servicing power installations. Scientists are using tablets during field research. Nurses, Realtors, Journalists, Park Rangers, Medical Technicians…the list of users and uses is nearly endless.

    Can the PC adequately compete with the tablet as a work-and-move, and work-and-move-aagin, device? No, it cannot.

    • SALES:

    If you’re in Sales, you’re into Tablets. Whether you’re traveling or standing or presenting or taking an order and acquiring a signature – Tablets are a salesperson’s best friend.

    Salesforce purchased 1,300 tablets and Boston Scientific purchased 4,500 tablet for their respective sales forces. And just this week, NBA Star, Deron Williams, signed a $98 million dollar contract…on a tablet.

    Can the PC adequately compete with the tablet as a sales computing assistant? No, it cannot.

    • KIOSKS:

    While the PC makes for a terrible Kiosk, the tablet is almost ideally suited to the task. Tablets as Kiosks are making their presence known in places as diverse as malls, taxi cabs, hospitals, the Louisiana Department of Motor Vehicles, and the FastPass lanes at Disney World.

    In the coming years there will be millions of Kiosks converted to Tablets and millions more in new Kiosks created from Tablets.

    Can the PC adequately compete with the Tablet as a Kiosk? No, it cannot.


    Today there are millions upon millions of antiquated PCs being used as some form of cash register or point of sale device. Let me put this as diplomatically as I can – they suck.

    They’re going to be replaced by Tablets, almost overnight. And tens of millions of new Tablets are going to be used as cash registers and point of sale devices in all sorts of new and unexpected places.

    Can the PC adequately compete with the tablet as a Cash Register? No it cannot.


    I’ve been hearing about the “paperless office” since the 1970’s. Yet every year, the PC generates ever more, not less, paper. But that was yesterday. Today the Tablet may finally be able to fulfill the promise that the PC so carelessly made – and broke – those many years ago.

    Airlines such as United and Alaska are replacing their in-flight maps with Tablets. The United States Air Force is replacing their manuals with Tablets.

    Construction companies are replacing their on-site blueprints with Tablets.

    Governmental bodies of every shape and size are reducing paperwork through the use of Tablets. City councils and municipalities have jumped on the bandwagon. The Polish Parliament and the Dutch Senate have substituted Tablets for paper printouts of the documents read by their members. The British Parliament just replaced 650 of their computers with Tablets. And the President of the United States and the Queen and Prime Minister of England have all used Tablets in their briefings.

    Twelve NFL teams, including the Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens have replaced their paper playbooks with tablets. In Major League Baseball, the Cincinatti Reds have done the same. And at Ohio State, all the athletic programs are replacing their playbooks with tablets. Can there be any doubt that this trend will extend ever outward and ever downward to every professional team, every college team, every high school team and even, eventually, perhaps to amateur sports teams?

    Can the PC adequately compete with the tablet as a paper replacement? No it cannot.

    • LOANERS:

    Tablets are starting to show up as “loaners” that are lent out as entertainment devices. They’re being purchased by libraries. Airplanes run by Singapore Airlines and Qantas use them as in-flight entertainment devices. Airports like New York’s LaGuardia, Minneapolis-St. Paul International and Toronto Pearson International, lend them out to waiting passengers. The Tablet is ideally suited for the task. It is light, it is portable, it is versatile, it displays content beautifully and it is sublimely easy to use.

    Can the PC adequately compete with the tablet as a Loaner? No, it cannot.


    PCs in schools are mostly relegated to teachers and computer labs. Tablets live in the classroom and they reside in the hands of the students. No one wants to learn HOW to use computers anymore. Students simply want to use computers to help them learn.

    The Tablet is starting to take educational institutions by storm. It acts as an electronic blackboard, as a digital textbook and as an interactive textbook.

    It’s at the K-12 level (the San Diego School district just ordered 26,000) and at the Universities (Adams Center for Teaching and Learning at Abilene Christian University, George Fox University, North Carolina State University in Raleigh). Tablets are even finding their way into the top-tier high schools in China.

    Some schools have even reported a 10% improvement in the exam scores of students who use Tablets in lieu or paper books.

    Can the PC adequately compete with the tablet in education? No, it cannot.

    • NEW USERS:

    The tablet excels at creating new computer users. This might seem a bit controversial, but it shouldn’t be. Just think of anyone who says that they hate computers – they’re a candidate for a Tablet. Just think of anyone who is too young or too old or too infirm or too disabled to use a PC – someone like a 3 year old or a 93 year old or a recovering cancer patient or an autistic child or someone with learning disabilities. They’re all perfect candidates for the Tablet. The tablet will create a whole new class of computer users – people who have never used a computer before.

    Can the PC adequately compete with the tablet as no-fuss, no-muss computing device? No it cannot.

    • NEW USES:

    What makes the Tablet so very exciting is that we haven’t even begun to touch on it’s full potential yet. With desktops, we were desk bound. With notebooks, we were surface bound. The Tablet allows us to do new tasks in new places and in new ways.

    And it’s virtually impossible to say what these tasks will be. We’re limited by our experience and the scope of our imaginations. Tablets are going to be used in ways that we haven’t even begun to think of yet.


    Can the PC compete with the Tablet while standing, while moving, in sales, as Kiosks, as Point of Sale devices, as paper replacers, as loaners, in education, with wholly new users in wholly new uses? No, it cannot.

    It is in these areas – the areas that are below the PC’s level of competence, below the PC’s level of contempt – that the Tablet will establish its empire. And there is simply nothing that the PC can do to stop it.

    Like Captain Edward Smith of the Titanic, the Captains of Dell, HP, Google, Microsoft and many other computing companies, have failed to adequately grasp the true significance of the danger they are facing. They looked at the Tablet and thought: “What the hey, I can avoid that dinky little tablet floating there on top of the waters. It’s no bigger than an ice cube! It’s no threat to me and my business at all!” But what they forgot, is that most of the tablet’s strength lies hidden beneath the optimal level of the PC, i.e., beneath the PC’s “water line”. THAT is where the real danger to the PC lies.


    So, what should all of this be telling us?

    Is the PC really the Titanic?

    Sure, why not. The PC may sink beneath the waves like the Titanic did…but it will leave hundreds of very large “life boats” in it wake. Anywhere that the PC is weak and the Tablet is strong, the PC will cease to exist. And that’s a LOT of places. But the PC will continue to exist – just in a much diminished state.

    It is not so much that the PC market will grow smaller (which it will) that matters. It’s much more a matter of the Tablet market growing larger. Much, much larger. Soon the ships that are the PC will be floating atop a sea of Tablets. And what was once a “Titanic” PC industry, will merely be just one component of a much larger, and much more diversified, personal computing industry.

    Is the Tablet Really an Iceberg?

    Sure, let’s go with that. The important thing to note is that the portion of the Tablet market that everyone is focused on – the portion directly challenging the PC – that portion is, by far, the smallest and the least dangerous portion of the Tablet market.

    Tablets will not so much reduce the number of PCs we use as they will simply outgrow the total number of PCs in use. Tablets are additive. They will replace a few PCs but mostly they will replace millions upon millions of tasks that never before were done with the assistance of computers. While everyone is bemoaning the fact that PC sales are flat or diminishing, the reality is that the actual sales of personal computers are currently exploding. True, the PC market is shrinking. But mostly, the Tablet market is growing, and it is growing so fast that it will soon overtake the PC market.

    Like the iceberg, it is the rest of the Tablet market – the part that has not yet been fully discovered – that will overwhelm the PC. There will be far more Tablets than PCs simply because there are far more tasks that the Tablet can do, and do well, than tasks that the PC can do, and do well.

    This is a novel concept for most. We tend to think of computing only in terms of the tasks that the PC is capable of doing today. We define those tasks that computers are currently doing as the only tasks that could possibly require a computer.

    But the number of tasks being done WITHOUT the assistance of a computer dwarfs those that are currently being done WITH the assistance of a computer. And while the PC has pretty much maxed out the number of tasks that it can do, the limits to the number of tasks that the Tablet can do are undefined – and nearly endless.

    Microsoft to Apple: “Not On Our Watch”

    “Declaring that Microsoft and its partners had in the past “ceded some of the boundary between hardware and software innovation” to Apple, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told CRN on Monday that the company’s Surface tablet marks a new era in which the computer software giant will leave no “stone unturned” in its innovation battle against Apple.

    “We are trying to make absolutely clear we are not going to leave any space uncovered to Apple,” said an exuberant Ballmer in a 30-minute interview after addressing some 16,000 partners at the company’s annual Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto. “We are not. No space uncovered that is Apple’s.

    “But we are not going to let any piece of this [go uncontested to Apple],” shouted Ballmer. “Not the consumer cloud. Not hardware software innovation. We are not leaving any of that to Apple by itself. Not going to happen. Not on our watch.”

    Photo of Steve BallmerWho’s On Watch and Exactly What are They Watching?

    Now if one were a cynic, one might well ask Ballmer: “If Microsoft is not ceding anything to Apple on your watch, then who exactly has been on watch for the past dozen years?” But let’s not go there.

    Instead, let’s focus on the rest of Ballmer’s statement because, in my opinion, it epitomizes exactly why Microsoft has been struggling of late.

    Eyes Not On The Prize

    Do you think, for even one-second, that the executives at Apple ever sit around and talk about not leaving “any space uncovered to Microsoft?” Of course not. That would be counter-productive. Apple spends its time implementing its strategy and doing what it does best, not “covering” what its competitors do best.

    Chasing, Not Leading

    Trying to “cover” what Apple is doing is not new behavior for Microsoft. Over the past ten years, Microsoft has followed the same strategy of not leaving anything Apple does uncovered by attacking the iPod with the Zune, attacking the iPhone with Windows Phone 7 and now, attacking the iPad with the Surface. The results, so far, have not been encouraging. The Zune was officially discontinued this year. Come to think of it, Windows Phone 7 was officially discontinued this year too. That only leaves the Surface and, while it may hit the ground running in October, it’s already ceded a two and a half year lead to Apple’s iPad. And that’s too long.

    Play to Your Strengths, Not to the Strengths of Your Competitors

    The problem, as I see it, is that while Apple is forging ahead on the path that they’ve mapped out for themselves, Microsoft is following Apple around and playing catch up. Instead of acting on their strengths, they’re reacting to their weaknesses.

    Further, instead of creating new and innovative devices of their own, Microsoft is playing a game of one-up. They see what Apple has done, they study it, they come up with a differentiated product – perhaps even an arguably better product, and then–two years later–they bring their one-up product to market and declare themselves the victor. Only thing is, by the time they bring their product to market, Apple and the market have already moved on.

    Microsoft needs to stop trying to one-up the competition. Apple didn’t one-up the competition with the iPod–they re-invented the MP3 market. Apple didn’t one-up the competition with the iPhone–they re-invented pocketable computing. Apple didn’t one-up the competition with the iPad–they created a whole new category of computing.

    A Word of Advice

    Microsoft, a word of advice: If you’re so insistent on doing Apple one better, maybe Apple’s attitude toward their competition is just the kind of strategic advantage that you should be adopting and improving upon. Stop worrying about what Apple is doing on your watch. In fact, stop watching Apple altogether. It seems to me that you’ve been watching Apple far too long and far too much already.


    • Stop focusing on doing the competition one better and focus, instead, on doing what you do best.
    • Stop focusing on not leaving anything uncontested and focus, instead, on only entering those contests that you’re best suited for.
    • Stop focusing on what you’re going to do TO the competition and start focusing, instead, on what you’re going to do FOR us, your customers.
    • Stop chasing the competition and, instead, start chasing your dreams.

    Why is Microsoft’s Surface obsessed with Keyboards?


    On June 18, 2012, Microsoft announced it’s new Surface Tablet. There are many questions swirling around the Surface, but one the more subtle, yet more important, questions is why Microsoft is so obsessed with the Surface’s add-on Keyboard.

    Microsoft devoted a large portion of their Surface keynote to the keyboard. The word “keyboard” was used dozens of times during the 45 minute presentation. Further, the Surface is never depicted without the keyboard and, in fact, the keyboard is always prominently highlighted whenever the Surface is displayed.

    The emphasis on the add-on keyboard did not escape the attention of the press either. Some sample headlines tell the tale:

    – Microsoft’s Surface: when the keyboard is key
    – Microsoft Surface Keyboard Is Here
    – Microsoft Surface Takes On iPad With Secret Weapon: The Keyboard
    – Microsoft’s Surface Tablet Brings The Keyboard Back
    – Microsoft takes on tablets with keyboard-equipped Surface
    – Microsoft’s Surface tablet: The keyboard is the key


    As if all that wasn’t enough, Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, recently had this to say about computers in the classroom:

    Just giving people devices has a really horrible track record. You really have to change the curriculum and the teacher. And it’s never going to work on a device where you don’t have a keyboard-type input. Students aren’t there just to read things. They’re actually supposed to be able to write and communicate. And so it’s going to be more in the PC realm—it’s going to be a low-cost PC that lets them be highly interactive. – Bill Gates

    (Emphasis Added)

    Dear Microsoft, Steve Balmer and Bill Gates: What is up with your obsession with keyboards?


    First of all, let me say that I’m a touch typist and I simply love my notebook’s physical keyboard. Adore it. I even named my first child, Qwerty, after a keyboard. (She still hasn’t forgiven me.) But do I think that keyboards are essential for computing? Heck no. Let’s not get carried away.

    Do you remember (seems like only yesterday – because it WAS only yesterday) when the only way to text on a phone was to use the numeric keypad? The number “1” meant “a”, and pushing the “1” twice meant “b”, and so on and so forth? Painfully tedious.

    Yet I saw kids typing faster on their phone’s numeric keypads than I could type on my computer’s keyboard. And if you don’t think that kids can type faster on a virtual tablet keyboard than most adults can type on a physical keyboard, it’s only because you aren’t paying attention.

    Keyboards are a nicety, not a necessity. If you own a tablet and you find that you need to type faster, you switch to an attachable keyboard – you don’t switch to an entirely new operating system.


    All of this “keyboards are essential” talk has a familiar ring to it. Let’s see, now where have I heard it before?

    Oh yeah, it was in 2007 when the iPhone was introduced. The iPhone didn’t have a physical keyboard either. Let’s step into the Wayback machine and see what tech luminaries have had to say over the years about the iPhone’s lack of a keyboard.


    First up, Research in Motion (RIM) co-founders Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis

    “As nice as the Apple iPhone is, it poses a real challenge to its users. Try typing a web key on a touchscreen on an Apple iPhone, that’s a real challenge. You cannot see what you type”
    Jim Balsillie, Co-CEO, Research in Motion, 7 November 2007

    “Not everyone can type on a piece of glass. Every laptop and virtually every other phone has a tactile keyboard. I think our design gives us an advantage.” – Mike Lazaridis, Co-CEO, Research In Motion, 4 June 2008

    Say, how’s that whole keyboard advantage thing working out for you fellas, anyways? What’s that you say? The keyboard’s gone. And you’re gone. And what’s happening to RIM is a dog gone shame?


    Well, surely Android got it right with the Droid. Let’s take a look at one of their earliest commercials:

    iDon’t have a real keyboard.
    iDon’t run simultaneous apps.
    iDon’t take 5-megapixel pictures.
    iDon’t allow open development.
    iDon’t customize.
    iDon’t run widgets.
    iDon’t have interchangeable batteries.
    Everything iDon’t…Droid does.

    Verizon, 18 October 2009

    And how many prominently promoted Droid devices are still sold with keyboards? (crickets) Hmm, maybe iDon’t need a “real” keyboard on my phone after all.


    But, of course, I’ve saved the very best for last:

    “$500 fully subsidized with a plan! I said that is the most expensive phone in the world and it doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard, which makes it not a very good email machine …. I like our strategy. I like it a lot….” – Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, 17 January 2007

    Now, is that the very same Steve Ballmer who just introduced us to the Surface…with an attachable keyboard? Not to rub it in, Mr. Ballmer, but your strategy of relying upon the importance of a physical keyboard was wrong…and not just a little.

    This week marks the fifth anniversary of the iPhone. The iPhone now generates nearly $25 billion in revenue per quarter or over $100 billion per year. And – are you ready for this – the iPhone, all by itself, is bigger than ALL of Microsoft. That’s right, one single product, that didn’t exist five years ago, is now bigger than Microsoft…

    …and it doesn’t even have a keyboard.


    To be fair, Microsoft’s obsession with keyboards may merely be a single symptom in an even larger problem. The Surface is, perhaps, a bit too aptly named. With a keyboard and a kickstand and an upturned rear-facing camera, it’s very clear that Microsoft intends the Surface to work best of all on…well…on a suface. A flat surface, to be precise

    But tablets want to be held, not held down. Tablets want to be touched, tablets want to be moved, tablets want to be “free”.


    Microsoft, in 2007 you thought that keyboards were essential. Here it is, 2012, and you appear to be making the very same mistake all over again. A word of advice. A keyboard is a peripheral device, not the principal device. Focus on what matters or soon nothing else will matter at all.

    Surface vs. UltraBooks

    Last week I pointed out the competitive dilemma for OEMs when it comes to Surface. A key point in my mind is how tablets are becoming the next generation computers for the mass market. What I pointed out in my column about notebooks becoming history is that the notebook will remain relevant but it will do so for only a segment of the market rather than the market as a whole, which has historically been the case.

    When we started doing consumer research with the late adopters (anyone not an early adopter) we started realizing that for a large majority of consumers a notebook was overkill with respect to what they did with the product on a daily basis. We discovered that many consumers purchased notebooks due to their convenience around portability more than anything else. It is this fundamental point which leads me to be convinced of the tablet form factor. This is also why the tablet + desktop solution becomes even more interesting.

    Further Reading: Notebooks are the Past, Tablets are the Future

    With that context in mind, I am beginning to wonder if Microsoft launching their own line of tablets hurts the OEMs in a much more important area than just competing with them –namely with their notebook products. If this industry is headed in the direction I think then more interest may be given to Surface like products, by the masses, than notebooks in 2013 particularly. I am wondering if by launching Surface Microsoft has not just potentially hurt interest in their partners notebooks over the short term.

    If what we write here on our site as well as feedback I have received from many media outlets is an indication of market interest, then what I am proposing would be on track. Our content on tablets and recently Surface far exceeds the amount of reads than we write about notebooks and UltraBooks in particular. I have heard similar things from other media that tablet content does better than notebook content in terms of interest.

    Intel is trying to inject life into the notebook category with their UltraBook campaign and Microsoft has just injected life into tablets built for Windows 8. Surface’s form factor is different enough from what most consumers are used to with a notebook that I believe there will be serious consideration for it by anyone who is in the market for Windows notebook. Time will tell how many will buy surface but I believe it matches up with enough trends we are seeing to at least generate interest.

    However, if there is enough interest, Surface may very well impact notebook sales for Microsoft partners which will hurt OEMs more in the short term than Microsoft competing with them in a segment. In this case Surface is more disruptive to OEMs notebook strategy than their tablet strategy.

    Of course another scenario could be that Surface plays the spoiler for both Win 8 tablets and Windows notebook. It may be that the wide array of differences in the Windows 8 ecosystem may be confusing for customers who then turn and consider the Apple ecosystem. In fact 2013 will be a very interesting year because the feedback we are getting from both tablet and notebook intenders will heavily evaluate both ecosystems before making a decision. Consumers will choose with their wallet and perhaps more importantly with their loyalty and it will make 2013 and fascinating year.

    Microsoft Surface and the OEM Dilemma

    On Tuesday Patrick pointed out that the dynamic between OEMs and Microsoft may be forever changed. The primary reason for this being that Microsoft has signaled intent to compete directly with their partners in the tablet PC arena. What I want to examine in this article are the major points of concern from an OEM (Microsoft partner and original equipment manufacturer) perspective.

    The Microsoft partner dynamic is one that has historically been based on trust. The company providing the main software layer, in this case Microsoft with Windows, needs to be closely working with the company making the hardware which will run said software, in order to assure some level of quality assurance and user experience. Of course this has not always been done well but it is none the less the goal. Because of this reality both Microsoft and hardware partners need to be in communication very early in the hardware process.

    In many cases OEMs share specific details of their hardware roadmap with Microsoft. If Microsoft intends to be a competitor then any hardware OEM will have to think twice about how much roadmap and hardware detail around tablets they share with Microsoft. In this scenario there is a significant risk that the software and hardware are not tightly integrated (and it should now be obvious how important that is) thus resulting in poor user experience and a poor reflection in the market for all companies involved.

    Tablets are the Future
    Many of the authors in our forum here at Tech.pinions are proponents of the critical role that tablets play in the future of computing. This is an incredibly important category and arguably more important to the future of computing than the notebook category. With that in mind, and depending on your opinion on the matter, Microsoft is getting into the game in one of the most important segments going forward.

    I can entirely see Microsoft’s reasoning for this move and honestly, based on my convictions on where this industry is going, if I worked at Microsoft I would heavily advocate this direction . They simply can not afford to sit back and watch the iPad completely destroy any competing tablet. Microsoft is a platform company and is responsible for an ecosystem. Every customer that enters Apple’s ecosystem, whether that entry point is an iPad, iPhone, Mac, etc., is potentially a customer who will not be leaving Apple’s ecosystem any time soon–if ever.

    In reality, Microsoft partners are likely to be more focused on notebooks in the short term than tablets. Which means there is a possibility that Windows 8 would have lost more time in the tablet space. So it makes sense that Microsoft felt the need to make sure a compelling product was available at launch. However, the tablet segment is one that OEM’s need to focus more on, perhaps more than notebooks, and can not afford to not have a compelling play themselves. My concern if I am an OEM is that Microsoft intends to compete with me in one of the most important categories going forward.

    The challenge will whether or not Microsoft can walk a line that few have tried. In this case be vertical in a segment but also be open in the same segment and others.

    Lastly, and this point could prove the most costly for the Windows ecosystem. Microsoft will have Surface, other brands will have what? Slates? Tablets? or perhaps some other new name they come up. So if I am a customer shopping for a Windows 8 based tablet, I need to learn, study, then decide between Surface, Slates, Tablets, or any other number of names and tablet brands. All with different looks, feels, ports, CPUs, versions of an OS, keyboard accessories, general accessories, capabilities, etc.

    Contrast that with Apple. If I want a tablet in Apple’s ecosystem, right now my options are the iPad (2 or current). Yes with minor different configurations but my point is the brand. The iPad is Apple’s tablet, now choose which iPad you want. The environment around Windows 8 tablets is going to be much more confusing.

    The tablet sector is one that is maturing. Consumers, who have not yet owned a tablet, are interested in what a tablet means to them and how it fits in their life. I would argue that right now consumers don’t know what they want in a tablet. Therefore if they are presented with too many choices which confuse and frustrate them how can they feel comfortable making an informed opinion. Take USB for example. A consumer looks at this option and says I have USB in my notebook. Why do I need it in my tablet. Maybe they do and maybe they don’t but having not owned a tablet yet how do they know? This is one small observation of the overall consumer adoption cycle and how it works. This is also generally why a market like this favors the market leader and in this case the iPad. Once a market segments the door opens for specific feature differentiation. The market for tablets has not yet segmented.

    I firmly believe that any platform or ecosystem that offers confusing choice to consumers around tablets is going to have an uphill battle.

    Of course one possible way Microsoft can maneuver in light of everything I have pointed out is to let Surface be a general brand and product strategy that others OEMs can participate in. I suggested this on Tuesday when I stated that Microsoft should let other OEMs participate in the Surface program. Time will tell what path they take.

    Regardless one last point on hardware needs to made with respect to open platforms like Windows, Android, etc. Hardware only exists as a gateway to a software and service ecosystem. Thus a platform like Windows creates platform loyalty but it does not create hardware loyalty. Therefore, those who compete only in hardware will have to do so with every upgrade cycle. This means for Microsoft its a win-win for their platform either with their hardware or others. If this plays out how I think it might, I can’t say it’s a win-win for OEMs.

    The Apple iPad Tablet vs. the Microsoft Surface Anti-Tablet

    Last night, Microsoft introduced us to the their Microsoft branded Surface Tablet. Never have we seen such a clear line of demarcation between Apple’s and Microsoft’s visions of what a tablet should be. And at the end of the day, it is those differences in outlook that will determine the fate of each company’s respective tablet offerings.

    Historical Background

    For ten long years Microsoft tried to get us to use their desktop operating system on a tablet device. What we really wanted, they told us, was the brain of a desktop in the body of a tablet. Didn’t work.

    In 2007, Apple introduced us to the first modern tablet to use touch – and only touch – as the user input. They called it the iPhone. Three years later, Apple introduced us to the iPad, and while the tech world sat on its collective hands, Apple proved that size really does matter – at least when it come to tablets.

    Microsoft’s Tablet Vision

    Now here we are just over two years later and what is Microsoft telling us with the introduction of the Surface Tablet? They’re telling us that what we really want is a keyboard so that our tablet can be used more like a notebook computer. What we really want is a pen so that our tablet can be used like a PDA. What we really want is a kickstand so that our tablet can stand more like a notebook computer. What we really want is a trackpad so our tablet can BE a notebook computer. (A trackpad on a tablet computer? Really? Just think about how redundant that is.)

    The Microsoft Surface is not a touch tablet, it’s the ANTI-touch tablet. While Apple is doing everything in its power to embrace touch on the tablet, Microsoft is doing everything in its power to negate the influence of touch on the tablet. Microsoft is saying: “Sure, touch is nice, in a pinch, but what you really wanted all along is a tablet that runs like a notebook.” With the Surface, Microsoft has come full circle, back to where their tablet efforts began. But they’ve added a twist. Not only did they put the brain of a notebook in the body of a tablet but they made the tablet look and act like a notebook too.

    The Lure of Everything and the Best of Both Worlds

    “But wait,” you say. “Microsoft is not giving us the anti-tablet. They’re giving us a tablet AND a notebook. They’re giving us both. They’re giving us the best of both worlds.”

    It’s a compelling argument. Why not do both? Why not have both a desktop and a touch OS on a tablet? Why not add a pen? Why not add a keyboard? Choice is good. Why not let the customer choose to use the device the way they see fit? Why not have it all?

    Before we answer that question, ask yourself this one: Do you think for even one second that Apple – who had a two year head start on Microsoft – could not have added a kickstand, added an integrated pen or added an integrated keyboard to the iPad? Apple did not neglect to do those things…they CHOSE not to do those things. Why?

    Focus and Simplicity.

    “That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”-Steve Jobs

    One of Steve Jobs’ greatest talents was as an editor, selecting what not to include in a product. Think of all the products that have way too many features. Now think about the iPod. The iPhone. The iPad.

    “…the result of that focus is going to be some really great products where the total is much greater than the sum of the parts.”-Steve Jobs

    Every iPod killer, iPhone killer and iPad killer had one thing in common – they all had more features than did their Apple counterparts. Yet they all had less success. How could this be? Simply put, simplicity may be the greatest feature of all.

    “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”-Steve Jobs quoting Leonardo da Vinci

    Apple realized – long before anyone else did – that touch was the key to tablet computing. Styluses and keyboards are useful, but they pull the tablet away from its essence. They’re to be used, if required, to supplement, not sustain, the tablet.

    “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas…”-Steve Jobs

    Diverging Philosophies

    Now, more than ever, we can see how differently Apple and Microsoft view tablets. Apple thinks less is more. Microsoft thinks more is more. Apple thinks “both” is the enemy of focus. Microsoft thinks “both” is the best of all worlds. Apple thinks that simplicity is the key to everything. Microsoft thinks that having everything is the key to success.

    Apple’s philosophy is clear. The iPad is a touch device. It excels at doing the things that tablets are excellent at doing. If you want the benefits of a computer, buy a computer. Preferably one of ours.

    “…we have a vision for the tablet. It’s a tablet that works and plays the way you want to. A tablet that’s a great PC. A PC that’s a great tablet. Surface.”-Steven Sinofsky, introducing the Windows Surface Tablet

    Microsoft’s philosophy is also clear. The tablet is a PC. The PC is a tablet. If you want a PC that functions as a tablet, buy the Surface. If you want a tablet that functions as a PC, buy a Surface. Heck, we’ll make this easy for you to understand: Buy a Surface.

    There Can Be Only One

    To paraphrase that great philosopher, Sesame Street:

    One of these things is not like the other,
    One of these things just doesn’t belong,
    Can you tell which of these won’t work like the others
    Which is right and which is wrong?

    Was Steve Jobs and Apple right about the what’s important in a tablet or will Steve Balmer and Microsoft’s vision prove to be the more perceptive of the two?

    I’ll tell you this much – we’re about to find out.