Perhaps you’ve heard that we’re in the “post-PC era” now. Thanks to the advent of Apple’s iPhone and iPad, coupled with innovations from younger challengers like Google and Amazon, we face a brave new world where PCs are obsolete.
Well, not quite. You can stop imagining The Matrix and Minority Report, or thinking about Skynet or the singularity. We’re still quite far from any such dystopian future (although self-thinking quadrocoptors armed with weapons and capable of working in harmony together do make you wonder).
The “post-PC era” is dependent on how you define a “PC” in the first place. If you mean a box that sits under your desk built on Intel hardware and running the Microsoft Windows operating system, then I can see how you can make a case that we’re moving beyond that era. However, if you define a “PC” as a “personal computer”, then Macs, Chromebooks, smartphones, and tablets are all still PCs.
I recently explained, “There is an evolution taking place. It’s not “post-PC’ really, any more than a Prius is a “post-combustion” vehicle. As feature phones have evolved into smartphones, and tablets of all sizes have sprung up seemingly out of nowhere, there’s a lot of hype about their impact on the PC market, and how the tablet market is cannibalizing or killing the PC market.”
In that post, I noted that TechCrunch lists Google, Amazon, Samsung, Apple, and Microsoft as the companies racing to dominate the “post-PC era”. I narrowed the list down to just Microsoft and Apple, because they’re the only two who have the “PC-era” element, so they’re the two companies in a position to merge PCs and “post-PCs” together.
It’s Microsoft’s game to lose, though. Microsoft has a virtual monopoly of the desktop OS market–the “PC era”. Microsoft owns a dominant chunk of the productivity software market with Microsoft Office. And, Microsoft has a massive stake in providing the servers, and backend infrastructure (Exchange, SharePoint, Lync) that all of these “post-PC era” devices need to connect to. To top it all off, Microsoft has its own smartphone OS, its own ARM-based mobile device OS, and it has Windows 8 which blurs the line and delivers “PC” and “post-PC” in a single machine.
Microsoft has all of the elements it needs to engineer the evolution from PC to post-PC. Of course, there are alternatives out there for everything Microsoft does. There are other desktop and server operating systems, other office productivity suites, and competing backend and cloud-based services, and–when it comes to smartphones and tablets–Microsoft is late to the game and playing catchup with Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android platforms.
It’s Microsoft’s game to lose. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to predict which way the future will take us. Microsoft seems to make major strategic errors and marketing blunders on a regular basis. Of course, people have been slamming Microsoft and writing its obituary for years-decades, really–and Microsoft is still on top of most markets it competes in.
The question Microsoft needs to answer comes down to this: “Which is the greater risk?”
As rumors that Microsoft is working on Office for iPad apps continue to circulate, there is a growing debate about whether that makes sense for Microsoft, or if it will just be shooting itself in the foot.
Does Microsoft risk more by possibly eroding the reliance on Windows or Surface tablets by making Office available on other platforms, or is it a greater risk to potentially lose market share and relevance for Microsoft Office by limiting it to only Windows.
In my opinion, the latter. Businesses rely on Microsoft Office, and they will continue to do so if possible. However, Microsoft can’t ignore the fact that iOS and Android dominate the mobile ecosystem right now, and that businesses and consumers use smartphones and tablets as primary computing devices.
Microsoft Office might compel some to choose a Windows system over an alternative platform or device, but it’s not that attractive of a “carrot”. Windows has a virtual monopoly of the desktop OS market, and that isn’t likely to change dramatically any time soon. What is changing is the role and relevance of the desktop OS. The reality is that Microsoft will never have the same dominance of the mobile market, and it has a vested interested in ensuring that businesses and consumers remain loyal to Microsoft Office and the Microsoft server backend products (like Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync)–and that means providing Microsoft Office for all possible platforms.
When history looks back on the evolution of Windows, there are a few versions that will stand out as abject failures: Windows Me, and Windows Vista topping that list. It’s possible Windows 8 might be on that list, but not for the same reasons.
Windows 8 is a solid operating system. It doesn’t have the flaws, lack of support, or other relative dysfunction that plagued the launch of Windows Vista. Still, the reception for Windows 8 thus far has been tepid. After nearly four months on the market–part of which was a holiday shopping season–Windows 8 has captured only about two percent of the OS market, seemingly eons from overtaking Windows 7 (44.48 percent) or even the archaic Windows XP (39.51 percent). It hasn’t even reach half of the Windows Vista market share (5.24 percent).
It’s still early. Windows 8 will soon surpass Windows Vista, and eventually even overtake Windows XP. However, it may never pass Windows 7. The problem is timing. Windows 7 is a phenomenal operating system and its still gaining momentum. Businesses have either just switched, or are already in the process of migrating to Windows 7. Windows 8–regardless of what businesses or consumers think of the dramatic overhaul of the OS interface–is simply too new, and too soon following Windows 7.
Hopefully, Microsoft knew that going in, and planned for it. Windows 8 gives Microsoft a chance to introduce the revamped operating system, and move toward a converged desktop / mobile platform, and allows it to work out the kinks and make improvements for Windows 9…just in time for large corporations to be ready to refresh their Windows 7 systems.
Stop the presses! Contact the media! My new digital frame concept is sold out.
Well, no. Nobody has actually bought one. In fact, I haven’t even produced a real one yet. But, should that stop me from claiming they’re sold out?
Any rational person would say, “Yes”. But, what if I produce ten of them and sell out in the first hour–should we all be impressed then? How about a hundred? A thousand?
See, that’s the problem with the hype around “selling out” like Microsoft did with the Surface Pro on launch day. If the vendor–in this case Microsoft–doesn’t release actual sales figures to frame what “sold out” means, it’s more or less meaningless.
We have no idea how many actual Surface Pro tablets Microsoft and its retail partners sold this past weekend. All we know is that the demand was apparently there for more of them, but there were no more available. The question is: “Does that mean that the Microsoft tablet was a smashing success, or does it just mean that Microsoft had very little supply available–possibly on purpose to create an illusion of demand?”
Check out this post that digs a bit more into the marketing logic that ensures products are “sold out”: Selling out on launch day isn’t exciting, it’s expected.
Did you watch the Super Bowl this year? If so, you’re in good company. Nearly 110 million people watched the big game this year–the third most watched event ever.
Advertisers know that the Super Bowl has a massive viewing audience, which is why they’re willing to pay $3.8 million to air a 30-second commercial during the game. The Super Bowl commercials are an event unto themselves, and probably attract a fair number of viewers who could really care less about the football game itself.
With each passing year, social networks play a more prominent role in TV viewing in general–and especially for the Super Bowl. There are a variety of “second screen” tools available to extend and enhance the viewing experience, and viewers constantly post comments and updates about the game on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks.
Perhaps nothing exemplifies the rise of social media more, though, than the fact that a tweet from Oreo has garnered more attention than any of the multi-million dollar TV commercials–including the spot aired by Oreo. By taking advantage of the moment, Oreo captured the attention of the Super Bowl audience, and generated buzz that has lasted well beyond the game itself.
Check out “How Oreo stole the show at the 2013 Super Bowl” for more analysis.
The Surface Pro won’t be available to the general public for another few days yet, but Microsoft gave a number of tech journalists and media outlets Surface Pro units (mine must have gotten lost in transit) to review ahead of the launch. Apparently the embargo has lifted, because suddenly there’s a flood of reviews posted for the new Windows 8 tablet.
Here are some of the initial thoughts on the Surface Pro:
- “Give me more screen real estate, Microsoft. Give me a keyboard that I can type on all day. You’re getting so, so close to that sublime, perfect marriage of tablet and PC. Surface Pro isn’t the answer—but it comes close.” (PCWorld)
- “Microsoft may consider itself among those attempting to reinvent a computing device category by delivery a PC/tablet hybrid. But the Surface Pro isn’t the best on either front. I am hoping for another Microsoft Surface-branded device that might be my next Windows PC. The Surface Pro is not this machine.” (ZDNet)
- “If you equip it with an external display, keyboard and mouse, it becomes a serviceable desktop PC, and if you stick to Windows 8 apps, it may be the best Windows 8 tablet so far.” (TIME)
- “It’s too big, too fat, and too reliant on its power cable to be a competitive tablet, and it’s too immutable to do everything a laptop needs to do. In its quest to be both, the Surface is really neither. It’s supposed to be freeing, but it just feels limiting.” (The Verge)
- “As a tablet, it works well, although at 2 pounds without a physical keyboard, it’s heavier than the 1.44 pound iPad with Retina display…While there will be some people who will be able to use the Surface Pro as a laptop replacement, I’m not one of them – at least until the resolve my keyboard issues.” (Forbes)
- ” It’s better than a laptop because it’s more portable. It’s better than a phone because you can get more done on a big screen. It’s better than other Windows 8 tablets because it’s more powerful. And it’s better than an iPad because it’s made for productivity from the start.” (Mashable)
It seems that the Surface Pro is not living up to the expectations based on these early reviews. But, the potential is there if Microsoft can tap the market. Perhaps the new alliance with Dell will yield some innovative new tablet that can achieve the goal of replacing both the PC and the tablet at the same time.
It seems that sales of the Surface RT are disappointing thus far, and that none of the Windows tablets currently on the market have really caught the attention of businesses or consumers. But, the potential is there, and Microsoft has a huge opportunity to grab a significant share of the tablet market.
According to some estimates, there’s a market of 200 million customers out there who want a Windows device for their next tablet. A Forrester Research Study of 10,000 people around the world found that 33 percent would prefer a Windows tablet for their next work tablet. Extrapolating that 33 percent based on the information workers market–not the overall tablet market in general–Forrester arrives at a number of 200 million.
The reality is that the number is bigger than that if Microsoft and it’s partners position and market the tablets properly. Forrester projects that the number of tablets in use will be approaching a billion by 2017. Using the same 33 percent, that would mean a potential market of more than 330 million for Windows tablets.
Many of the third-party OEMs–Dell, Lenovo, etc.–have introduced innovative hybrid devices that try to be a traditional laptop and a tablet at the same time. I have played with a Samsung ATIV tablet which has a portable docking station that essentially turns it into an ultrabook. Those all have their pros and cons, but they also all miss the boat. The problem is that none of them is ever really a tablet when you’re on the go.
So, what’s the magic trick to tapping that market? Instead of showing commercials with random flash mobs of people clicking and dancing around with their Surface RT tablets, Microsoft needs to demonstrate that a Windows PC is a tablet, and a Windows tablet is a PC.
There should be commercials showing two different scenarios. First, the guy who has a Windows PC at his desk, but takes his iPad (or <insert alternate tablet here>) when he goes mobile. Illustrate–no, exaggerate (it’s a commercial after all)–the frustration of having to find alternative apps to do the same things you do on your computer, and the hoops to jump through to access the data stored back on your PC, and the pain of trying to sync the information between the two. You get the idea.
Then, show someone with a Windows 8 Pro tablet in a docking station at their desk. She has it connected to a standard keyboard, and a mouse or touchpad. It’s connected to a 24-inch monitor with a webcam mounted on top. It’s connected to a printer, and gigabit Ethernet. Basically, show that her Windows 8 Pro tablet works and acts EXACTLY like the first guy’s Windows PC. Then show her grab the tablet from the dock to go to the same meeting as the first guy. But, she still has all of her applications and data. She doesn’t have to jump through any hoops. There is nothing to sync because she is still using the same computer.
Microsoft needs to shift the conversation. It’s not about whether or not a tablet can replace a PC. Windows 8 Pro tablets remove the distinction between PC and tablet so that one device is both at once. The Microsoft marketing tagline–which should also be used by all Windows 8 tablet vendors like the “Intel Inside” mantra–should simply be, “Windows 8: The Tablet *IS* the PC“.
It’s easy to dismiss tablets. This isn’t our first rodeo. We’ve seen companies try this concept before, and it inevitably fades away.
Of course, that was before the Apple iPad. I’m not sure what officially qualifies something as a “fad”, but the iPad is in it’s fourth–going on fifth–iteration, and Apple has sold about 100 million of them so far. And, just in case that alone does not place the tablet outside of the realm of “fad”, just about every other vendor has introduced its own variation on the theme, so there are now hundreds of millions of devices out there being used every day.
To this day, though, there are still those who stubbornly insist that tablets are “toys” designed strictly for “media consumption”, and that they can’t be used for any real work. Well, first I would say that Windows 8 Pro tablets break that mold and redefine what it means to be a PC and/or a tablet. It’s one thing to argue that an iPad isn’t a PC, or that a Linux laptop doesn’t offer the same mobile versatility as an Amazon Kindle Fire, but a Windows 8 Pro tablet is literally a Windows PC that happens to be in tablet form. When docked at your desk it works and acts just like any other Windows desktop or laptop PC, but you can also just grab the tablet and take it to a meeting, or read a book on the Kindle app.
Even without Windows 8 Pro tablets, though, the assertion that tablets can’t be productivity tools still lacks merit. This ZDNet article by Steve Ranger lists out seven reasons that tablets matter for businesses. I predict that by 2015 we will realize that a tablet is just a different form of “personal computer” and stop talking about the PC market and tablet market as separate entities.
BlackBerry 10 is here…finally. RIM—now officially rebranded as BlackBerry—launched the new BlackBerry platform at a media event in New York earlier this week. As impressive as BlackBerry 10 (BB10) is in some ways, it’s not going to make any significant dent in the waning relevance of the company or its mobile platform.
Along with rolling out the BB10 platform itself, BlackBerry also introduced two new smartphones. The Q10 is a more traditional BlackBerry handset with a physical QWERTY keyboard, and the Z10 is a more iPhone-esque touchscreen device. They look nice, but not really compelling enough compared with the iPhone, or the plethora of Android and Windows Phone smartphones out there.
Jason Hiner, editor in chief of TechRepublic, summed up the new BlackBerry smartphone in a tweet: “BlackBerry Z10: This is what BB Storm should have been in 2008 and BB Torch should have been in 2010. In 2013? Tough sell?”
Jan Dawson, Chief Telecoms Analyst at Ovum, explains that BlackBerry has it’s work cut out for it. BYOD and consumerization mean that corporate IT managers are no longer making the majority of smartphone purchases, and individual consumers are simply not attracted to BlackBerry when making their own smartphone buying decisions.
Because of the prevailing culture shift when it comes to technology decisions being driven by users, it would seem that BlackBerry should focus its efforts on winning over the consumer market. It seems evident, though, that the primary focus with BB10 is to be a better BlackBerry option for existing BlackBerry users, but it’s not necessarily intended to go toe-to-toe with iOS and Android in the consumer market.
Dawson says, “We can’t fault RIM for wanting to hold onto its 80 million existing subscribers,” adding, “We believe that much of the installed base in mature markets has delayed upgrading while BlackBerry 10 is pending, something that has unfortunately dragged on for far too long, thus lengthening the upgrade cycle and depressing results in the interim.”
That pent up demand for BlackBerry loyalists, and corporations who feel they’re too invested in the BlackBerry infrastructure to switch platforms right now will likely produce a spike in sales and revenue over the next quarter or two. But, once that demand is exhausted, BlackBerry sales will once again stagnate and decline.
Dawson is also not very optimistic about the future of BlackBerry. “We don’t expect a speedy exit from the market; with no debt, 80 million subscribers and profitability in the black in at least some recent quarters, the company can continue in this vein for years. But its glory days are past, and it is only a matter of time before it reaches a natural end.”
Facebook revealed its Q4 2012 quarterly earnings. Based on the numbers shared by Facebook, it seems like the company is heading in the right direction, and that mobile users may be the foundation of its success.
Facebook reported 680 million mobile monthly active users for Q4 2012—157 million of those used Facebook exclusively from a mobile device. That explains the significant 65 percent jump in mobile advertising revenue over the previous quarter. Mobile advertising accounted for 23 percent of total ad revenue in Q4 compared to only 14 percent in the previous quarter.
Eden Zoller, principal analyst at Ovum, commented, “Wal-Mart alone delivered 50 million mobile ads to customers. This solid progress on the mobile advertising front should be applauded as a key challenge for Facebook has been how to monetize its growing mobile user base, particularly as an increasing number interact with the platform by only via mobile devices.”
Another element that may contribute to Facebook’s growth is the recently launched Graph Search. It’s still embryonic and hasn’t been rolled out en masse, but it has tremendous potential. It’s not a direct competitor for Google, but it is a significant threat because it has the potential to become the de facto search tool for a wide variety of things people currently rely on Google for.