This belief is not based on statements by Microsoft, inside information or even wishful thinking. It’s based on what Microsoft has done in the past.
Here’s the standard Microsoft pattern:
1) Some innovative competitor launches a new platform.
2) Microsoft takes a wait-and-see approach rather than jumping in.
3) After years of Microsoft doing nothing, the competitive platform grows a new market too big to fail.
4) Microsoft then launches a huge initiative resulting in a more powerful, feature-rich and backward-compatible alternative (which is also far more expensive and bloated).
5) Microsoft tries to outspend its competitor with marketing and promotions.
6) Once it is clear that Microsoft’s approach has been rejected by the market, Microsoft comes around and relaunches a new approach that’s a lot more like its competitor’s.
7) After a few version tweaks, Microsoft finally ships a great product. Unfortunately, by this time, it’s too little, too late. Even with a great product, Microsoft can’t achieve its original goal of being a dominant player in the market.
This pattern has been followed by Microsoft in music players, search engines, cloud-based office suites, ultra-mobile computers and multi-touch smart phones.
The same pattern is also playing out in the tablet business. But it might not be too late for tablets.
Microsoft’s great-but-too-late multi-touch smartphone, Windows Phone 7, goes on sale today. It’s not clear that Microsoft is even working on a Windows Phone 7-based tablet. All noise from Redmond indicates that Microsoft intends to continue slogging on with expensive, bloated desktop PC-based pen tablets.
If Microsoft’s history is any indication of its future, Microsoft will admit failure and launch a multi-touch tablet based on a cell phone operating system in about two years, which will be too late to make a serious dent in the market now dominated by Apple and very soon to be two horse race between Apple and Google.
How Microsoft Can Succeed In the Tablet Business
Microsoft has an opportunity to occupy a unique position in the coming massive multi-touch tablet market. The key to understanding that position can be found in the current war between Google and Apple over “open” versus “integrated.”
In a conference call this week, Apple CEO Steve Jobs slammed Google’s Android platform by saying that, although Google calls their approach “open,” the better word is “fragmented.” Apple’s iOS platform on the other hand, isn’t so much “closed,” as Google characterizes it, but “integrated.”
Jobs’ position is that Android comes with too many user interfaces and on too many handset models. As a result, users themselves must serve as “systems integrators.”
Google hasn’t responded to the jab in any meaningful way. But if they did, they would probably say that the Android approach provides vastly more choice — both for hardware makers and for users — more flexibility and more freedom from the whims and dictates of a single company.
Microsoft’s opportunity is to create a touch-tablet ecosystem that offers the choice, flexibility and freedom of the Android market with the universal compatibility and interface predictability of the iOS market
In fact, jobs even faintly praised Microsoft during the call — or at least contrasted Microsoft favorably against Google — by saying that “on Windows… Most PCs have the same user interface and run the same apps.”
And that’s true. Microsoft has done a better job on Windows with standardizing user interfaces and offering application compatibility than Google has done with Android.
By extending this core competency to a new Windows Phone 7-based tablet operating system, Microsoft could offer users the best of both worlds — a welcome alternative to both Google’s “fragmented” and Apple’s “closed” approaches.
There are other opportunities to differentiate. Microsoft could leverage its dominance in desktop office suites by offering perfectly compatible “lite” versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook (something a little more than what’s in Windows Phone 7, but a lot less than desktop versions, feature-wise).
In fact, Microsoft could probably even get away with pre-installing these applications, given that the “monopoly” argument couldn’t be credibly used against Microsoft in the tablet space.
Such a bold move could immediately establish Microsoft’s multi-touch tablet product as the new business standard.
And finally, the Windows Phone 7 user interface offers something incredibly compelling for tablets not currently available on the iPad: the replacement of icons with user-configurable update boxes. On Windows Phone 7, the main screen shows updated Tweets of friends, stock price changes, sports scores – potentially any data you want.
This feature is of limited value on a phone, which is either in your pocket or being used – you’re not likely to sit there staring at the screen waiting for the information to update. But on a tablet, you could easily imagine doing that.
Just prop up your Windows Tablet 7 device next to your PC, and you’ll have an instant dashboard monitoring everything you care about. Everyone would want that. And nobody else has it.
Microsoft hasn’t got a prayer of competing against Apple in the consumer touch-tablet space. But the company could be a leader in business touch-tablets. Windows Phone 7 is the right approach. The only thing Microsoft needs to do is ship as soon as possible. Not in two years. Not late next year.
The window is closing fast for Microsoft to avoid its habitual error of shipping the wrong product at the right time, followed by the right product at the wrong time.
Microsoft has the right product, more or less. By quickly transforming Windows Phone 7 into a Windows Tablet 7 OS, the company could have the right product. And if the company can do so within six months it would be the right time, too.
Come on, Microsoft. Think different!