The iPad Juggernaut …..

I guess it was bound to happen.  It is something I have seen many times before.  It is annoying, frustrating, and in some corners just plain pathetic.  Addressing the competitive threat by any means necessary.  even when it is obviously desperate.  It’s these type of corporate responses that drive me nuts. Recently Microsoft (my old company) has come under a lot of pressure to come up with a Tablet strategy.  I should add Microsoft has had for years a Tablet.  It was one of Bill Gates’ pet projects,  They just need a strategy that works.   The Microsoft response is a iPad battle card to help Microsoft partners and its field sales force sell Windows 7 slates in the enterprise, while combating the threat from the iPad.

Let me go back a bit in time and just say I have seen these battle cards before.  It was pretty standard practice at Microsoft across all battle lines and often they were very helpful.  However after the successful debut of the Apple iPhone I received in my mail box a little envelope that contained my Windows Phone 6 versus the Apple iPhone battle card (I am serious…I am not making this up).  What were some of the advantages of Windows Phone 6?  It had mobile Office, Sharepoint Support, better Exchange Synch etc..If you read the link earlier you will by now realize that whomever the marketing manager is who put the Apple iPad battle card together has mastered the art of copy and paste.

Do not get me wrong for a minute, I do not envy the marketing Manager who had the responsibility of taking this on.  It is one of those things that when nothing is happening on the product side you still have to generate some sort of response, the worst thing is to be quiet. And to their credit they created some really nice slide ware. I will be however surprised to see if any of my former mates in the Microsoft field sales force ever have the guts to present this to a customer or even regurgitate it over drinks or dinner with a client.

The slide, though intended for partners, demonstrates the focus on the enterprise and the disengagement in general from the consumer market place.  I should also add this did not come out of Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices division.  If it had it would have a far greater emphasis on the general market.  The Windows Division is outside all of that its own $20 billion juggernaut.  We call that power.    The slides do highlight the success the iPad is having in the enterprise space as more and more users want access to their corporate networks from their iPad.  It’s the reverse of what happened with Windows , which first took off in the business world before penetrating the home.  But times have changed and with new devices hitting the market at an ever-increasing pace and a much more affordable price big sea changes in the enterprise often come from the outside in versus the inside out.  People want to be cool even when they are in he office.  Even if they are an accountant.

Finally the biggest issue I hear these days is people at the Big M are tired of following and not leading (the exception being the xBox team with Kinect).  They want to be out in front of the industry.  But if you read my last blog on Facebook I highlighted how similar they were to Microsoft, when it was a younger company.  Now it’s not like people at Microsoft are really old, no far worse, they are middle-aged.  They have kids, they live through their kids, they have divorces, they are joining AA, they buy expensive sports cars, they try really hard physical activities that they used to be able to do, they buy iPads…I think you are getting the picture.

In the mean time the Tablet market keeps chugging along as highlighted in Apples recent earnings announcement.  There are other entrants that are also gaining momentum, like Android (we should seem new slide ware shortly).  I admit I was skeptical when the iPad came out.  I felt like it was just a giant OS, but there is a beauty in having the same core code between your phone and your tablet.  The applications are easy to write for both.  The iPad seems to be gaining momentum as it creates a scenario where a more powerful device can be useful and mobile.  There are a lot of scenario where having a monitor is useful and even desired, but with so much time spent on the web there are a lot of scenarios where it does not, just look at all the useful features of the latest Facebook mobile apps.  How many people out there are just checking into their favorite Starbuck’s? I need no mouse or keyboard for that I just need my finger.  The only way to compete with iPad is to get ahead of it, but once a boulder starts to slide down a mountain it i s hard to stop.

Good Night and Good Luck!

Hans Henrik Hoffmann January 25th, 2011

Generating “Buzz”

With the Consumer Electronic Show just having been completed I think it is a good time to talk about one of those things that every technology provider strives for which is to generate a certain amount of “buzz” around a future product.  It is so very important to the success of any new product that people begin  to talk about it before the product is released.  Certainly out of this years show there was a lot of noise generated around Google’s Android platform, with companies making a big push to showcase upcoming releases of both phones and tablets.  Companies like Verizon, Samsung and Motorola did a lot to push the new releases of Android based tablets, pinning future success on the release of the product.

There are some good historical examples.  The “buzz” generated around Microsoft Windows 95 or the “buzz” created around the Apple iPhone.  In each case you had people lined up at midnight to get the product.  This is great stuff, but there is another type of “buzz” that gets created underneath all that and that is creating the excitement in the developer community.  The people who make the cool apps for the Apple app store or Google store.   Without developers extending and creating a market place an application can have a very short life span

My last role at Microsoft there was a commitment that everyone had to sign up about creating “buzz” in the development community for Microsoft Developer tools .  To clarify for those with no Microsoft background every employee signs up for a “commitment”, which is a goal that will be either fulfilled or not fulfilled come review time at the end of the Microsoft fiscal year.  This determines salary increase, bonus and promotion.  Anybody reading this probably has the same question is what the hell does “generating buzz”  mean?  Being developer land, my first thought was “good luck…with that”.  How are less than 100 people out in the field going to generate excitement around Microsoft Developer technologies, especially when there are so many dependencies? 

To be fair to create buzz goes beyond assigning a few people it really takes a commitment beyond a few individuals, to multiple organizations to external partners.  One of the keys to Apple’s iPhone success was not just the whisper campaign they were generating.  They also had a behemoth like AT&T behind them and they were fully bought in, up to their neck.  Not like the dipping their toes into the water effort they did with the Windows Phone 7 launch.

Another key success factor is just having a product, because it is the end game , it is where you are trying to take the consumer.  When the product launched there is a certain level of satisfaction in having got there.  Sometimes tech companies are guilty of trying to generate excitement without really telling the end customer what to be excited about.  Usually it is to try to get people excited about the company.  Coming from my background at Microsoft the last years seemed to be spent trying to recapture the glory of yester year.

Having a certain level of “buzz” is the difference between having momentum and not having momentum.  When you have the ear of the consumer and the press then a new phenomena sets in, which is “what is next?”  In todays world Apple certainly has tha momentum.  They have the iPod, iPhone, MacBooks,i Pad, Apple Store…they really are in the zone right now here they are setting the industry direction.  Google now is starting to get beyond just being a search company with first Android and next Chrome. Facebook maybe has more momentum than anybody as under their CEO Mark Zuckerburg, they have that “it’s a young mans game” syndrome going.  Similar to what Bill Gate’s had back in the 80’s and 90’s.  It’s the difference between rolling the boulder up the hill or down the hill.

Finally with regards to CES and why it has become what it has. A big reason is that technology is pervasive in everybody’s lives today.  It is not restricted to the “nerd” or “geek” or “hobbyist”.  We all have technology in some capacity of our lives.  It is our cell phones, flat screen TV’s, Tivo, game console’s, Roomba’s, etc.. The Consumer Electronics Show is about showing off how technology is going to further enhance our day-to-day lives in the near future.  Any company participating better not be showing off what is already available.  Attendees want to see the coming years Christmas purchase, not what they already have.  They want the participating companies to wow them.  In short they want some “buzz”.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann January 10th, 2011

The Death of the Word Processor

The title may be provocative, but there is a reasoning behind it based on current trends I see in the industry.   As I look back on the evolution of one of the very first business applications for the personal computer the word processor, I think we are at a time when the standard word processing application is about to evolve again into a different form (and cheaper) than what we have grown used to with packaged applications that we load on our computers hard drive.

If we look back upon the early days there were a lot of players in the industry WordPerfect, Microsoft Word, WordStar, Wang to name but a few.  But because it had a strong long-term vision tied to the operating system which it owned Microsoft’s Word for Windows would emerge the winner.  The last one standing was WordPerfect, but it would just slowly fade away.  Beyond the Word processor, Microsoft looked beyond and incorporated the spreadsheet and presentation software realizing the long-term vision that many people would use all three and would want seamless integration.  The result was Microsoft Office and the rest was history as Microsoft fought battles on all three fronts while the rest just tried to stay afloat.

As we turned the corner into a new century Microsoft Word basically sat alone, unchallenged.  Every document people opened, every attachment received was in a Word.doc format.  With every new release there were new features, new user interface designs (the ribbon anyone?).  It owned the market. It was a cash cow.  When Open Source came onto the scene it was believed it would challenge Word, but in all reality they were just free copy cat images of Word and did not offer anything new.  I always felt that if they did get any traction Microsoft would open its deep pockets to a bunch of lawyers to file a lawsuit for patent infringement etc..This view is simply based on the fact that if did not seem that these Open Source developers were coming up with a single new idea, it looked like they opened Word for Windows and were intent on creating a copy of the software.

Through this past decade there have been numerous challenges, and in certain regions of the world, some have even gained some traction, but they have never been able to gain any sustained momentum.  With the new business models being driven by companies like Google and the fact that pretty much all of us are always connected to the internet, it brings us back to a fundamental question, “If I only use 10 percent of Words capabilities why do I need to install the rest?” and the follow-up question, “why should I pay for innovation that I never will use?”.

What will the future word processor look like?  In a simple word, Notepad.  If you are running Windows just click “Start”, then “All Programs” , then “accessories” – you will find a little application called  Notepad.  You may say is this all?  No but what I believe could and will happen is for your document application you will be presented with a basic framework that allows you to type and provides a subset of fonts.  Then using the persistent connection to the internet you will be able to surf the web and add accessories to your document framework.  It will look like two things already available in the market.  The Eclipse Framework (developers will know what I am talking about), which allows developers just to grab plug-ins for whatever they are working on  and an online store similar to what most people most are already familiar with, the Apple App Store.  Some of these add-ins will be free, some charged for – but your word processor which for years has been a couple of hundred dollars will now be available to do most of what you want to do for under $20 and in some instances it will be free.

For some companies, namely one, Microsoft, this will be a very painful transition.  Unless they get out in front of the market it will be a missed opportunity that will cost them dearly as more and more end-users spend time outside of the Microsoft software ecosystem.  However like everything else in technology when markets change there will be those who seize the opportunity.  Could you have an ad driven model within a word processor?  Why not?  Could the market for cool ad-ons in the document framework explode?  Sure.  In the end the one thing I am sure of is the one benefit will be a better more affordable experience for both end-users and enterprises a like.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann December 21, 2010

Windows Phone 7 – A brighter Future…maybe

I have been pretty hard on Microsoft Mobile and rightfully so as they have been a rather stagnant organization and as I posted in my earlier blog (A Microsoft Mobile Disaster) one that  has failed to listen to the market place.  It now seems with the launch of Windows Phone 7 that Microsoft has decided to compete.  Some at Microsoft would say they have always competed and others say they have never competed.   I side with the marketplace on this one.

When I look at Windows Phone 7 everything I read is this is a consumer phone.  It seems stupid when you hear it.  Why wouldn’t you have  been making a consumer mobile phone?  A little history may shed some light. I was on vacation for a couple of weeks and when I got back I received an email that SteveB had sent to the Windows Mobile  Team.  While I was away he had come to Bldg 117 and spoke to the Windows Mobile Team.  At the time Pieter Knook was Sr VP of Mobility.  During that time within te team they were focused on the business professional.  One of the least sexiest segments, if not the least sexiest, in the mobile industry.  It focused on the suits of the world, and frankly since they no longer do martini lunches they lack personality.  Steve told the audience in a moment of wisdom, “You can focus all you want on the business Pro, but unless you have a consumer play the numbers will never add up to greater market share”.  Unfortunately the email I received was not about that.  Apparently the troops were a little down trodden after his talk, so he apologized.  Steve…why!?!?!  For whatever reason Steve did not trust his instincts on this one. This set off another 5 years of sub par performance.

When the iPhone launched and Billg saw it he said, “We have set the bar too low..”.  The iPhone really ripped the Microsoft Mobile team to the core and with the latest quarterly results from Apple it may be a juggernaut too great to catch, but to my old companies credit a technical challenge is something that will never be shunned.  My old team had VP of Development Scott Guthrie present once.  Scott said it was painful to get the Windows Mobile team to scrap the old code base, but it was realistically the only way that Microsoft was even going to have a remote chance of catching up with Apple.  But it was interesting to hear how many opposed this idea.

Now that the phone is in the market (in Europe) a bigger challenge will be to get application developers to write cool apps for the phone.  The goal was to have 10,000 applications at launch.  To put this in perspective Android and the iPhone have over 100,000.  When you are asking internal people at Microsoft to write apps so you can make your number a certain amount of sadness comes over me to hear  that company needs to issue that directive.  If you cannot excite the developer then it is time to pack up and go home.

At the end of the day the market will decide and it is already a pretty crowded field so what does Microsoft Mobile 7 offer that separates it from the rest of the mobile crowd?  Having seen it and test driven a little, not a whole lot.  Don’t get me wrong the touch screen  UI is nice and responsive.  But as far as I can tell there is no “wow” moment.  Those type of moments are hard to come by.  Even Android does not have a “wow” moment but it was out way earlier than Windows Mobile 7 was, so it had a head start.  Plus i think the open source driven development model had a “sexy” appeal to developers.  The interesting change in mobile is  the need for application’s and both Google and Apple have high marks in getting developers to write these “cools” apps.   Getting back to the Ray Ozzie final memo it demonstrates the idea of technology as part of an appliance.  No longer is one chained to the desk, sitting and watching their waste line expand.  In todays new world everything is mobile. 

We have come along way in mobility and though Microsoft jumped on at the midway point it is just now starting to understand the battlefield.  Is it too late?  When you have $40 billion in the bank you have weapons that others don’t you have a chance.  The reviews so far has been mixed and Microsoft has been working hard to get developers to write Windows Phone apps.  The market was tough when Microsoft entered but now the landscape has completely changed.  It is no longer RIM they are after, but Apple and Android.  I will be honest I am really skeptical on this one, but maybe a catastrophic defeat is just what Microsoft needs, for a brighter future…maybe.

Good Night and Good Luck.

Hans Henrik Hoffmann Oct 27th, 2010