Without 'cool factor' Microsoft may never see true consumer success
Microsoft is one of the world's most recognized brands. Sadly that recognition has not translated into widespread consumer success.
The company is part of the "background" of many of our lives. That's both a blessing and curse. The blessing is Microsoft's products and services help many of us get things done.
The curse is that Microsoft's presence is often like the white noise used to lull people to sleep.
Conversely, Apple and Google are like hit songs that are intentionally turned on, cranked up, and for which the lyrics are memorized and sung in sync with the artist. These companies are synced with consumers in a way Microsoft is not but needs to be. For instance, Microsoft's premiere product, Office, is the industry's status quo for productivity. It's how we get work done. But for many, it's an uninspiring and boring necessity.
Apple's premiere product, the iPhone, and various phones running Google's Android, however, are fun. They make users feel good and are part of their personal expression. Apple and Google have what many call "cool factor." Microsoft? Well, it's getting there.
Microsoft has money to burn, resources galore and is a globally recognized brand. Microsoft also ranked ninth in the 2016 Top 100 Millennial Brands: Moose Tracker Report. This was above number eleven ranked Google but below number one ranked Apple which is also the most valuable company.
So why can't Microsoft seem to emerge from a position of background noise and leap to the forefront of what consumers want?
The personal computing disconnect
Personal computing is Microsoft's forte, and 88.75 percent of homes and businesses that use PCs use Windows PCs. That fact is a legacy of Microsoft's heyday when the company's PC dominance in the enterprise trickled into the consumer space. Smartphones are now the go-to "computer" for many personal computing tasks.
Smartphones function as an access point to a horde of personal information making them the most personal object most of us carry. They're also the portal to the broader ecosystems of the providers of mobile platforms. This portal has helped Apple and Google, the two companies that dominate the mobile space, cement themselves in the collective minds of the masses.
Daily, billions of users interact with Google's and Apple's ecosystems in ways that feel good and personal, not required and functional, which is often Microsoft's plight. Microsoft isn't oblivious to its poor consumer rapport. It's made multiple, but failed, attempts to bring its enterprise success to the consumer space.
Microsoft flops: Kin, Kinect, Windows Phone and Zune
Here are several areas where Microsoft failed in the consumer space.
After two years of development and a strategic acquisition of Danger Incorporated), Microsoft in 2010 launched the social network-focused Kin smartphone.
It was targeted at the trend-setting 18- to 30-year-old demographic. The phone was only on the market for 48 days when it was unceremoniously discontinued. It briefly returned as a cheaper but also unsuccessful feature phone.
In-fighting within Microsoft resulted in the project falling under different leadership, a change in the original vision and a delay to market, and all of that is blamed for Kin's demise.
Launched in 2006 Microsoft's Zune) was the company's answer to Apple's iPod which launched five years earlier.
Apple's significant lead continued with its 2007 launch of iPod Touch two years before the 2009 Zune HD. In addition to consumer mindshare, Apple garnered developer and other support which supplied Apple's ecosystem with millions of apps and accessories that supported the iPod's market position. Unable to compete, the Zune was discontinued in 2011, five years after its launch.
Microsoft's Kinect, which used a natural user interface of motion-detecting and voice interaction was introduced in 2010 as part of Xbox 360. In 2011, the Kinect SDK was announced as well as the Kinect for Windows program. There was a lot of anticipation as hundreds of companies around the world had shown interest in building apps for Kinect.
Though the Kinect 2.0 received deeper Universal Windows Platform (UWP) integration and Windows Hello capabilities late last year, the initial fervor for the myriad uses of the technology in various industries has significantly diminished. And the consumer-facing gaming aspects for Kinect have all but fizzled out.
After an enduring presence in the enterprise-focused smartphone space since the early 2000s, Microsoft finally entered the consumer smartphone market three years after the iPhone and two years after Android in 2010.
Windows Phones' fluid and unique OS never caught on with consumers. Limited marketing and distribution, "breaks" in the platform on its way to OneCore, poor developer support, a lack of inspiring flagships, and the buggy Windows 10 Mobile have been the platform's plight.
A reputation for having no apps, the vocal discontent of disenchanted fans and consistently negative press have poisoned the waters for Windows phones among consumers.
These flops and a history of early innovation with little to no consumer-facing follow through have hampered Microsoft's consumer success. Microsoft could have beat the iPad and Siri to market, for instance, based on early investments in tablets and AI.
It's not all bad
Microsoft introduced Xbox in 2001, and despite competition from Sony's PlayStation, unrelenting investments made it a consumer success. Similarly, unyielding commitment and drive turned the failing Surface into a category-defining (2-in-1 PCs) billion dollar business and one of the industry's most respected brands.
TV marketing ads, network TV product placements (for example, Black-ish) and corporate partnerships such as the contract with the NFL position Surface beside Xbox in the consumer consciousness. Despite NFL commentators' references to Surface as an iPad, Microsoft is gaining "cool points."
The Surface is still in a battle for "prime time," however. ABC News reporters "use" the Surface, kind of. Throughout the news segments, Surfaces remain untouched on the news desk, behind the iPads that the reporters actively use. Hopefully, Microsoft can get ABC to move from displaying Surfaces to using them on national television.
Still, the brand has expanded to include the college student-focused Surface Laptop, and the Apple's creatives-stealing Surface Studio. The former has yet to be tested in the market, and the latter has piqued the interest of its intended target.
Furthermore, Microsoft has added and will be bringing new features to Windows 10 such as Paint 3D, Mixed Reality, system-wide inking and more, which the company hopes will appeal to consumers. Microsoft's Mixed Reality wearable computer, HoloLens, is arguably the coolest product it has created. If it were ready for the consumer market, the company would doubtlessly be considered cool. Alas, the next iteration of HoloLens has been pushed out to 2019.
Part of pop culture
Despite Microsoft's Xbox and Surface success and potential with Mixed Reality, to the average consumer, the company doesn't occupy the same space as Apple or Google. As the leading search engine, "Google" has become a verb in our dialogue when it's time to, well, Google something.
Apple's former CEO Steve Jobs through vision, standards for quality and marketing genius, imbued the company and its products with an intangible value that the media and consumers "feel" to this day. Additionally, movies about this iconic leader are an expression of the influence he and Apple had on the world.
Microsoft needs to do more with its 'do-more' vision
Microsoft doesn't have the pop culture appeal of Google and Apple. As a "do-more" company, it has focused on providing businesses and individuals with the tools to do more.
Its enterprise-focused legacy has taught the company to exist "in the shadows" as the platform or infrastructure that helps others get things done. This mentality and associated marketing methods don't work in the sensory, in-your-face consumer space.
Successful consumer-facing companies aggressively tell consumers why they need a product, how it'll improve their lives, and convince them it solves a problem they didn't know they had. Beyond Xbox and Surface, Microsoft lacks the aggression and stamina its rivals have in this regard.
Microsoft leads in innovation but is slow to turn ideas into products, allowing competitors to beat it to market. The One Microsoft initiative was supposed to enable greater nimbleness by restructuring teams. That hasn't fully materialized.
Microsoft's struggling to reach consumers at a point in history when personal computing has never been more consumer influenced. Will Microsoft have the aggression and stamina to market its student-focused Surface Laptop against the MacBook? What about Surface phone or a consumer-focused HoloLens?
Sadly, until Microsoft is ready to "do more," it may always covet that elusive cool factor.
Windows Central Newsletter
Get the best of Windows Central in your inbox, every day!
Jason L Ward is a columnist at Windows Central. He provides unique big picture analysis of the complex world of Microsoft. Jason takes the small clues and gives you an insightful big picture perspective through storytelling that you won't find *anywhere* else. Seriously, this dude thinks outside the box. Follow him on Twitter at @JLTechWord. He's doing the "write" thing!
To the masses Windows means viruses on the PC, blue screens and tiny work cubicles. Windows should be by association only and not the headline act.
I wouldn't mind a couple of failures like kinect.
While Apple is wildly successful today with it's iPhone-based platform, this wasn't always the case. Today's success for Apple started with the iPod, which took them 25 years to "discover". For Apple's first 25 years of existence, it was just a niche computer maker that struggled to be relevant. Even to this day, Apple's original core product, the Mac, has struggled to make much headway, holding the same single digit market share that it has held for decades. The iPod morphed into the iPod Touch, which morphed into the iPhone, then the iPad. Today, Apple's primary product is the iPhone. The iPad is slowly fading away, just as the iPod has. Without the iPhone, Apple would again be a niche computer maker struggling to be relevant because I would argue most of its Mac sales today are due to the success of the iPhone. Take the iPhone away and Apple again becomes irrelevant. Google
Google is an advertising company. Roughly 90% of its revenue comes from selling advertising. Every product that Google creates is geared towards collecting user data to be sold. In 2007, Google purchased Android, which it subsequently allowed developers to use for free. This is the only reason Android became successful. It didn't become successful because it was originally good. Originally it was crap. The iPhone was originally crap as well. And I would argue up until the last few years it was crap. But it was free, which allowed every low rent device maker to turn out cheap, crap devices that most people could afford and that carriers could make massive profits on. And that was great for Google, because it gave them a massive platform from which to collect even more user data to sell. But to this day, the only device maker that makes any meaningful profit at all on Android is Samsung. There is profit for the carriers and app/service sales, but not in the devices themselves. Microsoft
As Jason pointed out, Microsoft's history has been in the enterprise, and it will remain so. Neither Apple nor Google have any meaningful presence in the enterprise, other than iPhones and Android phones, and likely never will. The enterprise is a much more complex market than the consumer market. Enterprises demand much more robust systems, security, backwards compatibility, integration, etc., all things that neither Apple nor Google can provide at enterprise scale. Apple's success is the iPhone. Google's is advertising. Microsoft's is Windows, Office, Visual Studio, MS SQL Server, Intune, Xbox, Azure, and a host of other products, none of which Apple or Google have competitors for, and again likely never will. Microsoft has struggled in the consumer space because up until recently it has never been a consumer company. From day one both Apple and Android were consumer companies. They have decades of experience in the consumer, consumption market. They have little to no experience in the enterprise and productivity markets. Microsoft is just the reverse. So how does Microsoft become cool? I'm not sure it should. The idea that the iPhone and Android will remain the successes they are today is I think foolhardy. Looking back at the history of consumer electronics there are very few succcess of the day that even exist today. Things will change, and I think Microsoft is driving that change, but it is a longer term game. You might say, well Windows has been successful all these years, so perhaps Windows will become irrelevant at some point. Perhaps, but I don't think so, because unlike OSX, for example, Microsoft has spent the last few years completely re-writing Windows, completely changing its usability, its scalability. Windows can now run on desktops, laptops, tablets, Xbox, mobile, IoT, HoloLens, Surface Hub. OSX can run on Macs. It takes a completely separate operating system to run on the iPhone, and yet another to run on the iPad. Same goes for Google. Convergence is the future. The lines of what we call a "computer" continue to become blurred. Microsoft is leading the way with this convergence. Will it ever become cool? I don't know. But what I do know is that cool tends to be a fad. Fads don't last.
And minds open to the market and what needs there is a problem must be resolved as soon as possible.
Microsoft can do the same with Xbox but not for other businesses yet. Xbox has never been Microsoft Xbox, but it's still Microsoft Surface. This kind of strategy had to be made clear of how they're doing it.
Alphabet had one brand and that's Google. They uses it in everything they do and the consumers are more than okay with it. Microsoft need to go to that route and promote heavily using only the recognised cool name like Surface.
Can't ANYBODY use the word 'disconnection'?
Disconnect is a verb peeps. Use it as a noun and you just sound daft...except to others who do it too ;)
Ironically MOST journos do it.
break the connection of or between:
"take all violence out of television drama and you disconnect it from reality"
synonyms: detach · disengage · uncouple · [more]
a discrepancy or lack of connection:
"there can be a disconnect between boardrooms and IT departments when it comes to technology"
Thanks for the answer, I don't mean to be a trouble maker, this forum is after all about windows not grammar. ... However ;)
That noun example is just as daft as any other.
The noun is 'disconnection' no amount of US dictionaries will convince me otherwise.
I have found examples too which disagree and state. Which is correct?
BYOD policies often illustrate a significant ________ between administrators and employees. a. disconnect
b. disconnection Answer: b. Explanation: The only good reason to use disconnect in this sentence would be to annoy people opposed to nouning (usually, the same ones opposed to verbing).
Just think about it..eh? :)
That pompous asshatt is a detriment to Windows mobile
Wp7->Wp8 kernel switch from CE. Wp8->WM10 loss of features that made Windows phone a joy to use. Plus US carriers didn't help the situation. Every where else Windows phone was gaining alot of momentum until Microsoft swung that massive axe to Nokia's D & S acquisition. Lastly, XES that was the gateway in making Microsoft "cool". But again lack of foresight and unwillingness to take risks by the management speaks volumes imo. Ballmer didn't bat and eye when he spent money maintaining consumers who had faulty xbox consoles (RRoD). Unrelenting investments is what made Bing, Xbox and Surface into what it is. They could have done the same with Windows Phones and XES. Hearts and minds, hearts and minds.