Sunday, 7 April 2019

Microsoft is less interesting.

It’s true. In the world of technology Microsoft is less interesting. Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, founded the Boring Company to dig holes and build hyperloop transport. He called it the Boring Company. Both a pun on digging through rocks and, in one sense, the idea that utilities just work.
Microsoft is doing the same thing. It has become boring. It has a cloud-based service business that everyone can yawn at. It has Windows, a thirty-year-old operating system that has been there forever, and Office. If you are under 24 none of this makes the world light up because these are utilities. It has all the excitement of switching on a light bulb. Sharing a video of getting to a concert with mates, photographs of a skiing weekend or a day on the beach are all interesting. The tech that you have with you is your mobile phone.

This week Microsoft made it more irrelevant to millennials. Another consumer service, it’s ebook store, closed. Granted vast number of people didn’t know Microsoft did books. People didn’t know Microsoft had a music service and their mobile phones never broke through to mainstream acceptance. However, this followed closely on the announcement that the health service apps that supported it’s fitness band were closing down. All of this is the story of decline from Microsoft being everywhere as a visible presence to it being like switching on a light bulb or turning on a tap.

The last real service for the average consumer is movies and tv. This is really an Xbox only service for people who have the Xbox connected to their TV and don’t have access to services like Netflix or Amazon Prime. Back in 2013 the Xbox One was supposed to be a home entertainment hub. That idea quickly disappeared when they managed to alienate the game players and people who wanted cheap content streaming in equal measure.

So the ebooks store is gone. Microsoft are making more money than ever by ignoring consumers. The modern tech blogger or YouTube video maker rarely covers Microsoft anyway. Microsoft, a technology company so interesting no one really bothers talking about it anymore. 

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Microsoft goes wholesale

In a private press briefing this week Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella admitted that the Cortana AI was not really winning the personal assistant battle. It wasn’t even in second place. At launch, it was ahead of the competition but a failed mobile platform, stagnation in features and a limited global roll out have left the door for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant to rule. The Windows 10 update expected in March 2019 is likely to de-couple Cortana from search and potentially allow other personal assistants to live in Windows as equals.

The story of Cortana matches other failed Microsoft consumer technologies;

Zune music player – Never released globally.

Groove music – a service that was called Zune, Xbox Music and then Groove. Never released fully globally and never had a family plan to encourage the use.

WindowsPhone – Killed via constant reboots of the operating system and no consistent app ecosystem.

Band – the fitness band that was always being repaired by its owners. Never released outside the USA.

Windows RT tablets – took at $900 million write down. Discontinued.

For the first 30 years of its life, Microsoft wanted to offer products and services to everyone. Apple envy was felt as the iPod and iPhone were greeted with religious enthusiasm but Microsoft products were not regarded as cool and bombed. However, both Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, were CEOs that tried to keep Microsoft in every market. They were in the enterprise, small business and at home. They were “retail” CEOs wanting to sell to all.

When Satya Nadella became CEO the world changed at Microsoft. One aspect of this was what markets Microsoft would cease to address. Nadella quickly decided to kill WindowsPhone and gradually removed consumer services that were not making the profits he expected. The share price soared. One of the few pure consumer services left is the Xbox. Nadella published a book with the title “Hit Refresh” in which he discusses the change in culture in more depth.

The main thing I can see is the Microsoft is ending things it believes it’s competitors do better, partner with more people and seek to sell its services rather than things. Microsoft is now a wholesale business rather than a retail business. Consumers will see less of Microsoft and businesses will run on Microsoft services.

This is incredibly frustrating for tech enthusiasts that follow Microsoft. There is little to get excited about. This is the new normal for Microsoft. They will have premium laptops and devices under the Surface brand. They will have Xbox and games. What they won’t have is the broad consumer portfolio of products consumers bought a few years ago. It’s Microsoft going wholesale and letting other people make a consumer offer.