Microsoft is a company which needs no introduction. It is probably fair to say that they have been responsible for shaping the way we use PCs for the past 20 odd years. There was a time when Microsoft could dictate the direction the market should take and OEMs would wait with bated breath for the next, great version of Windows. There’s trouble at t’mill though!! Over the last few years Microsoft’s control of the market has faltered and both OEMs and consumers appear unimpressed, if not alienated.
So what’s going on? Does Microsoft have a future? What has caused their turn in fortune and can they take back the throne of the consumer space?
One device in particular sounded the death knell of the consumer PC – the iPad. Apple had the foresight to realise that consumers were ready for the post-PC era, whereas the rest of the industry was happy to keep on force feeding us with the same regurgitated bloat-ware laden hardware we still find in the PC market. It’s no wonder that the iPad was so popular – consumers wanted something that was portable, without being compromised and that just worked. Apple delivered, Microsoft was caught sleeping. To be fair, Microsoft have tried many times to push tablets but have never succeeded – anyone remember Windows XP tablet edition? No, I didn’t think so!!
Their offerings in this segment have been lacklustre and uninspiring at best. Microsoft has tried to recover, but the last few years have been one “own goal” after another.
Let’s start with Windows 8. This was supposed to be the next great thing – the saviour of the PC market. That hasn’t happened. The OS itself doesn’t have anything intrinsically wrong with it, until, that is, you try to use it on a traditional PC or laptop. The impact of the iPad and Android tablets has been so profound that Microsoft focused too much on the touch device market and forget their core market – standard desktop PCs and laptops, i.e. non-touch devices. Using Windows 8 on a non-touch device is a horrible experience with hidden menus, common commands hidden in weird places and don’t even let me get started on the klunky Start Screen/Desktop switching debacle! Microsoft is working on Windows 8.1 which is supposed to address these issues, but is it a case of too little, too late?
What about Microsoft Surface? Ah yes, another valiant but flawed attempt at recovery. I was intrigued by this when it was first announced and was very keen on purchasing it. Then I realised the catch! There are two flavours of Microsoft Surface – RT and Pro. This was destined to confuse consumers from the outset and it beggars belief that Microsoft didn’t see this coming. RT is a version designed for ARM processors, meant to compete directly with the iPad and Android tablets. What wasn’t clear to the consumer was that while it was Windows, it wasn’t Windows! It can’t run traditional Windows applications – one of the main attractions for the product. All software must come from the Windows App Store – a veritable desert in comparison to Google Play and Apple iTunes. In order to be able to run Windows applications you need the Surface Pro. That’ll cost you roughly the same as a mid to high end laptop – I know which I’d prefer at that price point! The marketing for Surface was flawed and now it is highly likely that Microsoft is preparing for a fire sale to get rid of the remaining Surface RT stock.
Another important product for Microsoft is Xbox. They announced the successor to the Xbox 360, the Xbox One, earlier this year and almost from the get go this product was mired in controversy. Microsoft intended introducing strict DRM restrictions, region locking, mandatory online connectivity, attempted to kill the second hand game market and, in the process, caused an outcry. They managed to alienate their core customer segment in one fell swoop – gamers. They have done some serious back pedaling to try and appease gamers, but, in the process, have put Sony and their Playstation 4 in a very good light. Once again Microsoft marketing was totally off its game with some very embarrassing and astonishing comments from their top executives.
While it may sound like I am anti-Microsoft, in reality I’m not. I believe that when they make good products, they make really good products. I love Windows 7 and am a proud owner of a Xbox 360. The problem boils down to one thing – Microsoft has lost touch with the consumer market. It doesn’t understand its consumers anymore and its recent products reflect this. It looks like they may have finally realised this though and, hopefully, the recent corporate restructuring will return Microsoft to form. The question is, is it too late? I fear it may be. Microsoft will not disappear, and while it will remain strong in the corporate market, they have a lot of hard work ahead of them if they wish to remain relevant in the consumer market.