Monday, 18 June 2012

Are Tablets Microsoft's Bitter Pill?

Microsoft Corporation - 1978
Microsoft Corporation - 1978 (Photo credit: Brajeshwar)
Microsoft missed the Internet. The story of the company's recovery from the blunder is not only fascinating, it's still unfolding.

Bill Gates literally turned the company on a sixpence, refocusing on the new technology and the very real danger of Netscape's Navigator, a layer of software that threatened to disintermediate the Windows operating system. The browser wars and the DOJ case that followed saw Microsoft accused of using its desktop dominance to punch out its rivals. Fascinatingly, Microsoft quietly acquired some 800 patents from AOL a couple of months ago, which AOL owned following its acquisition of what was left of Netscape.

Back in those days, Apple was The Sick Man Of Computing. Ironically, it was Gates who provided Jobs the loan he needed to get the company back on its feet. Jobs went on, as we all know, to create the world's most valuable company out of the wreckage. Along the way, he also created the most existential threat Microsoft has seen since it missed the Internet.

Microsoft missed the tablet. Not just the device, although it did, but the concept of a company built around hardware that accesses a content repository. The new big dogs on the porch are Apple and Amazon, with Google in attendance. All three companies have millions of tablet devices in consumers' hands, being used to access paid content. Google's model is slightly different to Amazon and Apple's, but all three share one important thing in common. Unlike the vast majority of PCs in the world today, none of these tablet devices uses a Microsoft operating system. In fact, none of them has a byte of Microsoft code installed.

Can Microsoft turn on a sixpence again? Its recent partnership with Barnes and Noble gave the company access to a content repository, as well as a powerful US retail channel. There has been much speculation that another partnership, with Nokia, would result in a tablet product. Now, with pundits eagerly awaiting a 'mystery launch' announcement by Microsoft today (well, actually tomorrow Dubai time), there's much talk of a Microsoft 'own brand' tablet. We've seen similar noises in the past, notably 2010's 'Courier' dual-screen tablet concept, a project that was reportedly 'killed'.

But an 'own brand' Microsoft tablet cobbled together with B&N and probably bits of Xbox content streaming won't unseat the iPad. And if I'm a tablet manufacturer, I couldn't really see why I'd ship Microsoft Windows on my products when I'm already shipping Android - particularly if Microsoft is a hardware competitor, too. On top of that, it won't take long memories for manufacturers to recall what being in thrall to Microsoft felt like.

Watching Microsoft's next move is going to be fascinating, but you can bet on one thing - MS no longer has the dominance it needs to turn on a sixpence and force its product on the entire market. You could argue that the three musketeers - Microsoft, troubled Nokia and Barnes & Noble are actually three companies that have had their time.

Youth will have its fling...

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1 comment:

Luke said...

More stuff we don't need.

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