If you haven’t been following Microsoft lately, then you’re missing out on what could be one of the most significant changes of strategy I’ve seen in a long time. They have slowly been making baby steps towards reorganizing and reconsidering how they address mobile. I have been following Microsoft’s attitudes towards mobile since Windows Mobile 5.0 and even owned a fair amount of Windows-based devices over the course of that time. However, Microsoft made a lot of mistakes along the way and is finally making major changes to remedy them. And with the smartphone market being a virtual duopoly between Android and iOS it comes as no surprise that people are looking for something different.
At the same time, Microsoft is struggling to retain users in Windows while people start to move towards Android, iOS and ChromeOS-based devices. With their release of Windows 8, Microsoft actually alienated a lot of users because they ruined a fairly well received operating system in Windows 7 and tried to modernize it for touch, but made an insane amount of mistakes. Since then, Microsoft has released Windows 8.1 which has made some significant improvements and is continuing to do so by bringing back the start menu in the Windows 8.1 update which will also bring a bunch of other tweaks that will make Windows 8 more usable for users without touch. One of Microsoft’s biggest mistakes with Windows 8 was to assume that everyone would have touch and that application developers would immediately switch to the ‘Modern’ Metro UI that Windows 8 employs with tiles, many of these tweaks fix those mistakes. Some of those fixes include allowing boot to desktop, a start menu, Metro apps on the desktop taskbar, a persistent taskbar, mouse friendly menus, reduced system requirements and much more. Sure, its a bit late when you consider that Windows 9 is likely due next year, but that’s an entirely different conversation. Right now they need to focus on keeping people happy in the now and preparing for the future, which is exactly what they appear to be doing.
Microsoft’s purchase of Nokia also signifies Microsoft’s renewed focus on hardware as did their announcement about their expansion of hardware partners for Windows Phone, which was necessary to show that they wanted to enable more than just Nokia. Clearly Microsoft can sell their own branded devices as Google does successfully with Nexus and Android. One way that Microsoft followed up on their hardware commitments was by announcing that they would be making Windows free on any device that is 9″ or less, which means we could actually see a lot of 8.9″ Windows tablets relatively soon. But what this enables is Microsoft’s operating system to become a considered option for OEMs when building tablets and smartphones.
Microsoft’s new strategy is to monetize on their cloud software like Office, One Drive and One Note and to utilize their strengths in cloud computing to make their operating systems more attractive. If they continue on this trajectory, they could have a fully unified operating system across all platforms. Eventually, with Windows 9 we can expect to see essentially the same OS plus or minus a few features (based on platform) on Desktop, Tablet and Smartphone. Which is reinforced by Microsoft’s move to make app purchases in their store universally applicable across Windows Phone, Windows 8 and Xbox. This will not only encourage people to use Microsoft’s platform for the flexibility and cross-platform nature, but it will also encourage application developers to make applications that think in a cross-platform manner. That is in combination with their announcement of Cortana, which I would expect to see intelligently integrated into all of Microsoft’s operating systems and eventually into Windows 9. Cortana is going to be Microsoft’s next weapon to fight against Google and Apple to help create differentiation.
I really feel like Microsoft really has it together more than they ever have in their history since Bill Gates left his position as CEO. And to be honest, considering that Bill Gates left Microsoft as CEO when I was 10, it seems pretty fair to say that this is the best I’ve seen them since he stepped down as CEO. They finally understand what they need to do in order to be successful in competing with Google and Apple, and their strategies are solid. Only time will tell how quickly they will start to erode Apple and Google, especially when you consider they’ve successfully helped erode Blackberry’s share.