Thursday, September 22, 2011

“Desktop” could be Win 8’s killer feature with consumers

Crazy? Or just counter intuitive? Give me a moment to explain.

The story everyone tells goes something like this: Microsoft is strongly entrenched on the PC and in the enterprise. But (XBox and Kinect aside) it’s lost touch with the consumer. Lose the consumer and you will lose the enterprise. It’s only a matter of time before iPads displace PCs just as PCs displaced IBM 3270 terminals. Microsoft must respond quickly with consumer-friendly mobile products.

I agree for the most part. And I feel terrific about the Windows 8 preview and tablet that Microsoft unveiled at //build/. Microsoft definitely got some of its mojo back. I’m not just on a “sugar high” as some would have it. Windows 8 is a giant step in the right direction. Regular folks really do like that Metro look. The “developers’ preview” is obviously not as polished as the iPad but there is time before release to perfect the fit and finish.

Unfortunately, it won’t be released until December 2012 (give or take). Fifteen months! In a few weeks, after we’ve sobered up, that’s going to feel like forever. Sure, when the grand day finally arrives, we’ll be cheering for the underdog, the version 1.0 Win 8 newbie against the heavyweight 3.0 iPad market leader.

Hmmm. Should we be worried about a replay of the Windows Phone adoption debacle?

Lessons from Windows Phone 7

There is nothing seriously wrong with the Windows Phone itself. It’s a joy to use, in some respects superior to the iPhone and in no material respects is it worse. It’s where Metro was born … the same Metro that’s going to wow the tablet market in 2012. Critics loved it … as they love the Windows 8 preview.

We can’t fault Microsoft for losing sight of the consumer. The Windows Phone is totally consumer-focused; two years in and we still lack an enterprise story. To make sure we get the point and avoid all possible confusion, Microsoft killed off WP7’s enterprisey predecessor.

How is that working out? Microsoft’s share of the phone market has declined steadily and is headed for 1%. Great phone, unwavering consumer focus, pitiful results.

But wait,” they say, “it will all get better with Mango!” Really? Mango is indeed a huge technical improvement. But I don’t understand why that will make a difference in the marketplace. It is not sufficiently different from the iPhone. Seriously, what will I be able to do with a Mango phone that I can’t do with the iPhone? I’m sure you have a list; will anything on that list be enough to change consumer behavior? Will any of it change the foot-dragging behavior of the sales channel? I don’t get it.

Look, I completely buy the consumer friendliness bit. The traditional desktop experience doesn’t fly on the phone and it won’t fly on the tablet. The way we write business apps today is totally alienating. So I’m down with the design vision: “Metro good, touch good, square windows bad, icon overload bad, mouse-and-keyboard bad.”

The Metro-ish design changes are absolutely necessary … but they aren’t sufficient … because the iPad (like the iPhone) has a commanding lead in these respects.

Windows 8 can be super great … and still bomb at the box office. “Great” isn’t good enough. If it were, Apple might have displaced Microsoft on the desktop long ago. The Mac was always prettier and easier to use. Didn’t matter; share never broke 10%. Twenty years and the Mac couldn’t knock Microsoft out of the ring. It was Microsoft’s ring.

If “great design” isn’t good enough, what is good enough? What does Microsoft have that Apple lacks? What would make someone choose a Microsoft tablet over an iPad tablet … maybe even put down the iPad and take up a Win 8 device.

Enterprise software

I argue that consumers – not all, but millions of them – would put down their iPads and buy Windows 8 tablets if they had the ability … nay, the ease … of running their existing enterprise applications on that same fun tablet.

We consumers aren’t just sitting around watching the Price is Right while stuffing Twinkies into our mouths. Most of us have jobs. Many of us use computers on the job. And while we may season our days with guilty pleasures (“hello, Twitter”), we occasionally get work done.

News flash: people take their work home! Americans especially. The work we take home is often written for and running on a Microsoft Windows machine.

Why does Microsoft appear to be running away from this obvious fact? Microsoft could … and should make work life – the life bound up in Microsoft-based business applications – a high-profile component of the Win 8 marketing plan.

Unfortunately, conventional wisdom says they shouldn’t do that. Conventional wisdom says that mobile devices must cater exclusively to an infantilized consumer.  Little baby consumer want pretty applications that are fast and fluid. Little baby consumer want an RSS reader with big pictures … like this one straight from the Jensen Harris Metro-style keynote:


Say what? Geez, who doesn’t need a little pizzaz in his life but call me different: my RSS reader is for reading. Jensen, dude, you’re showing me eight pointless photographs when I want a list of twenty titles and abstracts … you know, something I can use.

But I digress …

Where did we get this limiting caricature of the consumer? I think we bought it from Apple.

Where did Apple get it? Market research? I don’t believe it. I believe Apple made it up. It’s too convenient.

Apple has no enterprise play. They couldn’t promote enterprise applications on the iPad because they have no enterprise applications to promote. So they follow the Apple playbook: if we can’t do it, you shouldn’t want to do it. They pretend that mobile is some kind of other worldly, purely personal experience where work does not belong.

The sad thing is that Microsoft is falling for it. They fell for it with the phone. They’re poised to fall for it again on the tablet. By slavishly chanting Apple’s mantra, Microsoft effectively disarms itself.

Let me be crystal clear.  The tablet is not a PC. Mobile is not the office. Traditional business application UX is tired, clumsy, and unfriendly; todays business apps are as ill-suited for work as they are for play. WIndows 8 Metro is cool beans and a necessary way forward.

But its not all about fun and games. Apple owns that market anyway. Microsoft must wrest it away from them. Microsoft can’t win with great design. It can’t win share with advertising.

Let me channel today’s consumer for you. I …. don’t … care! Microsoft, I think you’re irrelevant. You’re going to have to rip that iPad out of my hands and compel me to use Windows 8.

Convince me, Microsoft, that I can play while I work on that one hot device that covers both my personal life and my job life. Convince my boss that the Windows 8 tablet is both a match for the iPad and a productivity platform for enterprise applications … at no additional cost.

Perfect execution of the perfect Windows 8 design won’t move the needle in 2013. By then it will be “me too, too late”. 

But enterprise software is the differentiator that Apple can’t match. Exploit that. Don’t let Apple fake you out. Leverage your strength. The enterprise angle must be a strategic element of your consumer play.

That’s why I think the Windows 8 “Desktop” stack is the killer feature in Windows 8. Ignore the voices that tell you otherwise. Is “Desktop” too confusing to some consumers? Work on making it less confusing. Don’t kill it; invigorate it.

Energize your enterprise developers – hundreds of thousands strong – who want to Metro-ize their business apps. Stop telling them what they can’t do in Metro. Inspire them to build great Metro business apps. Get moving on the roadmap for the enterprise store; get a proto-type out there. Reassure your corporate customers and developers that you mean business by investing meaningfully in the evolution and marketing of the mature technologies they use today. Praise Silverlight 5 and get hopping on Silverlight 6. We aren’t writing business applications in HTML and JavaScript today. We’re not going to have production ready HTML/JS apps in 2012. That’s just jerking us around. If you really don’t think Metro is the answer for all desktop application needs, then paint us a Windows future that is an answer and build us a bridge from here to there.

I realize I’m proposing an “and” strategy – consumer apps and business apps - not an “or” strategy. “And” strategies are dangerous because they tend to defocus. You have limited resources to be sure. But you can’t just go to market with a carbon copy of Apple’s strategy. They’ll kill you like they’re killing you on the phone. How many billions will you spend for a few points of share? Redirect a fraction of those billions to make enterprise software a first class, integrated pillar of your tablet … on day one. That’s a damn cheap hedge against a repeat of the Windows Phone launch if you ask me.


Fallon Massey said...

Really great post!

The only thing I would add is the sheer stupidity of naming the phone Windows Phone!

Imagine if they named XBox, WindowsBox... sales would have NEVER taken off.

Consumers buy name and packaging as much as functionality!

A sexy/hip name for the phone, and the chances of success would have skyrocketed.

It's not logical, but it's often true. Let's hope Nokia comes up with a name for their phones that has more imagination.

Ian Smith said...

Another excellent post Ward. Thanks.

And yeah, I really loved Jensen's talk but like you I was thinking "Dude, those pictures mean nothing to me. Give me back the God-damned RSS feed titles".

Anonymous said...

Excellent article!
Just another thought: It also depends on how cloud computing develops. I personally believe it is strongly hyped at the moment. And I also don't see a huge majority of enterprise applications to immediately jump into the cloud. But the ominous cloud does bring operating system independence.

Michael Washington said...

Wow great article. I totally agree. I believe that if the Windows phone allowed Enterprises to side load their own apps the phone would be bigger. However Microsoft wanted to make money on the app store. Well they got 30% of 1% of the market. It should have been 30% of at least 10% of the market.

David Nelson said...

Absolutely agree with the need to focus on where their strength has always been, with the enterprise, while making up ground on the consumer side.

I will disagree a little bit, though, with your vision for business apps in the Metro world. The problem with the UX in business apps has never been that the technology wasn't there to create well designed, good looking, polished business apps. It's that businesses don't care. Really, they don't. The users who have to use those business apps care, but the managers who make the decisions about where resources are going to be spent don't. What are the users going to do, use a different app? They don't have a choice. Are they going to change jobs because the software the business makes them use is buggy? Unlikely. None of this will change in the Metro world. Show me any business app that you can create in Metro, and I will create it without Metro. So why isn't that being done now? Because businesses don't care.

I am a developer at one of those businesses, and I see this firsthand all the time. It's sad, but unfortunately, there is an argument to be made that it's good business.

Ralph Flora said...

Thank you for saying what I think many of us are thinking. I went to a Windows Phone Camp at the MS office here in Atlanta yesterday. Everything I saw that was supposedly "new to you" I was thinking "Android already does that". Just another example of chasing coat tails doesn't work, regardless of how you sugarcoat it.

Bil Simser said...

Great post. I don't agree that iPads are going to display PCs. Perhaps at home with casual users, but certainly not in the enterprise. In some cases in the enterprise it might make sense (for example I think iPads totally kick it in the consumer service industry). For executives who are on the go, the iPad nails it again providing them just the right amount of flexibility to read emails, surf, and do basic document editing (with some addon software). However for most corporations iPads just don't work. Even with a keyboard attached, they're not a PC and never can be for heavy users of spreadsheets or LOB apps (it is dependent on the LOB apps and some might be suited for the iPad).

I wrote a blog post here that is an alternate take on things, thinking Microsoft should offer up two OS flavours and not try to merge Metro and Classic together. It's an opposite conclusion to your points but I think both are valid.


Anonymous said...

I would have called it XPhone, but who listens to me... :->

David Ching said...

If you're saying main differentiator of Win 8 is chance to target enterprise, that is mighty scary. Consumers won't select a tablet if only added value is to be able to do work on it. They will just carry two devices.

Instead, the real MS vision is being first to show same UI on PC's and handhelds in Win 8. Because both consumers and business care about that. Imagine buying an app that targets both PC and handheld and using it on both seemlessly.

(Whether Metro works as well with keyboard+mouse remains to be seen.)