Blockbuster vs. Bluster
They’ve sold certainly more than I’d like them to sell, let me just be clear about that. We have got to make things happen. Just like we had to make things happen on netbooks, we’ve got to make things happen with Windows 7 on slates, and we’re in the process of doing that as we speak.
Well, Steve, we’re waiting. And so far, we’re unimpressed. Despite having a multi-year head start on cell phone operating systems, Microsoft was caught off-guard and only now–three years after the iPhone first came out, three and a half since it was introduced–is their own product, Windows Phone 7, on the verge of coming out… kind of, maybe before the end of the year. And remember what Ballmer said about the iPhone back before its release:
There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance. It’s a $500 subsidized item. They may make a lot of money. But if you actually take a look at the 1.3 billion phones that get sold, I’d prefer to have our software in 60% or 70% or 80% of them, than I would to have 2% or 3%, which is what Apple might get.
Oh, Steve. What a card.
What happened was that Microsoft was arrogant and miscalculated. It had a crappy OS, and mistook a lack of competition for excellence. It didn’t get cell phones, didn’t see the same potential Apple saw. And as a result, they were left sitting in the iPhone’s dust, wondering what the hell went wrong. They had to completely abandon what they had and start over from scratch, putting them years behind.
So, what does this say about tablets? Ballmer introduced a few running Windows before the iPad was introduced; nobody was interested. Probably one of the biggest problems is that despite appearances, Microsoft doesn’t have an OS for tablets yet. All it has is its OS designed for desktops and laptops, which is particularly unsuited for tablets. Ballmer said at the beginning of the year that tablets “should take advantage of the touch and mobility capabilities of Windows 7.” But Windows was designed for a single-point user interface, tablets run best with multi-touch. Microsoft is still stuck in the past in this regard. Back at the beginning of the year, Bill Gates said:
You know, I’m a big believer in touch and digital reading, but I still think that some mixture of voice, the pen and a real keyboard — in other words a netbook – will be the mainstream on that. So, it’s not like I sit there and feel the same way I did with iPhone where I say, “Oh my God, Microsoft didn’t aim high enough.” It’s a nice reader, but there’s nothing on the iPad I look at and say, “Oh, I wish Microsoft had done it.”
This shows one of the reasons why Microsoft was again caught off guard: it didn’t get tablets, just like it didn’t get the cell phone. Remember, Microsoft eschewed finger-based interfaces with cell phones right up until the iPhone became a runaway hit, thinking that people preferred using a stylus. Unbelievably, Gates still thinks people prefer a stylus over multitouch, and after seeing the iPad, still thought that netbooks would win out. With the iPad likely having sold around five million units so far, and aiming for 10 million by the end of the year, tablets–with the iPad predominating–are predicted to outsell netbooks within just a few years.
Ballmer now says that Microsoft will “make things happen” on tablets like they did on netbooks, but that’s not so likely. The way Microsoft “made things happen” on netbooks was to pressure manufacturers to replace Linux with Windows XP, until netbooks got powerful enough to run Windows 7. That’s not “making things happen,” that’s just throwing your weight around and (as usual) not really innovating anything. And on tablets, it’s not like Apple will be pressured to put Windows 7 on the iPad, not to mention that Microsoft will be up against Android tablets as well–and Google won’t be as easy a push-over as Linux was.
As usual, Microsoft got it wrong on its own, and is playing catch-up here. What else is new?