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Blockbuster vs. Bluster

July 30th, 2010

Steve Ballmer on the iPad:

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?

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  1. Troy
    July 30th, 2010 at 10:32 | #1

    “tablets run best with multi-touch”

    Do they? Other than the zoom-in/out feature, multitouch isn’t that big a deal IMO.

    What Apple absolutely crushed was the glass touch factor of the display.

    Resistive touch devices have this grody film covering that makes touching the screen seem unsanitary.

    I bought a PPC 6700 (“Apache”):


    in early 2006 because I was impressed with its specs, but Apple, just a year later, killed this phone in these important areas:

    1) No Stylus — this is the biggie, having to use a stylus is like eating rice with a toothpick

    2) Bigger screen the iPhone is twice the size of the 6700

    3) Thin — the iPhone is about 30% the thickness of the 6700, weighs about half as much too

    4) But the BIG thing was Apple establishing a new platform that developers could target — this was a two-step process of shipping enough phones that were substantially similar, and then creating and administering the AppStore.

    The Apache was a great phone for its time but software developers could never create a business plan for targetting it, since it was just one of dozens of phones and there was no good way for getting apps onto the device, either from the developer’s or the user’s perspective.

    I’ve got Microsoft’s beta SDK for Windows Phone 7 . . . Not terribly impressed. I think they have an uphill road against Android, let alone iPhone.

  2. Luis
    July 30th, 2010 at 14:53 | #2


    Well, first of all, pinch/zoom is a pretty big one (along with it’s cousin, the two-fingered rotate gesture), but there are several others, and any number are possible–it’s just a matter of software developers using them. Take Keynote, for example, and the multitouch features which help select and move multiple slides, or the feature to resize an image to match another?

    How about any number of music apps which rely on multitouch to make multiple contacts with keys/notes at the same time? If Apple were of the bent to make the iPad keyboard shift-capable (only ! and ? are available now), then using the shift key would be a much bigger deal–but not if you can only do one contact point at a time.

    I have apps which other multitouch gestures are notable–in Google Maps, for example, a two-fingered tap zooms out.

    What has surprised me is that software developers don’t utilize multi-touch more. Apple has done a fair job of using it in various places, but few independent developers seem to want to use much more than swipe and pinch.

    However, I agree on the others–touch interface, screen size, form factor, and platform are biggies. But you left out the simple OS which is easy to navigate and use without training, and the familiarity won from 3 years of selling iPhones.

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