About 3 months back, I had been musing about the change that was afoot at Microsoft – The 30 year old OS centric company was for the first time shedding its old feathers to look, feel and compete with the new kid on the block – Google and a resurgent old rival – Apple. Ballmer’s letters to Microsoft share holders clearly signals that Microsoft is moving away from its make the OS & the service, let the partner handle the device model, which is what Ballmer terms as “significant shift, both in what we do and how we sees ourselves”. This is clearly necessitated by Internet and cloud centric business models, which puts the Microsoft traditional server, desktop and OS centric model. Given the momentum that Apple has now in mobile workforce and cloud space and the initial cold shrugs that Microsoft’s high price tablets have seen, Micorosft will take more batter before they get better. Also, the head start that Apple and Android have in the mobility space can be hard to overcome. Microsoft has to play the game changer and it needs its OEMs to support it while it does so. However the device route would mean that it will expend itself trying to integrate things into the user experience and the device. May be Google and Apple are doing this bit – but Microsoft will have to really execl to take the game away from Google and Apple.
The Windows centricity still remains as per Ballmer the intent to “firmly establishing one platform, Windows, across the PC, tablet, phone, server and cloud to drive a thriving ecosystem of developers, unify the cross-device user experience, and increase agility when bringing new advancements to market.” With Windows8, Microsoft is pushing to have unified messaging across all platforms. More than just sharing the same name, the various versions of Windows for different devices will now share a common foundation. It’s a move not dissimilar to what Apple does with OS X and iOS and its an essential part of making it easy for developers to target specific platforms.
Ballmer closes his shareholder letter by noting that “it truly is a new era at Microsoft ” and that the company has “an unprecedented amount of opportunity for both this year and the long term.” However given the number of competitors that it has to contend with, and the umbrage of the OEM makers who see Microsoft’s device designs as a challenge to their own competencies – it will be a complex equation, making the revenue and profits strategy work in a dynamic environment. Already the new game that Microsoft is playing itself is hurting itself as it suffered its worst loss ever in its 26 year old history in April-June quarter 2012.
However, it does make sense for a possible take over a beleaguered Nokia by Microsoft. Doesn’t it?
Starting end of July, Microsoft will offer users the chance to stream music for free and also download to own. Music is an important area for Microsoft and they are looking at launching a music streaming service imminently (also from a view to bolster the appeal of Microsoft Zune). This music streaming service is similar in principle to Spotify.
Users can stream music for free in exchange for listening to around a minute of advertising every half hour but for £9.99 a month, the ads will be turned off. It is thought Microsoft’s offering will be ad-supported too as well as having a paid-for premium service.
Microsoft is looking at how other similar businesses have structured their business models and trying to figure out what will work best for both consumer and Microsoft. The service would be operated and owned by Microsoft, while being promoted through MSN and other parts of the Microsoft network.
The service could be tied in with Microsoft’s Xbox gaming console, though the details of how a partnership would work have not been drawn yet. The addition of a Microsoft-owned music streaming service would tie in with an increasingly consumer focussed strategy from company to make its Xbox 360 console the main “entertainment hub” in the family home. Users are already able to download movies through their console and play games against one another online.
In an increasingly competitive marketplace, Microsoft can bring “scale and a quality of product” to the music streaming scene. The knowledge of the music industry the company had gleaned via Zune and also the player’s technology, had all been incorporated into the service’s development process. Microsoft recently announced it would launch a high definition version of its music player: Zune , but it will only be available in the United States. Microsoft is in talks to identify download partner for its music streaming service.