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?
The war of portable media players has just gotten hotter!
On 24th August 2009, Microsoft anounced the touch screen version of the Zune portable media player which was announced on 26th May, this year was ready for launch and has been christened Zune HD.According to a report on Cnet, Microsoft will launch Zune HD’s sales campaign on 15th September at a price point of USD219 for 16GB and USD289 for 32G in 2 color options of black and platinum. Amongst others, Zune HD will offer several features that are not found on the iPod Touch, including an OLED display, HD radio, and high-definition video playback (using an optional dock accessory). Other new fetures will also feature Internet Explorer Web browser to work hand in hand with other Wi-Fi features (song sharing, Channel streaming, and Zune Marketplace browsing).Zune HD’s browser is optimized for the touch screen with an onscreen keyboard, but there’s no word on whether it will be capable of streaming Flash media (used by sites such as YouTube and Pandora), a capability that is currently lacking in the Safari browser for the iPhone and iPod Touch.Another interesting feature of the Zune HD will be it’s ability to integrate an HD radio tuner which can also transmit artist and song data, very useful for it’s existing FM radio song-tagging and download feature.Other regular features like a photo viewer, games, podcast management, and Zune Pass music subscription integration. Another significant improvement compared to Zune’s previous models will be it’s battery life. Microsoft said that it can have 33 hours of music playback and 8.5 hours of video (with Wi-Fi deactivated). High battery life will be significant since Zune’s previous models are none other than their poor battery performance.Microsoft also plans to dramatically beef up the video download selection of its Zune Marketplace online store, and use the improved storefront to power the movie and TV downloads available to the Xbox gaming console. The new storefront will support movie rentals that can be transferred to Zune hardware (similar to iTunes movie rentals) playable from either your computer or from the Zune HD.
If Microsoft was trying to steal the thunder out of Apple’s media event on 9th September, it almost succeeded. Almost! Apple’s reply came barely 48hrs after Microsoft’s declaration. Zune HD would be met with a fight and Apple would launch the newest versions of iPod Nano and iPod Touch to counter Zune HD! The big story would be the addition of Cameras to both the iPods! Also featuring would be the introduction of iTunes 9 with elements of social networking built into them. Rumours have it that Apple’s iTunes could carry support for Blu-ray discs, visual management and rearrangement capabilities for App Store software.
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.
One of the general principles of advertising is not to mention your competitor by name in your ads. That limits the field of your offering and also gives the feeling tht you are acknowledging the competitor as a benchmark (to Consumers/in products) or a threat (to yourself). This is especialy true for Market leaders.It is in this context that Microsoft’s Lauren ad has raised a few eye brows. After all, Microsoft retains a whopping 90% market share in the OS markets world over.It shows a young woman, Lauren shopping for a under $1000 laptop with a 17 inch screen and mentions Mac by name and feaatures the Mac Store. The ad is essentially about Bargain hunting (a reference to recessionary times) and comes up with a $699 price tag for the 17 inch Hewlett Packard laptop that Lauren wants. Watch the ad here.
The swipe at Apple may look like a reaction to losses registered in numbers of Windows users who have switched away from cheap PCs to Macs, and tiny losses in market share to Mac! However, it has more to do with other aspects in which Microsoft and Apple compete in the world markets. The ad is probably a reaction to the following that Apple has been trouncing Microsoft at:
1. The Music Space (with iTunes and iPods)
2. The Smartphone space
3. The Apps store space
4. Apple’s positioning campaign redefining PCs and Macs and adding the “cool” quotient. (View here)
It starts in the Music space, where Zune (Microsoft’s answer to the iPod) has made no headway in gaining market share from the iPod. Zune features down in the matching the “sexy” iPod looks and iPod trounces it when it is combined with the iTunes. (Read the comparison here)
Microsoft’s famous forbearance “errors” plagues it in the smartphone space as well. When Apple announced the iPhone in January 2007, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer infamously dismissed the iPhone as too expensive. to quote Steve Ballmer in the April 2007, USA Today interview, ““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 percent or 70 percent or 80 percent of them, than I would to have 2 percent or 3 percent, which is what Apple might get.”As it has turned out in the 2 years since, Apple has come from 0 to 10.4% in smartphone OS space, where as Microsoft has been at the 11.8 – 12.4% for sometime now. Covered in a previous blog: http://technologyandtelecom.blogspot.com/2009/03/mobile-operating-systems-by-market.html
To complement its smartphone growth and popularity, Apple already has the first and currently most popular (and “profitable”???) business in distribution of applications world over. This is something that Microsoft has not ventured in though one may have expected it to be a pioneer in this field given its technology advantage. http://technologyandtelecom.blogspot.com/2009/03/apple-software-services-as.html
Apart from stiff competition, the popularity of the iPhone presents another problem for Microsoft: like the iPod, it’s introducing Apple technology to millions of Windows users. Among the factors in the rise in the Mac’s market share, the iPod “halo effect” cannot just be ruled out. Positioning oneself as a cool technology provider versus, Microsoft’s “straight jacketed, pin robbed, stiff and official” is where Apple is also making astatement with consumers. In face of that, “Lauren” could get nastier at taking swipes at Apple! Steve Balmer is already at it talking tough about overpriced Macs! (So he’s exploiting the bad economy with an ad like “Lauren” to depict Macs as an impractical choice. )
Cost advantage may be good speaking point in these recessionary times, but with Apple’s kind of brand equity building up steadily, one wonders if Microsoft is really the cocky confident it once was.