Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Keep Taking the Tablets, Boys

This whole tablet thing isn't happening. It won't take off not in the way it actually has done already. It will be the way we design it to be. The market will stop, retrench and come back to our way of thinking. I have my fingers in my ears and I'm saying 'La la la la'. I can't hear you, Mr Tablet Market.

That's the Microsoft way, according to Andy Lees, MS Windows Phone President, who said as much at this week's WPC event in Los Angeles. In doing so Microsoft has banned its OEM Partners from using the Windows Phone operating system as the operating system for tablets.
OK, let's recap the story so far. By June of this year, Apple had sold approximately 25 million iPads, and that rate of growth in sales is accelerating with 6 million sold in the 3 months between March and June. In total between smartphones and tablets around 394 million have been sold versus a global PC population of 1.3 billion and a global mobile subscriber base of 5.1 billion.

Something has changed. Knock, knock Microsoft. Hello, is there anyone at home?

By 2014 it is estimated that there will be more than 400 million tablets sold globally at a rate of 185 million a year by then. It is thought that not Apple but Google's Android operating system (OS) will be the choice of over 40% of those tablet vendors and will be the biggest market share. It is estimated that Microsoft will have less than 13% of the tablet OS market, Blackberry falling to just 5%.

Why is it important to treat these devices as mobile smartphone type devices and not PCs? Don't we want to use them for business? Won't we want Microsoft Office running native on these devices?

The answer is that yes we will want them as hybrid devices as Microsoft describes them but the paradigm has changed. The web has become the platform so we don't need USB ports or adherence to corporate networks, we just need access to the web by WiFi or 3/4G. We want to use these lightweight devices to port business around like a briefcase, sharing folders in The Cloud but having local copies.

Just this morning I blogged that Microsoft Office 365 is already redundant for the iPad because it's SharePoint back end is the wrong animal for the job and it assumes bulky Office client software to be present in full on the local device. Dropbox is the obvious choice. GoToDocs allows creation, viewing and editing of MS files and PDFs and you can print them via WiFi (OK that's ropey for now but it's not rocket science to get it right). This application was downloaded in seconds from iTunes Store and cost less than a few pounds. And cost is key here - nothing in Apple's App Store costs over £30 at the last look. This is good news.

And this is the point. We don't want another device that takes an age to boot and has zillions of processes clogging up the CPU and memory. We want always-on, reasonably priced innovative applications that allow mobile working to be not just effective but affordable. We don't want over-priced, resource-hogging, out-moded operating systems hammering the performance. We want machines with high performance graphics that we can use as a business-grade engine AND as a recreation device - that lasts full day in battery and doesn't weigh a ton.

The tablet market is one of the most exciting things to emerge in the industry for a decade and products like Evernote lead the way in terms of usable business software. A superb MS OneNote alternative constantly synchronises the notes you make on all devices via the Cloud - and it's free. Why do you want vast local storage with that power at your fingertips?

At last the world of computing has wrestled free of Microsoft's grip. And it's fast moving and it's exciting again. This weekend Google Plus will attain 20 million users in just a short period of time - that pulling power is distorting our way of thinking and users like the way it's going. The web is making the world of computing available to any device and it's capturing our imagination.
Microsoft has to change. It is fast becoming a dinosaur and there is a feel of the IBM of the 80s about the management talk as they adhere to only things they know and want to hear. They talk only in the product set they have and cannot seem to innovate new things to tackle the companies stealing their market.

With the European PC market dropping by over 17% this year, the writing is on the wall as the tablet market grows into the space left behind. The world has changed already and Steve Ballmer, Lees and others at the top are standing Canute-like as the 'Sea of Progress' inevitably washes over them.

The problem is that Microsoft's numbers don't reflect it yet. And that IBM feeling comes back once again. The bolt from the blue - the one no one saw coming - has already struck but it hasn't manifested itself in the numbers as yet. The tablet market is established and the main player is not Microsoft - that has got to hurt.

Where a potential 13% of the tablet market leaves MS OS and Office is anyone's guess but with a potential 40% of it, Google would be rather hopeful that they may have a greater say than anyone else with Apple standing beside them.

You could not have predicted this just two years ago. Bill Gates once wrote a book, 'Business at the Speed of Thought'. Well it seemed someone stopped thinking in his company. And Steve Ballmer is reputed to have once fielded questions from an audience where he started by saying, 'Microsoft is right. Now what was the question?'

That about says it all.

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