What’s the world coming to? Microsoft lost money in the software business last quarter, the first loss in a decades long string of positive earnings from the world’s biggest software company. Sheesh! Yes, there were extenuating circumstances that you can read about here, but the loss signals the breadth and depth of the impact that the tablet is having on the hardware market. The iPad tablet to be precise and its economy size, iOS sharing little brother, the iPhone. For a quick slide show on iPad’s penetration and adoption check out this presentation from Business Insider.
Last time I asked if hardware was becoming sexy again and why. The answers seem to be “Yes” and “Because tablets have reached a new price point that opens up more emerging global markets to computing.” Tablets and their near kin, smartphones, are defining a global computing platformfor the next decade and beyond promising first world information access to many people formerly left in the dust.
The writing was already on the wall when analyst firms IDC and Gartner recently documented a stall in the PC/laptop forward momentum. Lower PC sales means fewer operating system sales and all that goes with it. To be sure, tens of millions of units are still being sold this year along with operating systems and productivity software often bundled in. But growth has stalled as new customers in emerging markets are voting to type on Gorilla Glass over keyboards.
Every paradigm goes through a predictable lifecycle and the computer operating system dependent on hardware sales is another example, not an exception. Microsoft, Intel and others invested heavily in thin, ultra-light laptop machines as the next thing that would protect the franchise and compete with tablets, but they were still too expensive and ultimately not cool enough. If Microsoft expects to get its OS mojo back it will need to cajole its hardware partners into really being competitive with tablets.
Right now, everything is going the way of the tablet and Apple can almost do no wrong. Even when a European judge made a finding in favor of Samsung in a patent dispute with Apple recently, he declared the Samsung gear “not as cool” as Apple’s and therefore not infringing on Apple patents. That’s just amazing.
Windows 8 comes out later this year and Microsoft has introduced a tablet of its own, the Surface. The game is far form over but the latest brush with reality suggests Microsoft might have been prescient in going “all in” as Steve Ballmer said of the company’s approach to cloud computing some time ago. Microsoft is at some intermediate point in its journey from vendor of licensed software to ringmaster of a giant subscription economy. Like many companies in similar transitions, the going isn’t always smooth but if anyone can pull this off it ought to be the guys in Redmond.
When I’ve spent time with the Redmond gang over the last couple of years I’ve been impressed with how much they get it, not just at a high level but throughout the organization. All in, Azure, and retail stores suggest a company thinking its way through the changes. And analytics and social networks suggest they really get it. Maybe all in should be replaced by we get it or better, we get you, but not quite yet.
But on a cautionary note getting to the cloud or to tablets won’t be enough; this is a business model change that every company has to deal with and Microsoft has done more than many already. Now, Microsoft’s partners have to pick up the gauntlet and evangelize more than ever.
This week (on July 25) Zuora will release a Fireside Chat video discussion that I am participating in. It will be all about the cloud and subscriptions and I expect an important theme will be the attention that subscription companies need to pay not to selling but to service and ensuring customer happiness. And, oh, heck, while I am talking about myself I might as well mention that my new book is coming out around the same time — “The Subscription Economy — How Subscriptions Improve Business.”
While the changes in the industry might be painful for some, they also represent innovation and creative destruction which is the hallmark of a vibrant economy. The issue for us is not how to slow down change but how to embrace and leverage it. Once the election clears out I think Q4 could be an important turning point as winners and losers get back to the work of inventing the future and making money.
This is important, I think
So Microsoft bought Skype this week. Skype is the hobby of some telephony enthusiasts intent on chatting over the internet through voice over IP (VoIP). A business makes money, a hobby doesn’t have to and Skype never has, hence the designation.
Deciphering the meaning in this transaction is something of a challenge. Microsoft has a very serviceable unified communications (UC) solution for businesses, which I have often suggested should be tightly integrated with Dynamics CRM for numerous reasons that amount to low cost, green and smart. Still we wait. So in this environment it is puzzling why the company would invest $8.5 billion in this VoIP company.
Others have suggested a future link between Skype and Microsoft’s burgeoning gaming products and I wonder if that’s the direction of the purchase. Skype has over half a billion customers — let’s just call it one FB (a Facebook unit). If ten percent of them are would be gamers, it would open up a lot of new opportunity for Microsoft. When you are as big as Microsoft (revenues of about 62 billion — just call it an MS unit — you need numbers like that to make the needle move and bring smiles to the faces of the gnomes on Wall Street. So I get it but only so far.
It would be severely interesting to see Microsoft attempt to become an alternative telephone company competing with Verizon and ATT on one hand and Vonage, Comcast and other cable providers (Verizon again) on the other. None of them has innovated beyond their basic service offerings and it’s time some body did. It could happen. Consider this: televisions are being built with basic web access features today and with a little push your TV could become your primary telephony device, with images too. At this point it’s a cultural issue not technology.
Tele on the tele could make TV and telephony interesting again. With transportation costs escalating and the majority of the people I survey already feeling the effects and driving less, telepresence for the domicile might be very attractive. Furthermore, tele/tele might become a reality show of sorts with all of us actors and viewers in our own dramas simultaneously. Marshall McLuhan would approve.
What are you doing Friday night? Hanging with some friends around the electronic hearth with a bottle of Zin? Hosting the book club? It could happen.