An eerie silence is present just before Windows 8 launch. The big stories of the day are the battle between Apple and Samsung, iPhone versus Android, and Google versus Apple. The trending topics on Mashable are in order: Twitter, Google, Apple, iPhone, Social Networking, Google+, Social Media, YouTube, Business, Android, iPad, Google Chrome, and… down the ladder somewhere is lurching Microsoft. No trace of Windows 8.
GigaOm, proudly promoting its own brand of research has almost no trace of Microsoft or Windows 8. Today on its navigation bar there is a prominent Apple menu item and a long list of articles on the home page, only one of which mentions Microsoft related story, although even that is about Xbox music service to launch on Android and iOS. Top articles menu bar has iPhone 5 on a prominent position.
Others are more preoccupied with the imminent invasion. ZDnet and C/Net have tons of articles on Windows 8, but they also have articles criticising the new operating system and predict failure (see below prediction for Win 8 RT certain failure). However, if you browse these two sites, it strikes you how many announcements of new Win 8 products are rushed by a large number of vendors even before the official launch of the platform software. The latest one is from Samsung, the Korean electronics powerhouse who unveils an ultrabook and tablets.
None of the media outlets dares to look into the significance of the new operating system. Sure, it’s risky and judging by the success of Windows Phone 7.5, Microsoft has had an aura of outdated technology. I may be wrong, but I don’t understand why they fail to see the magnitude of Microsoft’s transformation. I can see how they would want to avoid publishing risky prediction, but at least they should take a look at what is going on deep under the surface and forget for a moment the buzzwords of the day. The online journals have columnist who cultivate a loyal relationship with its biased readers. This is always a gold mine for ratings. Whenever and article is published about Apple or Google, an army of loyal fans work hard to make their presence felt. The ratings go up and everyone is happy. Postings about Windows phone 7 have a far smaller ‘stir’ factor.
I don’t have that kind of problem, so I am at an advantage. I can write what I want. To me, Microsoft has achieved an incredible turn around and it has become the innovator, while the others have acquired the status of the conservative incumbents. The tiles introduce a very novel and powerful concept. Because they are designed to be dynamic displaying real-time information pushed by various digital services, the combinations across the massive array of technical services starting from cloud computing platforms, to music, emails, weather, and anything in between, Microsoft is building a super-ecosystem using a quasi-seamless operating system . An example of what kind of services is possible in this super-ecosystem is Xbox Music. This is very difficult to replicate. Google has an excellent search and social network platform, but its operating system is fragmented to say the least. Apple is mono-cultural and built around one service: the AppStore/iTunes.
The signs of adoption of innovation are there: first, all vendors have announced a myriad of products, many of them quite innovative. Secondly, the new products are creating new categories which promise to fill the gap between tablets and laptops. Microsoft Surface is leading this trend. For Microsoft the innovation cycle starts anew.
Thirdly, the IT managers show a great deal of interest in Windows 8. It is interesting that in a survey published on InfoWorld Google Android is loosing share, while iOS is gaining. This is pointing to a problem that Android has in the enterprise space: fragmentation. This makes it difficult to support. Windows 8 will not have that problem and because of its strong compatibility with the legacy Windows platform it will have a faster adoption than the other two. And finally, Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 RT have a strong support from all vendors. This is where Apples win against Samsung might prove to be a very costly mistake, a Pyrrhic victory. I should also mention Nokia, which released Nokia Lumia 920. For the first time, Nokia looks better on paper than its main competitors, Samsung and Apple.
Windows 8 may have an impact on the education market. iPads are great looking devices, but they are difficult to integrate and use as effective learning tools. The new detachable and convertible ultrabooks may prove to be more practical and for the same reasons IT managers are ready to adopt Windows 8, education systems may have a strong interest in the new devices.
Now that the dust settled and everyone forgot about Nokia’s decision to partner with Microsoft, I can write quietly about why I think this is a good deal for both Nokia and Microsoft.
If you have a look around in the news world you will see that all the rage is about Apple versus Google, iPhone against Android iPad fighting the Honeycomb wave. Microsoft and Nokia are off the radar, as if they don’t exist. December 2010 saw Google activating 300,000 phones per day. This is a nightmare for Microsoft and Nokia is not doing much better on the much publicised “burning platform”.
But maybe in the long run, the evolution will not follow this trend in a linear fashion. We are wired to extrapolate past and present events and “predict” the future based on educated expectations. The expectation is that Android will keep growing at this pace and dominate the market copiously. I challenge this expectation.
The fact that so many manufacturers are crowding the Android space is because the mobile computing is really hot and growing fast. Google is the cheapest way for these manufacturers to have a piece of action with zero investment in the operating system. Consumers cannot get enough of it. Apple opened the floodgates with the launch of the iPhone. In one stroke Steve Jobs changed the telecomm space and moved the centre of gravity from network services providers to computing ecosystem makers.
If you browse the media chatter about mobile phones, the talk is still focused on handsets. The reviews analyse new models based on a few hardware design considerations; the operating system is never a differentiator within the Android camp. This is where things are going to be interesting in the next couple of years. A true complete design is not solely about the handset, but about integration in an ecosystem that is useful, practical, innovative, secure and aesthetically pleasing in the same time.
When it comes to the ecosystem, Apple has an edge against Google. One example is that all models in the Android space are compared with either iPhone or iPad. This is free advertising for Apple all the way. For individual manufacturers of handsets in the Android space the innovation process is limited to hardware details and there isn’t much room for playing outside the boundaries set by Google. Each one of them wants to gain market share not only against Apple but against the other Android players. For now the market accommodates all participants and it rewards them handsomely. But the day of reckoning is coming fast because the market has a limited size. Someone will loose badly.
This is why I believe Nokia made a good decision, provided Microsoft will do its part. Microsoft and Nokia can combine their research capabilities and resources to create an ecosystem rivalling Apple’s in a way that Google and the Android manufacturers cannot accomplish because there is too much inconsistency and strategic conflict among all the participants. In the long run Samsung, HTC and Motorola will compete among themselves at hardware level with little scope for value add.
Microsoft and Nokia have a chance to do something different and start a really interesting race with Apple. Nokia has outstanding customer service and it can exploit this partnership best by focusing on innovating this product category in a way the Android partners cannot dream of. Because of the critical strategic overlap between Microsoft and Nokia, it is possible that Nokia will be able to influence the direction of future design. One space in which these two partners can innovate is in shopping experience, such as for instance purchasing using the mobile phone and instant access to product information (Microsoft is a leader in the advanced product tagging). The Windows ecosystem can be developed to create a better market place experience. That is IF Microsoft will be able to support the partnership in a more creative way. Until now it hasn’t shown much and sometimes their effort in this space reminds me of the days when IBM was trying desperately to revive OS/2 when they failed because they could not get rid of the habit of behaving like a massive rigid corporation and compete with a much nimbler Microsoft.