In the waning days of his tenure, Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer couldn’t be interviewed without a sentence including the phrase “software & services.” Like the Microsoft Ballmer left, the Microsoft of new CEO Satya Nadella wants to be the one solution for just about everyone and everything.
The company wants businesses to run their applications using its Azure Cloud Service, and it’s hoping that consumers will continue buying laptops and desktops running its Windows operating system in droves. On the other hand, the new Surface Pro 3, the Nokia Devices & Services acquisition and the Xbox One all indicate that Microsoft is determined to sell hardware to consumers.
No matter where you turn there are old school Microsoft fans who don’t appreciate the company embracing consumers. These people hope that Microsoft sells off Xbox entirely and goes back to its business roots. I in no way agree with these people. On the other hand, if Microsoft continues doing what it’s done in the entertainment space lately it might as well.
Microsoft is in a strange position. The Surface family of tablets aren’t burning up tablet sales charts, but they are selling and are universally viewed as the best Windows devices available in their respective categories. Windows is still being installed on millions of desktops and laptops, and recent decisions, like making Windows 8 free for tablets with screens smaller than 9-inches and the cheaper priced Windows 8 with Bing, are going to push Windows device prices into crazy-affordable buying territory. Heck, there’s never been more Windows Phone device makers, available apps, or new buyers either.
Unfortunately, all three platforms are being held back by their respective entertainment services. The iPhone, Windows Phone and Android versions of Xbox Music have about as many exclusive features as Samsung has original ideas. Xbox Video isn’t available on other mobile platforms at all and the version of Xbox Video that’s on Windows 8 hasn’t seen nearly as many improvements as it should have. Hell, Xbox Music on the Xbox One isn’t stable when snapped to the side of user’s screen. To top all of that off, we’ve seen nothing from Microsoft that indicates they’re moving to provide Windows users with a native way to purchase books.
The iPhone, Windows Phone and Android versions of Xbox Music have about as many exclusive features as Samsung has original ideas.
Individually each of these issues poke holes in Microsoft’s consumer story. You can’t sell someone on the idea of there being One Microsoft when the entertainment experiences on your platforms aren’t consistent. Or worse, consistently not as good as rivals. Especially since the smartphone and the tablet – two areas were Microsoft hopes to turn their fortune around – are almost entirely form factors dominated by entertainment apps and services.
To be successful, Microsoft has to first realize that what it’s doing in the entertainment space isn’t nearly good enough. Users listen to music on their smartphones, watch streaming videos on their tablets and read books when they’ve left their headphones at home. They want to buy devices that enable these experiences easily. Today, no one is buying a Surface or Nokia device because of the entertainment experience, and anyone who tells you they are is hitting the sauce.
Fix this Microsoft. Fix your entertainment experience now and watch buyers talk passionately about your products. Fail to fix it and continue watching buyers talk passionately about Apple, Google and Amazon’s products. The choice is yours.