It’s been an interesting few weeks for Microsoft. XP has gone off Support and left many clients exposed to security risks. At the same time, the US Government has just warned all users to avoid using Internet Explorer (IE) versions 6 to 11 as they say that there is a serious flaw that hackers are already apparently exploiting.
Against this backdrop, Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s newly minted CEO, joined Microsoft’s recent earnings call to talk about the ‘courage’ they will exhibit as they move forward. Let’s hope that courage includes supporting clients who find themselves in difficulty from product flaws.
Microsoft reported earnings were $6.97 billion on revenue of $20.4 billion; this is roughly flat with a year ago. But this third quarter fiscal 2014 earnings call might be more memorable for the fact that the company's CEO was on the call than for anything about the earnings report itself. Nadella spent an hour on the analyst call on April 24 talking Microsoft strategy and answering Wall Street analyst questions. That's something former CEO Steve Ballmer rarely did.
While Nadella didn't make any major announcements, he did drop a few hints that might tell us more about his plans and where Microsoft may be going.
"What you can expect of Microsoft is courage in the face of reality, we will approach our future with a challenger mind set," Nadella told analysts. Here are a few challenges that spring to my mind; cumbersome and sometimes conflicting contractual paperwork, product divisions working in isolation from each other, Google and IBM competing hard in the email/collaboration/cloud space, having to cut Azure prices to more closely align to Apple and Amazon, and a frustratingly slow start in the tablet space.
Google acquired Nest for billions, and then Facebook spent several more billion on Oculus VR. We’re only a few months into 2014, and already billions have been spent by some of the world’s largest digital players, with each of these companies eager to own the next big thing. Mobile is right here, right now, but everyone knows that very soon, there will be something else. But what else?
In the battle to find and claim the next device that everyone will want, these companies will soon realize that next big thing is not a thing at all: It’s your voice.
Voice control suffers from the same things plaguing augmented reality or virtual reality: It has been around for so long that we think we know what it is. Any fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation knows that voice control involves invoking an invisible computer with a command, “Computer,” followed by a query, “How many Klingons does it take to screw in a light bulb?” Maybe that’s a question you don’t want the answer to, but the computer — as voiced by Majel Barrett in the TV series — would know it.
It’s possibly a long history of popular depictions of voice control that made us collectively show so much enthusiasm for Siri when Apple first debuted it in 2011. It’s also partly to blame for why we quickly turned on Siri, declaring her soothing semi-robotic tones to be merely amusing at best or irrelevant at worst.
When Microsoft recently announced its long-rumored Cortana voice service for Windows Phone 8.1 as a catch-up to both Siri and Google Now’s own voice interface, the interest was modest, perhaps because if Siri hasn’t changed the way millions of Apple users use millions of Apple devices, how can Microsoft initiate a wave of behavior change when it has so few Windows Phone users?
When Clippy, Microsoft’s paper-clip assistant, disappeared in 1998, it was hardly missed; it was both annoying and offered little value to users. Zip forward 16 years: Microsoft has just introduced Cortana, a new personal digital assistant that the firm will launch on Windows Phone in the coming months. Powered by Bing, and about two years in the making, Cortana will be important if Microsoft gets it right. Here’s why it’s an exciting development:
Mobile-first is a growing enterprise strategy. The whole idea of creating a mobile-first enterprise strategy has taken root in many enterprises, as they recognize that users now expect any information or service they desire to be available to them, in context and at their moment of need. Users are cognitively and behaviorally ready to embrace wearable technology as an extension of mobility — and to weave it into their business processes. My colleague JP Gownder shares his views on wearables here.