Plato used to define the human species as "featherless bipeds". This thought came to me this afternoon as I stood looking at the Venus de Milo in The Louvre (I'm in Paris for Forrester's I&O Forum) and pondered what Microsoft was about to unleash on all of us. Why, might you ask? Well, as the story goes, Diogenes (the guy who invented cynicism) plucked a chicken, brought it into Plato's Academy and declared: "Behold: I have brought you a man!" After this incident, "with broad flat nails" was added to Plato's definition.
It struck me that that's pretty much what Microsoft and its OEM partners have been doing to us with tablets for a number of years now. "Behold! I have brought you a tablet!" But of course, now we know that a "tablet" is a device that we can use with nothing more than fingers with broad, flat nails.
But there's more. Microsoft's ability to respond in its modern day Peloponnesian War with Apple, has been hampered by three things:
The PC OEM vendors remain one (maybe two!) steps behind Apple in making well-differentiated hardware. To wit: Ultrabooks are just now beginning to match the MacBook Air, and no one else has a Retina Display in their lineups.
They haven't had an operating system for tablets without styli or mice, or that will run longer than a few hours away from a power outlet.
The upgrade process for Windows PCs is labor-intensive. IT organizations upgrade operating systems only when Microsoft forces them to, so end users are frustrated. Nearly half of organizations are still on Windows XP 11 years after its release.
7:30 AM, on Monday, December 5th, 2011, flight 1052. As I took my seat in Southwest Airlines' "Business Class," otherwise known as the exit row, I gave a nod to my new seat mate and noticed his MacBook on the tray table. He was reading something on his iPad and set it down for a second to send a text message from his iPhone. Now there's a Kool-Aid connoisseur, I thought. "Going to Salt Lake or beyond?" I asked. "Salt Lake. Gotta visit some customers, and after that I have to go to Boise to train our western region sales team."
And so the conversation began. I learned that his name is Jamie, he is in sales, travels every week, loves his job and his company, and is the top sales performer. $3M in quota last year and his secret sauce is knowing his customers' businesses better than they do, and delivering value with every interaction. He said, "Last week I had a meeting with a new prospect for the first time, and they couldn't believe I showed up without slides, and we spent the meeting talking about their situation instead of throwing up all over them about what we do." Jamie is a HERO. His world revolves around delivering customer value, and he has neither the time nor the patience for anything that gets in the way.
Naturally, I asked him some questions about his MacBook Air and the applications he uses. His answers, while fascinating, echo what I hear from many others like him:
Q: How do you like your MacBook Air? A: I love it.
Q: Does your company issue those or is that one yours? A: Hell no! It's mine! They gave me a huge Dell.
Q: Where is it? A: It's in the closet at home, still in the bag.
Q: Does your company support the Mac?
Music is a very important part of my life. At home I've always got something playing on the sound system, I never go anywhere without headphones, and my music collection takes up more space in my house (not to mention on my computer) than anything else. That's why on a recent trip up to Maine – a 4.5 hour ride from Boston – the first thing I did to prepare was make sure I had my phone for music on the drive, without which I'd be stuck with the radio. Having to listen to the same 40 songs for four and a half hours is something that could easily give me nightmares but it got me thinking about how much choice matters.
Ten years ago I would have been happy enough with just the radio. Then came Napster and the iPod and my world changed. I became aware the technology existed which meant I knew there was a better alternative to the radio. What's more, I was excited about it. I wanted to use my iPod and put new music on it. The product engaged me as it had engaged everyone around me. I think that correlates with what we're seeing today in firms across all industries where employees have long been locked into aging technology – which often doesn't do everything they need it to – by lack of choice.